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Christmas Sunday

In this, the final week leading up to Christmas, Christians continue to discuss those churches that have decided to not hold services on Christmas Sunday. The news, which originally broke following the decision of many megachurches to cancel their services, has put these giant churches on the defensive. Christianity Today’s weblog says, “Whatever the uproar over closing of churches on Christmas Sunday means, pastors and pundits are sure that it means something big. For people on both sides of the argument, the debate shows what’s wrong with contemporary Christianity.”

Believers who are generally opposed to the megachurch movement have used this as an opportunity to point out all that they feel is wrong with the Church Growth Movement and megachurches. Megachurch leaders, on the other hand, have cried foul, insisting that others are merely showing their jealously and are being too judgmental. All-in-all, with the secular press keeping an eye on this issue, it has turned into something of an embarrassment for the church. As CT’s weblog says, “Unfortunately, rather than use the news as a springboard to discuss important issues, the conversation has devolved into name-calling and anathematizing.” That may be overstating the issue a little bit, but there is clearly some truth to it.

Over the last week I have asked myself if I should have posted the article I wrote on the seventh of December entitled “Closed Doors on Christmas.” My fears were somewhat allayed when CT’s blog had the following back-handed compliment about the article. “Weblog does not yet have a comments section (we do have a message board), but there are other blogs where the conversation on this topic hasn’t completely devolved into pointlessness.” This was followed by a link to my article and a couple of others. I continue to believe that I am correct in my understanding of how this situation came about. Here is an excerpt from the article I wrote:

This [decision] is fed by a consumer mentality within the church that sees the unchurched as consumers who need to be led to accept the product offered by the church. [David] Wells is also right in stating that this simply feeds the rampant individualism that is endemic to our culture. These churches have catered to that unbiblical, me-centered mentality. And it is a shame.

But I think there is a little more to the story. The churches that are closing their doors are, by and large, seeker-driven. The leadership of these churches have decided that, because of the incovenience of attending church on Christmas morning, most seekers will not bother making time for a church service. We see this in the words of Cally Parkinson, spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church. “If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don’t go to church, how likely is it that they’ll be going to church on Christmas morning?” she said. If there will not be seekers in church on a Sunday morning, the leaders of these churches do not feel there is any reason to go through all the bother of opening the church doors. If a church’s philosophy of church is such that church services are viewed as being primarily for seekers and driven by seekers, there is little purpose in holding a service that only believers will attend. What we see in this decision is a clear manifestation of the ramifications of the seeker-driven mentality.

I have said a couple of times since I posted the article that my concern was not so much that churches were not having Christmas services, but that churches were not having Sunday services. And further, it was not even the fact that services were cancelled as much as the rationale.

I had not heard before yesterday that Josh Harris had cancelled services at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD where he serves as senior pastor. I was glad to see an article he posted on his blog Sunday morning where he discusses his decision to hold Sunday morning services even though he had previously announced that they would be cancelled. He entitled the article simply “The Wrong Decision.” It was simple and to the point.

I shared the following comments with my church this morning. Sometimes you learn the hard way, but I’m grateful for a patient congregation and the faithful wounds of friends.

“This year because Christmas morning falls on a Sunday I made the decision to replace our normal Sunday meeting with two Christmas Eve services. Since then I’ve come to believe that this was the wrong decision, informed by the wrong priorities.

I made my decision primarily out of a desire to release the staff and volunteers from their normal service on teams like the parking crew and children’s ministry. What I failed to see is that next Sunday morning is an opportunity for us as a church to reaffirm the priority of gathering to worship as the people of God on the Lord’s day. It’s chance to state to ourselves and our families and our community that the worthiness of our God, not the convenience of the calendar dictates our worship.

All that to say, that we’ve decided to hold a Christmas morning meeting next Sunday. We’re going to have one meeting at 11am that will be an hour long. This is going to be a very simple morning. We’re doing Sunday differently so that we can release our army of volunteers. There won’t be any children’s ministry, but feel free to come worship as a family.

I apologize for my misjudgment and any inconvenience it causes you. And I thank you for your patience.”

I admire Josh for this display of humility. It is always difficult to admit error but I suspect this is doubly true in front of one’s own congregation. While it seems that Josh’s motivations for cancelling services were pure (in that they were motivated by concerns for believers rather than unbelievers) , I believe he is right that to cancel services de-prioritizes the corporate gatherings of the church. And, it should be noted, this is true regardless of the motivations for cancelling them. Whether a pastor cancels services out of sympathy for all those people who are required to run a service or because he feels people should be at home with their families or even because he feels a service that does not include unbelievers is not worth holding, the message is consistent: Sunday services are just not that important. And so I am glad that Harris and other pastors like him have taken a stand not for Christmas services, but for the corporate gatherings of the local church. They have not only stated but have proven their belief that church is worth prioritizing.