I have a friend from Germany who got us one of those advent calendar countdown thingies. They capture the anticipation of Christmas. I remember having one as a kid and opening a new little window day after agonizing day. As a child, it was hard to believe how SLOW Christmas would come. As an adult in ministry, it’s hard to believe how FAST Christmas comes. Amen? Christmas is crazy! If you’ve been in ministry for any amount of time you are well aware that Christmas will crush you like a grape if you’re not ready for it.

The countdown to Christmas is on. The freight train has started down the tracks.

But do you know what? This year, you should get to celebrate Christmas too. You should get to slow down. You should spend more time with your family. You should read a little more. Pray a little more. Love a little more. You should serve someone less fortunate. Stop and be grateful. Put some scratchy vinyl Christmas albums on the turntable and be sentimental. You should spend a little more time reflecting on the life-altering, soul-expanding reason for the season, God was made flesh. For you.

All the things pastors encourage their congregations to do, but often fail to do themselves.

This year will be my 29th Christmas as a pastor. Each one a little different. A few that stand out above the rest. All of them a whirlwind. But I’d like to think that I’ve found a few practices that help to ease the burden and lighten the load heading into Christmas 2022. One of my passions is to see volunteer leaders equipped and unleashed in meaningful ministry. Volunteer leaders are the key. So here are:

3 Unexpected Volunteer Strategies to Make Christmas Easier

1. Get your stuff done early
I know, I know. This isn’t exactly a volunteer strategy, It’s more of a you strategy! But I promise it will help to set your volunteer teams up for success.

This year, I submitted my detailed teaching outline for our Christmas services to our worship and programming teams on September 6th. Some of you are thinking, “it must be nice to have worship and programming teams!” Ignore that for a minute. Because, even if there are only a handful of people helping you to pull off Christmas services, the more time in advance you give them to think and plan and prepare, the more they will feel like their time is valued and they are being honored as a co-laborer. You’ll get better ideas too. The last thing you should be doing is going it alone.

Now in case you think it’s impossible to work that far ahead, or maybe you think the Holy Spirit only works when you are more spontaneous, closer to go-time, then just think of it as giving the Spirit more room to work. I’m convinced He’s in the planning and preparation too!

2. Equip a volunteer team to care for people who are struggling
Holidays are tough for many people. On top of the usual pressures, add the stress of unrealistic expectations, and unresolved childhood scars, and seasonal affective disorders, and social pressures and financial pressures, and busier schedules, and family conflicts, and painful memories, you can see why mental health issues skyrocket between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

The holidays are a time when people look to their church for care and support. Counseling appointments and coaching sessions ramp way up for ministry leaders. The good news is, you know this is coming and you can plan in advance.

Why not form a small volunteer team who can help shoulder the burden of care? There may be professional caregivers in your church, but there also may just be ordinary people who have been through some stuff. They’ve got some experience working through family issues, or alcoholism, or depression or anxiety. Invite those volunteers to a short-term role of assisting with counseling needs. I have found that people who may have wanted to meet with me will gladly be redirected if I say, “I’m not able to meet with you right now, but I have a perfect person to refer you to who can provide a listening ear and some prayerful guidance. They’ve gone through something very similar to you. They are eager to help.”

3. Rally your church to ONE community outreach initiative
Christmas is a time when ministry leaders are inundated with community outreach opportunities. You know you can’t say ‘yes’ to everything, yet you feel heartless in saying ‘no’ to anything. I know this to be true; there are people in every congregation who are passionate and motivated to respond to needs in the community.

What if you got proactive? Before the requests start pouring in, gather a small volunteer team with a heart for outreach and choose one community project that your church can participate in. You don’t have to do twenty things, but you can do one thing well. By limiting the scope of the project, you will allow your volunteer team to focus clearly on the goal and rally the church around a common cause. Give them a brief job description, and some desired outcomes and set them loose. And, because there is a clear short-term end date (right after Christmas), the team can invest themselves fully into the project. You will have engaged your church in a community project, met a need, but also taken the pressure off yourself to respond to every community request.

I hope this year you will truly allow your soul to engage with our soul-expanding savior. The world needs more rested and energized ministry leaders.