One September day twenty-two years ago, I was sitting in a Chipotle with my wife Anita and suddenly declared: “I can’t do another Christmas Eve program again. I’m sick of them…I’m going to cancel it this year.”
She choked on her fajita and said, “You can’t do that!” She looked at me like I had said, “Let’s put the X back in Christmas!”
I reminded her, “Are you sure? I’m the pastor.”
The church had grown large in those days and I had just stepped into the lead pastor role; we had recently moved into a 2400-seat facility. I’m sure I was feeling the pressure.
And frankly, I was simply tired of The Big Show.
Then Anita reminded me of something that changed my life. Many years earlier, we did our first outreach as a brand new little church of twenty-five people. We gave away a few bags of groceries and Christmas trees in the housing projects not far from us. We were so naïve that we would knock on the doors and literally ask if there were any poor people there.
Yes, we were that clueless.
But there were several dynamics happening: it wasn’t just a simple need being met, but a shift in the way people—mostly estranged from church—saw Christians. Even better yet, not just saw Christians, but saw the Kingdom of God crashing into their world.
We were hooked.
So back at the September lunch, my wife said, “Why don’t we do an outreach on Christmas Eve? Kind of a ‘return to our roots’-thing.”
For a few minutes I was deep in thought. Suddenly I responded, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea: why don’t we do an outreach on Christmas Eve?” She just smiled and took another bite of her fajita.
It became a tradition for us. Instead of The Big Production, we bought thousands of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and passed out the boxes to attendees who came Christmas Eve night with this mandate: go out now and give them to people who have to work tonight—police stations, fire stations, video stores (remember those?), bars, hospitals, and so on.
That first night, one woman later told me this:
“We went to a Taco Bell and actually cut in front of the car who was ordering. After giving the cashier our doughnuts, we told her we also wanted to pay the bill for the car behind us. She wanted to know why. When we told her and gave her a card to give to them, she was so happy, she grabbed my hand and said ‘God bless you, God bless you!’ She was so pleased and said she loved me. Then the people in the car waved to us. It was so awesome to bring that joy to so many in one night…especially at the saddest and loneliest time of year for so many.”
Over the years, I must have heard a ton of stories like that.
It was so simple: gather together, sing a couple of Christmas carols, tell the Christmas story in five minutes, light our candles, and send everyone outside on a cold, blustery Christmas Eve with a mission: express the unconventional, unconditional, incarnational love of Jesus in a simple, tangible way.
Sometimes you just need to think outside the box. Or take the box outside.
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group
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