This is a guest post from ArtSpeak friend Darrell Zimmerman of Grace Place Wellness Ministries.
Church conflict is a leading cause of anxiety for pastors and church creatives. The Christmas Season presents a unique opportunity to mend broken relationships.
“All is Calm.” Christmas is a Time for Healing.
When I was wise enough to pay attention, I noticed it every Christmas.
By late December, most of the buzz and hum of congregational life in the churches I served had quieted significantly. Boards and committees put agendas aside for the month. Even caroling, cookies and cocoa gave way to family time and preparing for a quiet gathering around the manger for worship on Christmas Eve.
Matters of church business that seemed so important earlier in the fall mattered less. Hearts were turning to the miracle of the Incarnation, God who became flesh. Jesus was born on that silent night in Bethlehem. The Spirit of the Lord among us brought a hush to the church, a silent awe and wonder to the pastor and to the people of God.
In the silence of the season, God was making his presence known among us. Something good could happen.
Christmas is a time for healing.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”
I’ve always imagined the angels pleading, “O Lord Most High, we’ve waited so long for this night. We just have to sing songs of joy with the people of earth!” In the entire course of human history, it was on that one night that the Lord relented. “Okay. Just tonight. But wait until after midnight, and only one song. And not downtown, but out in the boondocks with those shepherds I told you about. And PLEASE send an advance warning or you’ll scare them to death!”
On Christmas Eve, there we were, like a bunch of shepherds: pretty ordinary, a bit smelly much of the time, undeserving, but invited into the presence of angels to sing of the greatness of God.
Worship at our church throughout December was always wonder-full, but something holy happened in the still, quiet candlelight of the midnight Christmas Eve service. We sang with angels. We always do, but on Christmas Eve we could almost hear them.
Jesus changes everything.
Christmas is a time for healing.
All is calm.
Just like families, churches are breeding grounds for conflict and anxiety. Pastors and their staff hold the central position at the hub of a complex web of church relationships that are often loaded with tension, disappointment, hurt feelings.
Within the dynamics of those church relationships reside the hurt and grief that has accumulated sometimes for generations. It’s not unusual for the devil to get a foothold in congregational events of the long distant past, to set up a base of operations in the hurts church members and pastors inflicted upon each other so long ago that neither the current minister nor members of the congregation even remember what the argument was about.
Every year, churches and their pastors enter December together, bearing with them the disagreements and disappointments that have been accumulating over recent months. In this bizarre year of 2020, I imagine you’ve experienced the drama of church life like never before. Managing the COVID pandemic has put an unusually unpleasant strain upon even the healthiest congregations.
This December is unlike any I’ve witnessed in my thirty-eight years of ministry. But it is December.
And Christmas is a time for healing.
All is bright
The healing work of Christ continues today because we all need his touch of mending grace every single day. All of our yesterdays are filled with brokenness: bitter words spoken or heard, promises not kept, unmet expectations. Darkness. Sin and its effects follow us around relentlessly.
The grace of Christ heals what’s been broken. Life with God, life in community with others, life in ministry that becomes unbelievably challenging are all refreshed and restored by the forgiving grace of Christ.
December always seemed like the perfect opportunity for us as the people of God to leave behind the petty arguments of church life and mend broken relationships. It was a time to dial back the congregational anxiety of disagreements over mission and ministry.
It was time to gather at the manger, time to remember the angel’s song of peace on earth, time to sing together, to worship together, to remember why Jesus came. December was a time to experience together the light of Christ in ways that we neglected far too often. The brightness of God’s healing grace was unmistakable in our Christmas worship.
It was a time to slow down the “doing” of the church so we could remember how to “be” the church.
It was a time to heal.
Unity is God’s gift to the church, and the unity we share is our witness to the world. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, NIV).
Sadly, unity between congregations and their ministers is a gift that is all too often squandered. A significantly large number of pastors who move to new congregations report that it was disunity, a bad atmosphere of conflict at the congregation that led to their departure.
Where ministers and their congregations share a close bond of trust, respect and love, the professional church workers thrive, and so does the mission of the church.
At Grace Place Wellness Ministries, when we talk about the emotional health of churches and ministers, we often liken it to the weather. Some churches are dominated by good weather. There’s a light and airy atmosphere of harmony and joy. You can sense the peaceful atmosphere within the first few visits to the church. I hope you know a church like that.
Many churches seem locked into a bad atmosphere of dark clouds and stormy weather and can’t seem to find their way out. It shows. It’s hard to hide. Guests recognize it. You’ve probably been there.
Healthy churches recognize quickly when bad weather is moving in and they do something about it. They invite the Son to shine in and break up the storm clouds by taking responsibility for conflict, confessing their wrongs to one another, and seeking God’s forgiveness. And seeking forgiveness from one another.
That’s the healing power of the gospel. It’s “the dawn of redeeming grace” that Jesus came to bring.
Christmas is a time for healing.
Peace on earth
A wise pastor once said, “Conflict is inevitable; enemies are optional.” The mood changes when we decide to seek the healing grace of Christ.
Maybe Christmas is the perfect season, while calm prevails, to mend some broken relationships.
This has been a very rough year for church workers and for the congregations they serve. Our prayer at Grace Place Wellness is that this Christmas every church would be a true Place of Grace and that the beauty and wonder of this season of grace might bring a new beginning for pastors and churches everywhere.
May you enjoy his heavenly peace through all of 2021.
Grace Place Wellness Ministries
ArtSpeak Articles to Find Peace and Regain Calm
- How to Make Gratitude Your Operating System
- 21 Days of Prayer Graphics
- Working with God: 3 Ways to Rest During Unrest
- Brain Science, Biblical Truth, and Learning to Thrive
And don’t forget to download your free, customizable Christmas social graphics. Merry Christmas.