The Rev. Nathan Shockley began jotting notes for his Dec. 23 Christmas message soon after Thanksgiving. But even with an early start, he hardly trusts his wisdom and creativity to offer a twist on an age-old
“A lot of people may dismiss this idea today,” Shockley said, “but I believe God’s inspiration is on our minds when it comes to the different things we’re thinking about (to preach). After all, it’s really his story.”
Shockley, pastor of Bethel Holiness Church in Columbus, is among clergy acknowledging they feel a bit of pressure to find a new thread in perhaps the best-known Bible story that even the oldest listeners have heard since childhood.
“I definitely do want to give people something fresh that will speak to their heart,” Shockley said while he made notes recently in the parsonage.
His title this year: “The Path to Christmas,” highlighting Joseph and Mary’s journey and comparing that to people’s spiritual journey today.
The Rev. Mark Jones, teaching pastor at The Ridge in Columbus, already has been tackling Christmas themes as part of the church’s “Search and Rescue” series, part of which addresses Jesus’ hope and saving grace.
“It’s not easy to be fresh each year,” he said. “We work hard to be creative, especially when we’re trying to help people see something that’s very familiar with fresh eyes.”
For Jones and lead pastor Jerry Day Jr., Christmas message ideas come from reading, music, brainstorming, prayer and contemplation. The latest idea came from a Christian book Jones was reading.
“I heard somebody say one time that it’s a crime to take the greatest news in the world and make it boring,” Jones said. “We try really hard not to let that happen. But it takes work, and it takes teamwork.”
In Indianapolis, Christian Theological Seminary’s Ron Allen, a professor of preaching for the past 30 years, said that finding new elements of the season to highlight ought to be a common practice for the well-equipped minister.
“I think it’s a challenge only to those who don’t pay attention to the fact that life all around them is almost constantly changing,” he said. “We should be forever picking up fresh nuances and themes.
“Actually, I think the most important thing (for the preacher) is to keep your eyes open to everything around you.”
But Allen added that young preachers he has trained probably do feel pressure to craft and deliver a strong Christmas message, if for no other reason than the fact that many churches see their largest crowds then.
Mark Oliver, pastor at the 3-month-old Freedom Chapel that he and his wife, Tiffany, launched at 1609 Orinoco Ave., will preach his church’s first Christmas message Dec. 23. He presented Christmas messages a couple of times before as a speaker at his previous church.
His title for his sermon is “A King-Sized Bed,” and he’ll preach with a manger sitting next to him.
Although he’s listened to upward of a hundred Christmas sermons, Oliver said he never grows weary of the story. In the past, he has been open about how his Christian faith freed him from addictions and more.
“I don’t think we always have to do a lot of revamping (to speak), especially if we are speaking to those who are born again,” he said. “Our savior was born so we could have new life.
“Man, for me, that never gets old.”