Should Churches Close on Christmas Sunday? Part 1

This is the first of a three-part series entitled Should Churches Close on Christmas Sunday?  
 
Part 1: Reasons Given  
Part 2: Biblical Evidence  
Part 3: Mission and Strategy  
Part 4: The Extrabiblical
 
 
When I realized that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, I said to myself, “Here we go again…” The last time this happened was in 2005, and, when some churches decided not to hold Sunday services on Christmas day, it resulted in controversy. It was a personal issue for me: my church, North Point Community Church in Atlanta, did not hold services, and one of the most-quoted critics was a professor from a seminary associated with my undergrad college.  
 
This year, Lifeway reported that 91% of churches surveyed are holding Sunday services, and this has raised some opposition to the other 9%—even the ones that are holding multiple services on Saturday the 24th. There are strong opinions on both sides, and unfortunately there’s a lot of talking past each other going on. In a three part blog series starting with this one, I’d like to make the case that it is Biblically permissible, and at times beneficial, for churches to not hold services on Christmas Sunday, as well as to solicit further Biblical discussion.  
 
I can certainly understand how the first impression can seem bad. Churches should gather faithfully every Sunday, right? And especially on Christmas. Oftentimes, though, just hearing someone’s reasoning can shed a lot of light. In the case of North Point, as well as many other megachurches, the reason they give is that they want to allow attenders and volunteers time to spend time with their families. In particular, many volunteer teams serve every Sunday, making the need for a break even greater. (NP actually always takes the Sunday after Christmas off for the same reason, meaning that this year they are off for two Sundays in a row.) A related logistical issue is that larger churches can require hundreds of volunteers to hold a service, and that many volunteers may not even be in town, let alone available to help out. (As to the possibility of holding a service with fewer volunteers, I’ll address that in a future post.)  
 
A pastor’s kid friend of mine made another point that the pastors themselves probably agree with, but may be hesitant to say. She said, we want to have our dad to ourselves on Christmas. When she said this, it clicked for me: being a pastor is more than a job, but not less. Aren’t we indignant about other jobs that force a parent to work on Christmas day? Yet it’s tempting to turn around and demand that pastors need to work on Christmas. You may have heard stories about pastor’s kids who have turned away from the church because of the excessive demands it placed on their dad. These stories show that we as congregations will either help or hinder our pastors in being good fathers. Many pastors are overworked as it is: we should be looking for ways to make it better, not worse.  
 
This issue forces us to decide if we really believe what a lot of us say: that our family should be more important to us than our job or our organizational ministry. And this isn’t just a platitude: the Bible even says that one qualification of an elder (including pastors) is that they are able to raise their children well (1 Tim 3:4). If that’s the case, then it’s unbiblical for congregations to insist that their pastors make a sacrifice of their family for the sake of their church ministry. For all of the impact my pastor, Andy Stanley, has had, setting boundaries to protect his family life has always been important for him. Whatever your opinion may be of him, this is one point we can all learn from.  
 
For some readers, these practical reasons may be enough to convince you that not holding Christmas Sunday services is a valid option. For others, however, it’s not a matter of practicality but of obedience. They may say that to not gather for worship on any Sunday, or on Christmas Sunday in particular, means elevating secular traditions, materialism, and a convenience mindset above God. They may also say that pastoring requires sacrifice, and this is a small one to make. So the first question that has to be answered is, practical considerations aside, is it categorically wrong to not hold church services on any Sunday, or on Christmas in particular? I’ll address this question in part 2 of this series.

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2 Responses to Should Churches Close on Christmas Sunday? Part 1

  1. Scott Couey says:

    Josh, have you seen Jon Acuff’s post on this topic on Stuff Christian’s like? I commented on it and put a link to your post.
    http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/12/cancelling-church-on-christmas-day/

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