The Twelve Challenges of the Christmas Eve Service

By David Roseberry

Even if your shopping is complete and the gifts are wrapped, the pastor knows that there is one more thing to do before Christmas morning. Hold Christmas Eve Services. Whether you are preaching, celebrating the Eucharist, leading the prayers, singing the carols, handing out bulletins, or greeting people at the door, it is a big moment in the annual life cycle of a congregation. Has it become too big?

It is a privilege to be sure. Leading worship or preaching the message on Christmas Eve is an honor. I always pray that our services and my sermon will honor my King’s birth. Plus, the glory and the beauty of a candlelight service create strong memories for people. Attendance is typically higher. The beauty of the liturgy is always more special at night. And then there are the Carols of Christmas; the old songs are powerful in their tune and theology. And some of the new ones are deep and wonderful too.


In short, it is a great event that should bring glory to God and communicate the Gospel. But, after 32 years of ordained leadership I have to admit: Christmas Eve is the most wonderful and most difficult service of them all. There are so many issues, challenges, opportunities, options, cultures, feelings, theologies, traditions, and practices in play.

They dance like sugar plums in my head, as it were. Not surprisingly, here are twelve:

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Is Worship Escapism?

by Greg Goebel

Sometimes people think that worship is playing pretend. And they can think that my job as a pastor is to be the keeper of an inspirational fairy tale.

Life is busy, life is rushed, life is complex, and modern life is debilitating. People die, people suffer, people deal with the cynical corporate world. Come to church to escape that. Take a moment to get away from reality. Find inspiration in imagining a better world where everything is peaceful. Cope with life’s pain and sorrow by gathering in a peaceful place where we can pretend things are okay. Put on a mask, and cover up your sorrows or cynicism. Life is harsh, but in here, we don’t have to think about that stuff. We all know we have to go back out into the “real” world where we will again have to face life as it really is; but here and now we can pretend otherwise and allow ourselves to feel better.

And in fact, people often think that Christian worship as just that, a form of escapism.

And yet escapism is the exact opposite of Christian worship. Continue reading



by Greg Goebel

john the baptistAdvent is the beginning of the Church Year.  It is a time of anticipation, a time of preparation, and a time of remembrance.  Advent and Christmas are often confused.  The confusion arises because most North Americans begin celebrating Christmas before it arrives.  Waking up the day after Thanksgiving, folks start singing Christmas carols, and putting up Christmas trees.  It’s called “the most wonderful time of the year” and a jolly old time it is with its lights, family times, and cheer.  But, meanwhile, at the local  Anglican church, you find a different atmosphere.  Suddenly, you have left behind the smell of pine and the celebration of Christmas and entered into a world of Old Testament Prophets, John the Baptist, and powerful angels announcing future events.  A subdued tone fills the music, minor keys abound, and a Christmas tree is (often) nowhere to be seen.

Advent’s tone and focus, however, is subdued for an important reason.  Each major festal celebration (Christmas and Easter) are prefixed with a season of preparation.  The movement of the Church Year assumes that we will better understand and experience these feasts if we spend time in reflection and meditation upon why we need them in the first place.  We delve into the prophets and John the Baptist because they tell us of a time when the messiah had not yet come. They take us as if back to the times of anticipation and longing.  They remind us of how dramatic and powerful the Gospel story of God becoming a man really is.  They prepare our minds and hearts for the joy of the Incarnation.  And so Advent is necessarily a reflective, anticipatory season.  Without it, we might, and often are, tired of Christmas by Christmas.

Greg Goebel is the founder and editor of AnglicanPastor and Canon to the Ordinary of Anglican Diocese of the South. 

Reposted from 2011.


Winfield Bevins Appointed to Key Church Planting Role

winfield_bevins_150We are pleased to announce that AnglicanPastor.com writer Dr. Winfield Bevins has been appointed Director of Church Planting at Asbury Seminary.  Below is the press release from Asbury. Thank you for your prayers for him as he transitions into his new role.  (And yes, he will still be writing with us!).

