I have been the pastor at Cline Avenue Fellowship Church since 2009. Just two years into my first pastorate a phenomenon happened that I was not prepared for, nor was I ever told about (even through 4 years of Bible college and 2 years of Seminary!)...Christmas Day fell on a Sunday. Who is responsible for this? Was this just poor planning? How come no one made adjustments for the good people who go to church, but who also like to celebrate with family through gift-giving, pajama-wearing, and other traditions? What are we to do?
Well the phenomenon fell on us again this year (Pastors, beware it's coming again in 2022...Lord willing). I realize many people have addressed this dilemma already and there are arguments on all sides. Do we cancel? Do we move our worship gathering(s) to a different time or day? Do we just have Christmas Eve service? Do we keep our regular worship gathering or do we modify our order of service to accommodate? So many questions elders/pastors have to face and we were no different.
When the elders and I began planning out the year back in January, we had decided unanimously we would hold our regular worship gathering on Christmas Sunday with a few minor modifications to the order of service. I wanted to write after Christmas Sunday because I wanted to see (atleast for us) if the reasons for our decisions proved true. In our elder meeting, there was much discussion about what exactly we should do and why. Here are some of the reasons we decided to keep our worship gathering on Christmas Sunday morning.
1) It is the Lord's Day. For the last two thousand years or so, Christians have worshipped on Sunday in remembrance and honor of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Would it be wrong to move it for one Sunday? Absolutely not. But for us, Pastor Kevin Deyoung put it plainly when he said, "December 25 is Sunday before it’s Christmas." Our church family is made up mostly of brand new believers who we are trying to disciple and encourage consistent, regular worship and observance of the Lord's Day. For us, to cancel or even move could have fed into the mindset, "If it's inconvenient, don't go."
2) It is Christmas. I know, I know...Christmas is a pagan holiday, right? We're not supposed to buy into the commercialism, we're not supposed to talk about the big guy in the red suit, or to chop down trees and decorate them (see Jeremiah 10:3-4 for an out of context explanation). For us as elders, though, we could not sit back and let the world out celebrate us. Sure the world may only be celebrating the goodness of humanity, the generosity of gift-giving, or a justifying reason to stuff our faces with food and cookies. But we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It's not the only time we celebrate it, but it is the time universally Christians take time to specifically celebrate the birth of Jesus and it's implications. Of all the Sundays to meet, this may be one of the "big ones."
3) Guests. To be honest, there was something we could not get past when we considered the idea of moving or modifying our worship gathering on Christmas Sunday. The thought that maybe...just maybe a family would come who was visiting from out of town, a single person who would spend Christmas alone, a childless family struggling this year looking for hope, an unbelieving neighbor who thought he would try it out would possibly walk up to our doors only to find them locked and the parking lot empty. For us, to wake up earlier, stay up a little later, or to miss out on getting the first batch of Grandma's amazing Christmas cookies was worth being here to welcome our church family and guests.
It was with these reasons in mind, we decided to keep our normal 10:30 a.m. worship gathering. If you decided differently (hopefully after much prayer and consideration) or disagree adamantly (we're not saying we're right, but it is my blog), we understand. God bless you, I pray the majority of your church family was able to attend your Friday night or Saturday worship gatherings (some of you, all 10 of them) and that God was be glorified, people repented, and Saints were edified. For us, though, these reasons above proved true.
As the worship leaders and I were sitting in the kitchen (I'll have to explain that in another post), we were praying for the worship gathering, the preaching of the Word, the singing, and as we were praying we could hear many voices. As we opened the door we were welcomed by well over a hundred people. For us as a small church re-plant, this brought joy to our heart. After the worship gathering, we had so many people say to us, "It was not that bad getting up early," "We just celebrated Christmas yesterday," or, "We wish we could have a worship gathering every Christmas, even if it's not on Sunday." We also had many guests, including neighbors, who were surprised to see we were open despite many other churches closing. They had to see what was worth it.
It was amazing. You know, you don't want to judge how good a worship gathering is by feeling, but it was quite the experience. I am thankful we chose to have our worship gathering. We almost wished we hadn't modified it at all. I guess we will see what 2022 holds because this phenomenon will come again. Pastors, I want to encourage you to decide what is best for your church family, for your neighbor, for the sake of the Gospel when it comes to Christmas on a Sunday. It's never too early to start planning.