Encouraging Personal Devotion during Advent


December is a time when people are looking for experiences to share with friends and families. Church leaders can plan in advance to offer events and guide individuals and families in ways that will bring greater meaning to Christmas preparations.

Because of the pace of December, with its special decorations, parties, gifts, and other activities that people enjoy, people may be less likely to make time for personal devotion.

During Advent, the worship we encourage should be beyond the sanctuary, in the homes and private spaces of the lives of our church members. Some of the most important worship that will take place will be in the personal devotional space that people create this time of year. Because of the pace of December, with its special decorations, parties, gifts, and other activities that people enjoy, they may be less likely to make time for personal devotion. It is the role of the church to empower the spiritual focus of Advent.

Barbara, the associate pastor at the church Tom serves, asked a group of church members to talk about Advent and Christmas and share what the church could do to make the season more meaningful. One of the participants, Bill, shared that his family had a tradition of making an Advent log. The Advent log was essentially a traditional Advent wreath that used a log with five holes drilled into it for the candles. Bill shared how he and his father would prepare the log, stapling fresh greenery to its sides, and he described the joy of lighting the candles as the family shared daily devotions.

Tom realized that Bill’s father had taken an Advent wreath and combined three elements that no boy could resist: wood, power tools, and fire. Building on this idea, a group of men in the church was organized to gather logs, pre-drill the holes, cut greens, and invite the congregation to come prepare Advent logs. Advent candles and devotional booklets were provided. Over one hundred families and individuals gathered to make their own Advent logs. The congregation was challenged to set apart time each day to light the Advent candles and share a daily devotion.

Bill, who had shared the Advent log tradition months earlier, came forward with his wife, Jessica, and their children and demonstrated how an Advent devotion was shared in their home. Because many in the church had never participated in such a tradition, it was important to model this for the congregation. This service was followed by a soup supper, where members of the church had time to share a simple meal and catch up with one another as their Advent season began. It was enjoyable to see members of the church linger around the tables, enjoying their conversation, meeting new friends, and visiting with each other.

The church did not use its traditional Advent wreath that year, choosing instead to have a larger version of the Advent log in the front of the sanctuary as a way of communicating that everyone in the church was on the same journey during Advent.

Lovett and Tom are authors of Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit (Abingdon Press, 2013). This material is adapted from that book and used with permission of the publisher. The book is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Tom Berlin

Tom Berlin is bishop of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. Previously, for over 25 years, he was senior pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia. He was written several books. Most recently, he coathored The Third Day: Living the Resurrection (Abingdon Press, 2023), available on Cokesbury and Amazon.

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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