By Kristin Schultz
While technically December is a season of preparing for the birth of Jesus, preparing for the season of preparation starts well before garland hits the shelves at Target and Walmart. Looking toward Advent and Christmas preparation now gives you a chance to get organized and develop meaningful programs, studies, and activities that draw children and adults to the gift of grace that we have in our newborn King.
Planning for Advent is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor because your ministry reaches many different people including children, adults, families, people without families, people who love Christmas and people for whom the holidays are difficult. The good news is, of course, that while you reach many audiences, the message of God Incarnate is the same. So, who could you keep in mind and consider as your ministry plans for Advent?
While children may seem like the easiest group to plan for, there are still special considerations for the little ones.
- Busy Schedules. Kids are at the mercy of their parents and if parents are packing the calendar, chances are the kids must be along for the ride. This often means their normal routines are disrupted which, for some kids, is a huge challenge. Try to incorporate special Christmas-preparation activities into already-scheduled time slots like Sunday school or Wednesday nights.
- Lack of Sleep. With all the activity in December, kids and adolescents are likely staying up late and not getting the sleep the normally would. Try keeping late-night events to a minimum and have patience if the little ones fall apart during pageant practice. Even the most energetic and enthusiastic child is affected when he or she isn’t rested.
- Competing Messages. It’s no wonder that kids look forward to Christmas; it’s a material boon! Whether they go with Mom on a trip to Target or spend time on Roblox or Minecraft, kids are told that Christmas is a time for getting presents (and maybe being nice to the less fortunate). It is imperative for us in ministry to keep the focus on Jesus and preparing our hearts to receive him.
Many parents feel the pressure to perform at Christmas. They want their children to be happy and have good childhood memories of the season. This pressure brings many kinds of stress.
- Financial Stress. The pressure to get your child everything that he or she wants is tremendous. Many parents overextend themselves. After all, it’s difficult to explain the impacts of inflation and rising interest rates to a five-year-old. Do what you can to reduce the financial barriers to participating in Christmas preparation. If your church can afford it, don’t charge for devotional materials or party supplies, etc.
- Relationship Stress. The holidays often spark stress and tension between parents or within extended families. Single parenthood is stressful during the holidays and sometimes divorced parents argue about custody or where and when children will spend time. Even when parents are together, they often feel pulled to spend time with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives. While families in the movies are always loving and get along, we know that movies are not reality. Shaky or distant relationships can be made worse with the general busyness of the holidays. Do your best to be sensitive to any custody arrangements and do your best to be aware of interpersonal dynamics between family members.
- Time Pressure. There’s never enough time in the day and this is especially true in December. Parents have to make time not only to be involved in their children’s activities but also to shop and decorate and see family. While you need extra hands during Advent events, be sensitive to how much you ask of parents and be honest and realistic about the time that will be required to help so that parents can plan accordingly.
People Dealing with Loss
The holidays are difficult for children and adults who have experienced loss. Depending on the person and the situation, finding joy can feel like an impossible task.
- Death of a Loved One. Whether recently or years ago, the emptiness left by the death of a loved one is especially powerful during the holidays. The empty seat at the dinner table or the tray of cookies that goes unmade are difficult if not impossible to deal with. Do your best to be sensitive and pay attention to people who may be less involved than they usually are. Pray for them and acknowledge what they are going through.
- Divorce is hard for children and parents. The loss is particularly acute during the holidays as old traditions are gone and new ones are made. Navigating such a change is confusing and challenging. Kids may be angry or sad and parents may feel awkward or overly determined. Do you best to know about custody and schedules so you can help both child and parent through the Christmas season.
- Major Life Change. The last two years have thrown many families into turmoil. People in your church may be facing unemployment or may have had to move. Any major life change brings some kind of loss. Do your best to give kids and adults the space they need to process and adjust to a new Christmas normal.
Preparing our hearts for Jesus’ birth is a special time. Taking into account the diverse needs in your congregation can help all involved focus on celebrating Jesus, no matter their circumstance.
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