We are delighted to welcome Winfield Bevins to the Asbury community as our new Director of Church Planting.  Central to our 2023 Strategic Plan is our commitment to unleash a new wave of Wesleyan church planting here in the U.S.A. and around the world.  Dr. Bevins comes to us with extensive church planting experience.

He has served as the founding pastor of the Church of the Outer Bank in North Carolina, where he also serves as the Canon of Church Planting. He is the co-founder of two church planting networks, Mission Carolina (http://missioncarolina.com) and Kardia (http://www.kardiaanglican.com), and has been responsible for dozens of new church planting networks.

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What They Don’t Teach You In Seminary, Part 3: Practicing Sabbath

During my seminary years, teaching the theology of Sabbath was not scarce. In Old Testament courses, pastoral theology courses, and chapel services, I heard some excellent theological thinking on the Sabbath. I rarely saw sabbath practiced in community. The distance between thought and practice can become quite a chasm. Good ideas about the Sabbath can become one of the greatest obstacles to actual Sabbath observance. Continue reading

Image courtesy of enchiner1 via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

What They Don’t Teach You in Seminary, Part 2: Personal Repentance

by Jack King

Image courtesy of enchiner1 via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

Image courtesy of enchiner1 via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

There is no theology apart from experience; it is necessary to change, to become a new man.’ –Vladmir Lossky ‘If you are a theologian, you truly pray; if you truly pray you are a theologian.’—Evagrius Ponticus If you visit any seminary website, schools will speak about the importance of spiritual life for their students. They must do this. They are a seminary, after all. Most seminaries emphasize the importance of chapel services and spiritual formation groups, encouraging the devotional life of their students beyond their intellectual formation in the classroom. But does that mean seminaries produce young leaders with wise and discerning hearts, ready to serve the Church after graduation? It certainly didn’t for me. But that’s more an indictment on me than a massive failure of the seminaries I attended. Continue reading


Left Behind?

Are we going to be raptured away someday? Is that an actual Christian belief? Hollywood says yes…or at least they think it might make a good action story.

Anglican Pastor writer Thomas McKenzie has addressed these questions in a movie review of Left Behind.  Fr Thomas has reviewed movies for years and so he has the movie chops. But he also hits the theology, and steers us back to Christ and the Bible. Here is an excerpt and the the whole review is at www.thomasmckenzie.com.

By Thomas McKenzie

I could really go on and on about how bad this movie is. Worst film of the year! But the real problem is, of course, theological. There is a moment in that other film, “The Remaining.” in which a young woman opens a Bible, saying she’s looking for the Rapture. Then she exclaims “it’s not here!” She’s right.

Many people have said very strange things about what we should expect around the time of Christ’s return. However, the Rapture, at least as understood in these movies, is exceedingly odd, and entirely unbiblical. In this odd, and historically very late, theory of the End, Christ must return more than once, and the first of these returns is secret. No one sees him. At this return, he sucks up all Christians into heaven. Then, those who remain are in for a whole (demonic) host of really, really bad days. This allows Christians to be freed from all suffering, and all judgment. Something that the Bible categorically denies will happen.

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Image courtesy of Justin Kern via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

What They Don’t Teach You In Seminary (Part I)

Image courtesy of Joe Loong via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

Duke Chapel image courtesy of Joe Loong via Flickr.com; Creative Commons 2.0

by Jack King

The truth is that I could have attended 10 seminaries and never have been entirely prepared for ministry in the local church.

I attended two different seminaries in my Masters of Divinity degree—Asbury Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School. Both were really good schools and I’m grateful I had experiences at both institutions. Historical theology was stronger at Duke, which caused me to transfer from Asbury, though I loved professors and the seminary community in Wilmore.

But on my second day of full-time ministry, I received a phone call while fixing dinner. A teenage boy I had never met suddenly lost his life. I did not know the family, but I was called to be present in a living room with a mother who lost her son. I introduced myself in the same moment I offered my condolences. I was 26 years old, having never known a personal tragedy in my life. The newly awarded letters ‘M.Div.’ by my name meant nothing in that moment. Could I ‘weep with those who weep?’ That was the test. No paper or exam could have prepared me for that moment. Continue reading