Christmas Eve is a great opportunity for churches to share the good news of the gospel with many unbelievers — sometimes hearing it for the first time. Pastors should give a clear invitation to respond in faith to the message of the gospel.
I plan to do this. I can’t wait to do this!
But there are many church leaders who place far too much pressure on themselves at their Christmas Eve services to get a good response. Each year I receive emails essentially urging me not to “blow it” at this big “super bowl” service of the year. One email I received from a godly leader whom I admire said:
My heart breaks when we lead people right up to the line of faith and then leave them hanging there. They need your help, so boldly help them put their faith in Jesus this Christmas. Finally, make sure people know what their next steps are.
Yes, true, I hear you…but are we forgetting something, or Someone?
I believe this way of thinking betrays a woefully low view of God and an inadequate view of the Holy Spirit’s role in our worship and preaching. The truth is they need God’s help to cross the line of faith and put their faith in Jesus. They need the Holy Spirit to show them what their next steps are. I have confidence that God knows each person’s heart and will not “leave them hanging there.” (Pastors: God doesn’t need us as much as we like to think. He just graciously allows us to play a big role sometimes.)
With a big view of God and a belief in the active role of the Holy Spirit, I don’t need to lose sleep over whether I botched the invitation or fell short in my follow up with people. I trust God is at work in the hearts of my hearers. He can lead them to take the next steps. God will plant a longing in someone’s heart and the Holy Spirit will draw them back next week for more.
Again, I’m not arguing against bringing people to a point of decision, and offering clear follow up steps. I plan to. But I am arguing we need to relax, keep a proper perspective, and trust God more with the results.
To make my point, let’s have some fun and apply such thinking to the first Christmas sermon ever preached at that first Christmas Eve service unexpectedly held in that Judea field. Let’s look at the clear planning and follow-up work that first Christmas. Warning: Snarky satire ahead.
[Attendance: 2 or 3 shepherds, an Angelical Preacher who kept his sermon to less than a minute, and a kicking’ choir (really? sounds a bit traditional and boring…)]
The Christmas Story According to Some Overly Anxious Pastors
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger….that is, if you’ll take the proper next steps found in the bottom of the bulletin you received when you walked into the field tonight.”
[It’s truly a miracle the Shepherds even heard the gospel that night since they had foolishly neglected to attend any of the scheduled worship services at any of the available synagogues in that region. Its hard to believe God could actually reach anybody outside the walls of an official place of worship. This is why all responsible heralds of the gospel will spend thousands of dollars on advertising, newspaper ads, hanging colorful banners by the road, and placing yard signs all over town making sure people know how to get to the one certain place where God is most likely to show up and “bring good tidings of great joy.” Or so we thought.]
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Now what should we do? The Angels didn’t give us clear directions or next steps. Oh, well. I guess we’ll just stay here in the field tending our sheep. Dang it! I really thought I experienced something divine a few seconds ago. Bummer.” Continue reading Relax Pastor, God Saves!