Surprisingly, this has been somewhat of a controversial issue in recent days. This year, in 2016, Christmas falls on a Sunday. I’m not so sure why this has become so controversial. Maybe it’s come from a generation of young church planters and pastors that have questioned many of the traditions of the established church. Or, maybe it’s come from another angle from those who have reacted against the craziness that we have seen today.
Either way, I don’t think this has to be a controversial issue. First of all, Romans 14:5 clears this up for me by saying, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” If you are a pastor or have authority over when/how you do a church service, just keep this in mind. Do whatever you do for the glory of God. I believe that one who has church on Christmas and one who does not can choose to do it for the glory of God. On the flip side, one can have church on Christmas or not have church on Christmas and not glorify God.
Wherever you stand on the issue and whatever you decide to do, please, please, please don’t shame others for doing it differently than you. Especially if you don’t know the reasons behind their choice. With that being said, here’s my case for why it can be a GOOD thing to not have a church service on a Sunday that falls on Christmas day.
1. It helps to put Jesus first.
One of the criticisms of those who cancel church on Sunday is that others see it as allowing family Christmas traditions to become more important than Jesus. However, if done right, Jesus can receive the spotlight on Christmas. I know many planters who have strong Christmas Eve services. They change up the normal routine of how they do church by having a Saturday evening or night service. People are creatures of habit. The nature of interrupted routine helps us think about things with fresh eyes and renewed minds.
2. We are more pragmatic than we think.
One reason people give for having church on Christmas day is that they don’t want to give into pragmatism. I totally get what they are saying. Pragmatism can become the focus of our ministry. Pragmatism is dangerous. And, we need to be careful of falling into in the traps of pragmatism.
However, we make pragmatic decisions everyday without knowing it. In fact, many of those who have church on Christmas morning will do pragmatic things to make it easier on their congregation because they know it’ll be a hard day for those to come to church. Sunday School may be cancelled, or there won’t be a nursery. The service may be shortened which will create less need for volunteers. Why do they do that? Because if the service is shorter and it is less of a drain on volunteers, more people will come. That is pragmatic thinking, but it is not sinful.
3. It puts the focus on every other Sunday which is, arguably, more important.
Some may say that people will come on Christmas morning but they won’t come any other time of the year. As noble as that thought might seem, it actually neglects every other Sunday of the year.
When you cancel a church service on Christmas, you are telling others in your congregation that every other Sunday is important. When I was growing up, you had those who would darken the church doors twice a year – Easter and Christmas. Biblically, we know that God does not give special blessings on those days. The meat of Sunday mornings are on the other 51 weeks, not the one Sunday that happens to fall on Christmas Day. I’d much rather have someone come to church 51 Sundays out of the year instead of two.
4. It helps us root out religious tradition sacred cows.
No matter how hard we preach and teach against it, self-righteousness is an idol that easily creeps up in church life. Many of us are box checkers. We like to see our progress and our spiritual growth through doing things.
Read our Bibles? Check. Pray? Check. Go to church? Check.
We miss important aspects of our sanctification such as character building, becoming better husbands/wives, sharing the love of Christ to the world around us, or teaching our children what it means to love Jesus. Religious tradition is fine with having the appearance of righteousness even if life at home does not match Sunday mornings.
5. Christmas becomes more special.
With my family Christmas morning, we will have a family devotion time, talk about the meaning of Christmas, and explain to my kids the Christmas story. I want them to know that the gifts we give are a symbol of the ultimate gift Jesus gave. I want them to remember how special the day is and how sweet Jesus is to us. My hope and prayer is that they will remember that day and remember how important Jesus was to mom and dad.
6. We can help families become better disciplers at home.
Along with that, we can become better disciplers of our homes. I was a youth pastor for several years, and I have many youth pastor friends. Many parents did not know how to disciple their kids. They expected to bring them to church and allow the church to “fix them.” We as parents are the primary disciplers of our home. We need to be the ones who are first in answering the tough questions to our kids. We should be the ones instructing our kids and helping them understand why we believe what we believe. Our kids need to see from us that we love Jesus, and that our love is genuine. We should not be two-faced or hypocritical.
7. It helps pastors and their families.
Pastors work hard throughout the year on weeks and weekends. Many have office hours throughout the day and meetings in the evenings. They’re always on the clock. They are the ones to get the late night phone call when someone passes away. They are the ones who work on Sundays during the summer while lay people take the weekend off to go to the beach. Every Sunday, pastors get to church early, and they stay late. Many of them work other jobs to make ends meet. The biggest victim of that lifestyle is usually the pastor’s family. Being able to spend Christmas together as a family is a blessing for the pastor and his family. It helps sharpen his axe and allows him to continue the road of being a more faithful minister of the Gospel.