5 Strategies for Managing (and Preventing) Christmas Ministry Burnout
Christmas is one of our busiest seasons for those in ministry. That’s just the way it is. For many churches, the Christmas season means a month of events, service opportunities, and services, media, and more opportunities to celebrate advent.
For this reason, Christmas is an incredible opportunity for churches. Come the month of December, our culture at large, not just the church, is ready for the holidays and the hope, excitement, and joy that comes with Christmas. As we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we have an opportunity to do so with members of our community who might not know Jesus or have a regular church home.
However, in a season as busy and exciting as Christmas, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by our workloads. For senior pastors and other staff members delegating tasks, it can be easy to ask more and more of our people without leaving the necessary margin for them to thrive and be with their families during the holiday season.
So, the question remains, how can we maintain balance, rest, and sanity while also creating experiences that do the season and our communities justice?
Chances are, if you’re reading this now, this is a little too late to make an actionable difference— this year. However, for next year, planning for Christmas earlier is the best thing you can do to help yourself and your staff avoid burnout during the holiday season. Big picture planning such as choosing themes, planning your sermon series and music sets, and putting together ideas for stage dressing and decorations can all happen as early as the summer before. The more work you put in before the calendar hits October, the more prepared you’ll be to pull off a spectacular Christmas season without the heightened stress and long late night hours.
For most corporations, long hours and bulging workloads can be accommodated by competitive pay and benefits. Senior pastors, you know that you can’t always deliver the same kind of salaries and perks as the secular marketplace. If you can’t compensate your staff and volunteers for unbalanced hours during the holiday season with pay, consider providing generous paid time off and encouraging your staff to use it both before and after the holiday rush.
A mini-sabbatical can go a long way to refresh, recharge, and refocus anybody, ministry workers included. If you yourself are hesitating using your PTO, remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup and time off exists for a reason. You’re no use to anybody when you’re fried and depleted. Take a break because you know, when you get back, there will be plenty of demands waiting for 5 you upon your return.
While working in the church around the holidays will sometimes inevitably result in longer hours, or the occasional off-day shift, it’s important to set some boundaries between your work and personal life. With any job this is hard, with ministry it can be even harder.
To help you stick to your boundaries, put them in place before the holiday season reaches its full velocity and ask a coworker to hold you accountable. When your coworkers know when your hard cut-offs are, they are more likely to respect them and even help you stick to them. Hopefully your church and your team understands the value of family and rest and that they are certainly worth respecting, even during (especially during) Christmas.
If you are on staff at a church, chances are you have a team of volunteers to help you bring your vision to life. Use them. With something as creative and special as Christmas, it can sometimes be hard to let go of control of certain elements. Do your best to delegate to staff or volunteers you trust for tasks that don’t need to be done directly by you or only by you.
Enlist Emotional Support
Having a trusted friend or counselor is always important, but even more so during stressful times of life. There can be so much cultural pressure to always be experiencing the “Christmas magic” during the holiday season, but, when you’re working in ministry (or a parent, or any other working adult, really) it can often feel like the work of the season outweighs the reward.
It can make a huge difference to have someone whom you can trust to help bear the emotional load. Ideally, this isn’t a coworker or a family member, but a friend or even therapist who is themselves emotionally removed from your circumstances yet still reliable and caring. Asking for help and support isn’t a sign of weakness or that you don’t trust God. We were never meant to do life alone and finding support is a way of leveraging the community and resource God puts in our lives so we can find the hope, healing, and refreshment he has in store for us.
Pastors, thank you so much for all you do to make Christmas a meaningful, beautiful, and significant time of worship for your communities. There is so much to celebrate and so much to honor. The work you put into meaningful services and joyful activities brings the hope of advent into sharp relief. We pray that you’re able to take the time to rest and experience the season yourself, even amidst the hustle and bustle of all that’s to be done.
Grace and peace.
About the Author
Emma Tarp is a writer and worship leader based in Minneapolis, MN. On her best days, she's highlighter-deep in a good book or teaching herself to sew. On her other best days, she's helping passionate folks and inspired businesses put words to their work. Find out more at emmatarp.com.