I decided to write this blog as the result of a Facebook status update by a couple of friends of mine that are in church leadership at a church in Houston. They felt “like and island in a big city” on Easter because they were separated from family to do the work God had called them to do. I started to write a really long Facebook message but instead decided to blog on what I have learned about holidays in ministry through my 15 plus years working in ministry. I started young and have seen how holidays affect your ministry life at different stages.
So I will start with a basic synopsis of the issue. We, who are in ministry, can never be gone from church on Holy Days since they are, after all, important days in the life of our ministry. Easter and Christmas being the biggest of such days. Ministry also causes you to never have a 3 day weekend. Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Good Friday are not 3 day weekends for the paid staff at a church. They are just normal weekends – or busier weekends. If any holiday happens to fall around a Sunday, well there goes that time off – say like 4th of July, etc. Few church members ever realize the weight that has on paid church staff especially if they are not close enough to travel easily to be with their extended family. Those times that most people get to grab some extra time with the fam, your church staff is often missing family and even hurting inside a little to do it.
So this blog is how we have learned to deal with that and also, maybe a word to church members to be mindful of your staff during such times. They might love having Easter dinner with your family. So here are my suggestions.
- Travel when you can and consider it your holiday. We often spend time for a holiday with family not on the holiday. The key to this being meaningful is to count it as your holiday. Make some new traditions around it and enjoy it. My family has learned to have Christmas in different ways and times with us because we are never there for Christmas Eve, morning, or dinner. We just do it a little different. The key is realizing you did that holiday with your family even if on the actual holiday you were not with your family.
The side note to this one, is minister’s don’t count the cost after you paid it, count it before you pay it. When we count up how much this costs us in life after we pay it, it robs us of the joy in our ministry. If you get to spend Christmas Eve with your family but not Christmas Day because of church, don’t look back and remember what you did not get to do, remember what you did get to do. We can fall in the trap of “oh look at the sacrifice I made” if we are not careful. I am not saying this as a reprimand to anyone, just a word to the wise because it will cause you to lose much joy in your ministry if you do not. Remember what you DID get to do not what you did NOT get to do.
- Honesty is the best policy. Tell your family honestly about how much you wish you could see them but why you cannot. My parents are some of the most committed church members any church has ever had, but they have missed the last two Easters to be with us. Why now and never before? Last year I told them, “I will never come see you for Good Friday or Easter, but you have an open invitation to be here every year. I know some years my sisters will be there and you can’t come, but when they are not, please do.” They decided being with us on Easter was more important than being at their church and so they have come. We had not done Easter with them in 9 years before that. God changed that for us with some honesty.
- Consider crazy travel. Travel on days most people don’t travel. We travel every Christmas Day a good portion of the day. We do Christmas Eve service and then do Christmas morning and then get in the car. We might miss what most consider family Christmas but we see our family at Christmas. It might not be what the world would call an ideal way to do Christmas but we have learned to love it. We have done this on years where we literally spent one night and then came back because Sunday was 2 days after Christmas. One year Christmas was Sunday. We went up beforehand to see one family that year and went to see the other as soon as church ended. Holidays exhaust me between travel and church, but they are worth the craziness.
- Do holidays with church members. We have enjoyed this at times too. It might not be family but it is church family. Now, one word to the wise on this one. Don’t advertise it if you want to be selective about it. If you want to spend time with some folks for a holiday and the people that ask are not the folks you were thinking of be grateful for that and know that God has something special in store for you on that one.
- Go big even when you are going small.
This weekend I preached Good Friday, did Easter Egg Hunts Saturday, and preached twice on Sunday after a very long week getting some work done around our church building with the great people of Fellowship. But I still cooked us some breakfast for Easter morning, did baskets with my kids, and cooked a big Easter dinner. (Wendy was heading out to see her mom at MD Anderson so that was all on me this time.) Sure I had to get up around 4:30 on Easter morning, but having the big meal makes it feel more like a holiday. Now granted this year we had my family with us, but we have done the same thing when it is just us. It makes it fun for the immediate family to be alone when you still go big.
- Lead out in the group that needs the family away from family. The first time we ever did any type of holiday with folks from the church we did supper at our house. I did the cooking and led out on that event, but it was worth it.
- Learn to be a loner. Now this one is perhaps just a personal thing and not something everyone can do. We would love to see our family for every holiday. But we have learned to love the “just us” holidays too. We go big. We have fun. We make it special. And we don’t allow ourselves to sit around thinking about what the rest of the family is doing. We talk to them and tell them we love them, but we just get busy having fun with each other enough to not miss what we are missing.
- Come to grips with what you cannot change. Here is what I cannot change, but if I could I would because it hurts badly when I think about it. I have not spent a Christmas with my extended family (meaning my cousins and such) in over a decade. They usually gather on Christmas Eve and/or the Sunday before Christmas. I would love to see them but I can’t. Part of the family often gets together for Easters too. I never get to do this. I miss seeing them. Holidays are one of the rare times many of us see this part of our family. I simply do not see my extended family very often. I miss them. I love them. I would love to see them, but it does not happen much. Now, this past year I suggested a summer get together around the 4th of July and most of them did it. Maybe we can start a new tradition. I don’t know. But this is something I wish I could change. But I can’t. I will probably never have another Christmas with the Young Clan, but that does not make many any less a member of it. I guess what helps is knowing that my family is proud of who I am and what I do. Truth is our families make a sacrifice too when we make that sacrifice. Having a family of believers helps. I know they would love to see me but there is never guilt given for doing God’s work. (So family of ministers, never, ever, ever do this to them. Let them know you miss them not to make them feel guilty but to make them feel loved.)
The most important principle is to remember why you were not there. My mom taught me this on the first Mother’s Day I did not go home to see her. I was 20 and was preaching somewhere for Mother’s Day. She told me that there was no greater way I could honor her as a mother on Mother’s Day than to proclaim the Gospel. It changed the way I view not seeing my family on holidays.
This Easter, I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel to almost 550 people, baptizing 4 people, and seeing 10 more confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Even if I had seen no family this Easter, I would choose to focus on what God did instead of what I did not do. The old mind over matter sometimes helps. The way you view it depends on the way you view it.
I hope this is helpful to people growing up in and doing ministry. (And then again, if the hearts still hurts. Take the next Sunday off and get out of dodge and go see your family. I do it every Christmas.)