Elements - December 2013

Elements 12-2013

"It's the most wonderful time of the year."

So croons Andy Williams in the classic carol that drones constantly through Macy's and Wal-Mart from now until the first week of January.

"It's the hap-happiest season of all!"

In terms of American sentimentality, yes, this is probably true. But there are some groups of people who might choose different adjectives to describe this season. I'm thinking particularly of retail workers and pastors. I happen to have spent a number of holiday seasons working in both worlds—as a pastor and/or as a barista at Starbucks. Making 200 eggnog lattes every day or scheduling extra meetings for the bell choir may not always feel "wonderful." Talking one of your leaders down from an anxiety induced meltdown 10 minutes before a rehearsal—or back stage during the event itself—doesn't feel like the "hap-happiest season of all."

That is because sentimentality can only get you so far. There's got to be something more substantial than "marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow." I would like to believe that at least some of the extra visitors who enter churches this time of year are looking for something deeper. There must be something more real than plastic toys and airbrushed advertisements to celebrate.

Most of us in ministry look at Advent as a season that has the potential to be the most meaningful time of the year. That doesn't happen by just doing more "stuff." Extra worship services do not equal a more meaningful encounter with the gospel. Newer, better, bigger—this is the stuff of consumerism, but not the kingdom of God.

So how do we make this season of Advent more meaningful for those we lead? By letting ourselves be filled first. Now that my wife and I have two small children, whenever we travel on an airplane the flight attendant always makes a point to lean over our row and specifically tell us: "Now remember, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then on your children."

So here's my plea for those in ministry: do whatever it takes to fill your heart with the gospel this Christmas season. Carve out some time to sit silently beside the manger and marvel at the infant Emmanuel. Cancel one of your worship planning meetings (or have someone else lead it) to make sure you have at least one meaningful evening with your own family during Advent. Shut your door and turn off your phone for a few minutes and read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke or John every morning—just for yourself, not for your sermon.

Let gratitude well up inside of you that God has not forgotten you, or your people, but has come near. And let your leadership this season be fueled by your own firsthand experience of God's love…for you.

In the Ogilvie Institute we emphasize preacher formation, what we call becoming "empowered, wise preachers." This is the focus of our two-year Micah Groups program that gathers preachers together from different backgrounds, cultures, and denominations in dozens of cities across North America. If you are interested in learning more about Micah Groups or the Ogilvie Institute visit us online at


Mark Finney is the Program Manager for the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching at Fuller Seminary. He is also currently earning his PhD in Homiletics. His ministry experience includes pastoral roles in urban, suburban, and overseas churches. Mark's calling is to train leaders and preachers. He lives with his wife, Becky, and their two children in Pasadena.

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