Jeff Responds to the Christmas Service Debate

WARNING: Possible controversy ahead!

I’ve received enough questions on this topic that it’s probably time I provide a public answer. Not that I’ve avoided the topic, but
in the interest of trying not to get people riled up I’ve been answering on a
one-on-one basis. The questions have varied enough I felt each inquiry required a reply with a personal touch. However, since I’m running out of time, I’ll give a broad answer to the issue and brace for the email disagreements.

The general question has been regarding churches holding services on Sunday, December 25th – Christmas Day. I’ve had pastors ask what we’re doing at Waterbrook. People have asked why we would or wouldn’t host a service that day. I’ve had people tell me why they would/wouldn’t attend services on that day. I’ve even had folks express why a church that would/wouldn’t host a Christmas Day service is wrong. Those are all arguable points; and I’ve tried to avoid the arguments. However, it’s the family questions and issues that are prompting me to share a public response. Most of these fall in the category of, “I could never get my family to go to church on Christmas morning.” I’ll get to that topic in a moment. Let’s start with the general details.

HOW MANY Churches Will Be Open on Christmas?

If you’re not involved in church leadership, you may not be aware that most leaders have had to entertain the question this year – “Should we or shouldn’t we have a church service on Christmas Day?” This is an issue because Christmas (December 25) falls on a Sunday this year (2011). You have to consider whether people will show up for worship services on Christmas morning. Does staff want to work on Christmas Day? Is it fair to ask volunteer workers to be present at church on Christmas Day if it falls on a Sunday?

According to a survey by Lifeway, 90% of Protestant churches have scheduled services for Sunday, Christmas morning. Church leaders were asked whether their churches would be having service on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or both. The results were:

6% – Christmas Eve but NOT Christmas Day
27% – Christmas Day but NOT Christmas Eve
63% – BOTH Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

*Read more about this survey here:

So, most churches will be open, that doesn’t mean anyone will be there.

SHOULD Churches Be Open Christmas Day?

I’ve read plenty of opinions on this in the past few weeks. Pastors, church volunteers, attenders, Bible scholars, even an atheist who’s blog I read, all seem to have strong opinions on this topic. Comments on those opinions seem to vary from complete agreement to scoffing disagreement to downright hateful. This is one of the reasons I’ve stayed publicly silent. I don’t want to contribute to the bad attitudes I’ve seen displayed in so many online discussions. I don’t have a word from the Lord with a final decree on what everyone must do, but I will tell you why I will be at a Sunday worship service Christmas Day.

The best short answer is – Christmas, as a holiday, doesn’t drive me FROM worship, but TOO it. If someone were to suggest canceling Easter worship services this year because it’s a family day where the kids like to hunt eggs and go have lunch at grandma’s house, many of us would say that person is missing the point of Easter. They’ve supplanted the primary meaning of
the day with a secondary meaning. Family, tradition, and fun are all good things. They aren’t MORE important than the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, many people have no problem saying doing presents with our kids on Christmas morning is the priority tradition in our home. It doesn’t get me mad or worked up at people, but it does lead to my response to the questions that matter.

“My Family Would NEVER Go To Church On Christmas”

From actual emails and messages I’ve received:

But, our tradition is to have eggs and bacon, then open presents…

My parents were very upset when I suggested we might go to church Christmas morning instead [of] letting them come over to do Christmas presents with the grandkids.

My kids would throw a fit if I said we were going to church instead of doing presents Christmas morning. How do you handle it with your kids?

The last question is what draws my response. To the parent, grandparent, or kid who feels like they’re in the middle of a warzone, let me tell you what we’ve done and how it’s worked out.

In the years before we had children, we were doing hospital visitation on Christmas Day. I was always the “on call” pastor Christmas Day who would “work” by visiting any church members in the hospital on Christmas or visiting our members who were in nursing homes. That developed into Deana and I going to a nursing home during breakfast on Christmas Day. I played carols on
the piano during breakfast and Deana would roam the dining room visiting with residents who might not have anyone else visit them that day. When our babies were born, we took them with us to the nursing home Christmas morning. By their preschool years, the kids would ring jingle bells during the fun songs and we started singing the carols to (and often with) the residents.

Our Christmas morning routine became what we called our Christmas Present to Jesus. Before we ever expected any presents for ourselves, we’d first give a gift to Jesus – after all, it is His Birthday we’re celebrating. Spending an hour sharing a song and a smile with people who didn’t have a lot of reasons to celebrate is a minor inconvenience.

As the kids grew, they began playing instruments – flute and drums and bells – which we’d haul to the nursing home with us Christmas morning. Another family asked to join us one year, and the next a few others. Over time it grew and we’ve been joined by lots of other people on Christmas morning. This was true even after we moved to Texas. (And it still continues back in Illinois where we first started. Thanks to those who have kept going!)

The second year Amelia played her flute at Sherman West on Christmas morning. Joined by Sara W., Tammy Wheatley, and Toby Chin.

After our nursing home caroling, our tradition has been to go out for breakfast at IHOP. After breakfast, we head home.  Somewhere mid/late-morning we open presents. Our kids have never begged, ran for the tree, or thought opening presents is the primary focus of Christmas Day. It might also have helped that we’ve always limited presents to three for each person. Honestly, that had to do with budget in the early years, but our line has always been, “If three presents was enough for Jesus (gold, frankincense and myrrh), then it’s plenty for you.”

I’d like to say my kids are super-spiritual godly teens who have all their priorities in line with God’s will, but – and I’m just being
honest here – it’s more that we backed into these traditions by accident than anything else. However, we’ve recognized the values these traditions have helped produce in our kids in relation to Christmas Day and presents and what’s important.

So, What Should You Do On Christmas Day This Year?

A couple pastors have told me about families who’ve expressed excitement at being in a church service celebrating the birth of
Christ this Christmas morning. The common denominator was that both their illustrative families were new Christians. It reminded me of another friend who was saved as an adult. He always told the story of what his first Christmas as a believer meant to him. It completely altered his view of what Christmas was all about. Christmas, in his life, was radically transformed from a
consumer-driven holiday to a worshipful day to celebrate God’s love. Maybe those of us who’ve been in church a long time have our priorities straight and don’t feel the need to be in church to focus our holiday celebrations the right direction. Or, maybe we think we’ve got it prioritized and don’t realize what the struggle on this topic may really say about our view of Christmas.

I’m not trying to pile a gift of guilt under your tree this year. We, at Waterbrook, are hosting identical services Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day so everyone can get here for worship no matter what their holiday schedule holds. I really am replying to the mother who feels torn because she has a Facebook profile picture proclaiming, “Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas,” but
doesn’t feel it’s fair to her kids to spend an hour of Christmas morning in church. I sure wouldn’t condemn any church for their decision to have or not have services Christmas morning. I don’t think you’ll lose your salvation if you’re not in church on December 25th. I also won’t apologize for scheduling a service on Sunday, December 25, 2011. It’s not a bad thing and it
won’t destroy your family traditions.

I hope your holiday is filled with Christ, no matter when and where you worship this year!

Hopefully not Scrooge,


Posted: December 14, 2011 
Filed under: Deep Thoughts with Pastor Jeff, Elgin IL, Leadership, Pastor Jeff, Pictures, Spiritual, Waterbrook Bible Fellowship
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