The Christmas season is upon us! It’s the time of year when Christmas music plays non-stop on the radio, lights and decorations adorn nearly every house in the neighborhood, and holiday parties fill up most of our schedules.
For those of us who lead worship, the Christmas season also brings other exciting, and at times challenging, changes. Christmas songs that we play once a year fill our setlists, added service times populate Planning Center, and what can often seem like an endless number of rehearsals, constantly compete for our attention and energy. Whether or not your church family formally celebrates the Advent season, we all find ourselves navigating the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year a little differently than others.
I bring all of this to mind, because, as much as I have loved leading worship through the Christmas season over the years, at times, I have also found it difficult and draining. In an attempt to keep my heart connected to the ministry work I am doing, I put four simple, yet helpful, practices into my life and worship ministry during the Christmas season. I want to share them with you, hopefully, you will find them helpful.
Practically speaking, every year I find an Advent devotional or book that can help bring the story of Jesus’ birth to life in a new way for me. We’re all different, but I prefer a book that goes beyond the surface level and really helps me grasp a deeper Biblical understanding of Jesus’ birth. My goal in doing this, however, is not just to grow in my understanding, but also to allow my heart to be moved in awe and wonder. I’m trying to inspire worship and adoration in my own heart before I try to lead others to do so. There is so much beauty in the story, if we slow down and take it in we will find ourselves deeply moved and excited to lead in the weeks ahead.2. MEDITATE ON LYRICS - Let’s be honest, there are some strange lyrics in some Christmas songs! I found myself wondering for years, what in the world does “sin and error pining” mean. I had to have sung it 100 times without looking at what it truly means. I had never once heard the word “pining” used in normal vocabulary.
So, I began meditating on the lyrics of one or two songs that I would be leading a lot but didn’t fully understand each Christmas season. To my surprise, I found that most of the Christmas songs we sing have deep and profound lyrical content, slightly disguised in old language. For example, I discovered that the word “pining” is a verb that means “to lose vigor or health.” In context, the lyric from ‘O Holy Night’ takes on much greater meaning as I sing it. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining”, is a way of saying “the entire world was languishing in sin and error, awaiting the appearance of Christ.”
This Christmas season, consider taking time to find one or two songs that you’ll be leading and sit with the lyrics, soak them in, and find their deeper meaning. This may help you lead more passionately this advent season.
3. CREATE FRESH MUSICAL ARRANGEMENTS - For me, one of the roadblocks I continually come up against during the Christmas season is finding fresh musical arrangements to older Christmas songs. Oftentimes, traditional songs don’t fit musically with our modern worship setlists. This musical divide can threaten our ability to connect to the song. So, when I can sense that it's the music hindering our connection to the song and its meaning, I have learned to get creative and compose a fresh musical arrangement to the song.
4. CULTIVATE DEEPER RELATIONSHIPS - A byproduct of team gatherings, longer rehearsals, more service times is that we get to spend more time with our church family and worship teams than we do at almost any other time of year. If you’re like me, I can tend to just see it all as “more work”, and fail to see the opportunity to be with the people that God has placed in my life. Once I noticed this tendency, I began to pray and ask God to help me truly see the people I’m doing ministry with. I try to do my best to have deeper conversations, to listen to people share about their lives, and to turn those moments into opportunities to care for and pray for the people around me. Our worship team has had some of our most meaningful “communal” moments as a team during the hustle and bustle of Christmas services.
It might be that one of the most helpful things you can do as you lead into the season ahead is to pray and ask the Lord to help you really see the people you’ll be with. Your most meaningful moment of worship might happen off-stage through a conversation in the green room, or after service as you listen to and pray with someone who is hurting. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity we have to cultivate deeper relationships with those around us in the weeks ahead.
As it turns out, the Christmas season can be one of the most rewarding times of the year to lead worship. It may require more effort and preparation than other seasons, but opportunities for growth, creativity and deeper relationships abound. May the story of Jesus and his birth resound deeper in our hearts and in our communities through the work we do as worship leaders, inviting everyone to come and adore our King.