I have had conversations with a few pastors in the recent weeks who basically admitted that since worship attendance on Christmas Day and New Year's Day will likely be sparse, they are simply going to recycle old sermons and preach them.
Seriously? Do they have so little regard for their calling that they are going to use reduced numbers for worship as an excuse to be lazy? Do they have so little regard for the faithful who will show up on Christmas Day and New Year's Sunday that they have decided that these folks are not worthy to hear a fresh word from the Lord, but must listen instead to a stale sermon?
I confess that I am like most pastors who like big crowds in church; and sometimes, if I am not careful, I can place too much emphasis on the numbers in drawing conclusions as to the workings of God. I do indeed believe that numbers tell us something, but of course, numbers are relative to the context, and the measurements of a vital church congregation involve more than numbers. But I find it quite disturbing that some of my colleagues in pastoral ministry have decided to give up on worship on Christmas Day and New Year's Day because a high percentage of the members and constituents will likely stay home. I am not sure which is worse: just canceling worship on Christmas Day or treating the day's worship as a waste of time because the "audience" is not large enough?
I will be doing my usual sermon preparation for Christmas Day and New Year's Sunday. Indeed, I just might work a little harder because the folks who will be there on those two days will indeed attend because they really want to be there. Perhaps, I will work a little harder for them. (How to reuse previous sermon material is another post for another time.)
Jesus told his first disciples that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there in their midst (Matthew 18:20). While some pastors seem to think it is a waste of their time to prepare a sermon for "the two or three" gathered on Christmas Sunday, Jesus apparently is prepared to "waste" his Christmas Day with the "two or three." I hope he is ready to hear a stale sermon.
I do agree that putting in less effort to prepare for a service, especially a Christmas day service, because you expect low attendance is poor pastoral leadership, I believe that there is a time and a place to revisit an old sermon (one preached to a different congregation). If you've put in considerable time on exegesis, and feel that the Lord has given a word that is relevant beyond a single setting, why not capitalize on the time spent preparing the sermon or even a series by using it more than once? I do this occasionally, though I nearly always re-write my notes, making small changes to fit the current congregation.
Another thing that disturbs me about this is the assumption on the part of these ministers that most people will probably just stay home on those two days. Why not spend time emphasizing the wonder of being able to worship on Christmas Day? Why not communicate it as a joy and privilege that comes along only so often? It seems to me that this is more than a concession to church members. It communicates, in a very powerful way, an attitude toward worship in general. I suspect that these ministers will have their expectations met, and not realize how they have contributed to it.
The last time this happened in our church, worship attendance was down only slightly!!
First I agree with you about your comments about people lowering their work ethic because of lower numbers.
However I'd like to offer a different perspective regarding whether or whether not we should have church on Christmas morning.
I think there's good justification to do either. At our church, we've decided that since we have a large Christmas Eve service with a lot of involvement, we're going to cancel services on Christmas morning... sort of. Instead, we're going to have a virtual message along with a video montage of people reading the Luke 2 story and giving Christmas wishes.
Of course this prompted a bit of discussion. One person said, "You have to have church on Sunday. Sunday's the Sabbath!"
I loved someone's response to that. First, Sunday is technically not the Sabbath. Saturday is. But even if Sunday was the Sabbath, then our Christmas Eve service is going on after sundown.
I think in some cases, the desire to worship Jesus on the day we commemorate His birth is the motivation for getting together. For others, I think it's motivated by poor theology. Some people think that church services, church participation, and a sermon is the end-all of being a Believer. I still have yet to find that in Scripture.
I'm happy to have a day to spend with my family after a hefty night's work. And it's good to know that while I'm gathered with my family who are also believers, the Lord is there with us. Thanks to the torn veil and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I'm not limited to a time and a place where I can worship God and experience His presence.
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