As a worship leader, I strongly disliked (aka. resented) the Advent/Christmas season. I would get so stressed out by the need to novelize Christmas songs that everyone knows, added to the pressure of making it good for visitors… (I know. Let’s not get distracted by that very real and almost universal unspoken expectation.)
- This is about the pressure of the Holiday season, which I won’t soon forget:
- Will the Advent candle lighters be there for the service?
- Who is in charge of taking down the decor when we are all exhausted?
- How are going to get around to singing everyone’s favorite Christmas carols?
- Are we ruining the harmonies on Angels We Have Heard on High?
- When are we going to have an extra hour of practice to get the band caught up on the Christmas songs?
- Can somebody please bring food for band and staff to eat between Christmas Eve services?
The point is this: Christmas is HARD.
And it can be especially overwhelming for those introverted artistic types, who don’t like things coming at us too quickly, who need to feel secure in our ability to excel expectations, and who need just a minute to breathe. Just breathe.
So I asked a few of my favorite long-time worship leaders just how do they survive the holiday pressure.
I got some interesting responses:
“Dancing” (I’m interpreting that to mean moments of whimsy that release frustration and yield some spontaneous silly fun.)
Here’s what another friend said: “Posture (we are humbly serving Jesus & our church), Passion (I love what I do), Perspective (this is not the every day).”
Another from a very wise and seasoned leader: “I suppose the best way I handle the pressure and stress is through allowing the decisions to be made as a group .. we have a team called “Worship Synergy” – it’s a group of leaders and creatives who collaborte and suggest music, songs, etc. It takes the pressure of me picking all the “right” songs, and gives me many ears to what is to there, and also, what the people are wanting. I also have learned to be “OK” not doing the latest, greatest contepmorary Christmas songs … we are flooded with every artists’ new renditions of christmas carols, contemporary and such … and all their radio-play CCM POP Christmas stuff … and I find that a little of that is OK, but don’t try to keep up … for our congregation, it’s the one time of year where they really, really just enjoy and desire the traditional carols. They love a few specials and “showstopper” type performances, but ultimately, they’d rather sing Silent Night the way we’ve always sang it for generations, not with the latest, greatest, synth loop and not with two bridges full of “whoa whoa whoas.”
And then beautiful honesty from Presbyterian leader: “I would say a nice glass of red wine with my wife but that does’t answer the whole question Honestly I am so aware of my brokenness and my need for help. I am endlessly dependent on Gods strength and His grace because I am no super worship leader. I’m not sure this season is much different than any other month for me. I have come to love Advent. For years I dreaded it, but not anymore. You know how I deal with it all. I go camping. People ask me all the time what’s the best thing I’ve done for my ministry. I always say, I bought a camper. First a pop up, eventually moving up to a slightly nicer camper. (the TV show was fake, No we did not buy that massive camper nor could we afford it, ha!)
We camp about twice a month and I don’t miss a Sunday either when we camp because we are close enough for me to come back.”
Through the course of the week, this Presbyterian friend sent me a followup message: “Ok, so this morning having a moment. I’m not handling the amount coming at me right now so well. Not even my ADHD meds can handle it all! ha. Breathe, sing the words, “grace and peace, grace and peace, from the Lord our father.”
This is the spin, isn’t it? This is the near-impossible balance of rest and rushing overwhelm… Christmas is HARD.
By this point, I’m guessing you feel a bit of relief to hear that you’re not the only one walking around in an over-caffeinated daze, right?
I used to just say “I can’t. It’s the holidays and things are crazy.” It’s the only way I could fight the overwhelm: to miss out on time with friends and family… And even in writing this, as a self-professed retired worship leader, I found relief in hearing it’s just plain hard for other worship leaders. I guess I still have guilt over resenting Christmas, the season where we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of God becoming fully human in all of our needs and fleshiness in order to help us with all of our needs and fleshiness.
Christmas really is a celebration worth being present for.
Setting guilt aside, let’s take a moment to think through how you can do more than survive the Christmas Season. What would thriving look like for you? What would it feel like to have a bit of time each day that is just for your soul? Can it be a detour from the traditional advent calendar? And can it not involve a *single* church element, while being drenched in spiritual practice?
Can it be an advent walk each day or each week? Can it be your own tiny little advent candle set up by your coffee maker? Can it be turning off the TV an hour earlier each night to spend some time writing poetry or reading poetry or coloring in a coloring book (Yes. This is good.) or drawing or collaging or exercising? Can it be something that pours life back into your tired wearied adventing soul?
What do you need to make Advent as special for you as for those you are serving? No it probably won’t look the same, because red and green are associated with the stress of it all… But you can still make it special in your own unique and much-needed way.
And if you can’t quite squeeze in the time for a little advent specialness of your own, then let me bring you back to a tiny few words tucked away in the middle of this post:
“This is not the every day.”
There’s real truth to that statement. Remind yourself that your holiday is coming on December 25th, and that you’ll have a chance to breathe. And maybe plan to make the week between Christmas and New Year’s extra special. The pressure is finally off. You can finally find a moment to breathe.
Once a full-time worship leader, Mandy Thompson is now a full-time mommy and full-time artist, who stands alongside her brilliantly handsome preacher husband. And she also gets to bang on the drums at church on a regular basis. Her online home base is mandythompson.com.