Yes, the season of office Christmas parties is upon us, that time of year when all the civilized airs and graces of the workplace can be thrown aside at the first pull of a cracker. As the wine flows, colleagues who normally wouldn't have so much as a tie out of place, throw caution to the wind and in just a few hours, have done and said enough to make them wonder if they still have a job in the morning.
Of course, your office party may be nothing like this. Perhaps it's much more like an evening with Nat King Cole, sipping mugs of mulled wine, indulging in salmon mousse canapes, and enjoying genteel chatter about the slippers you're going to give your mother-in-law for Christmas. Someone may even tell a very funny joke.
If that sounds like your work do, having your dignity in tact by the end of the night should be fairly straightforward. And with all that civilized talk and music, there's a good chance you may have even slipped in the story of the birth of Jesus and your church's Christmas Day service schedule before the evening's over. Well done you!
But for Christians in wilder environs, it can often be an awkward place to be, especially if we're one of only a few believers on the staff or perhaps even the only one. On the one hand, we want to enjoy ourselves as much as the next person; on the other, we know that what we say and do matters.
It's tricky ground so there are some things worth keeping in mind as you head off for festive fun with your colleagues.
There's no getting around it. We are ambassadors for Christ and that's not a part-time position. We are 24-7, round the clock representatives of Jesus, whatever the occasion and whoever we are with. Your actions send messages and more than communicating something about you, they communicate something about Christ. When British comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen made a movie poking fun at Kazakhstan, the people of Kazakhstan were deeply offended because they felt he had wrongly portrayed their country. When we're the ones having the laugh, we can so easily overlook the fact that our good time is coming at someone else's expense. Don't let your good time be at Christ's expense. Whatever messages you send to others, just make sure they are the ones He would approve of.
Let go of the reins
Sometimes, what goes down is out of our control, so the best thing we can do is hand it over to God. Before the plates and poppers have even been put out, we can be doing some spiritual groundwork to make it the best evening for everyone, praying God's blessing over the festivities, the safety of those who take part, His will be done. We can also be praying that we do a good job of being salt and light, that we are a helping hand to those who need it, and that we can be a vessel of God's love and good tidings to those around us, whatever state they're in. For those who may be tempted to do things they'll only regret later (which includes us!) we can pray God's grace and restoration. Without God, a lot of fellowship that starts out good can end up being bad, broken, something that wasn't what God intended for everyone. Pray that this gathering ends as well as it started, and trust God whatever happens.
Don't be afraid to speak up
No one wants to be a party pooper – and no one likes a party pooper. But at the same time, if there's a chance people are going to get hurt or someone's property is going to be seriously damaged, there's nothing wrong with being the voice of caution. That doesn't mean we have to stand there hand on hip when it all goes to pot, cordoning off the fun zone and yanking the cord from the back of the stereo. But we can try to steer things in a more positive direction, perhaps by suggesting alternatives or doing simple things like passing around cups of water to keep everyone hydrated. If things really have gotten out of hand though, then maybe putting your foot down is the only option. But before you do that, it would be wise to sound out the opinions of others to see if there is a consensus on action. If not, you may just have to step back, even though it's hard. But if there are others sharing your concern, resolving the situation together is probably going to be more effective than going in lone ranger-style.
Does everything have to be turned into an evangelistic opportunity?! Can't we just have fun?! It's true that standing next to the punch bowl or shouting over "Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer" might not be the best time to break into an exegesis on the first three chapters of Matthew. But Christmas does take away a lot of the awkwardness that normally comes with attempting an evangelistic conversation with colleagues because it's such a natural talking point at this time of year. And the office Christmas party is when you can often find yourself talking to colleagues you don't normally talk to, and about much more meaningful things than whether the printer has run out of paper. If your church is hosting Christmas carol concerts or a live Nativity, that can easily be dropped into the conversation. The worst that could happen is they change the topic; the best that could happen is that they come to your church carol concert, have a great time, decide to learn about the Christian faith and eventually commit their lives to Jesus. So we need to keep things in perspective. Our brief moments of awkwardness don't compare to the joy in Heaven over one person repenting and coming to know their Father God.
Sometimes we suffer from too much inner conflict. "Should I do this?", "should I not do this?", "everyone else is doing this," "but I don't think God thinks I should do this." And on and on it can rumble, leaving us more stressed out than if we were at work! The fact is there are lots of grey areas in faith and sometimes it's not easy to know what the right thing is to do. Sometimes being gracious means doing things we normally wouldn't do; sometimes we need to draw a line in the sand. It can be a tough call. If there's another Christian around, ask their advice. If it's a call you have to make on your own, take a moment to ask for God's leading. Ask him to show you how to model His idea of fun and His values in a way that speaks to those around you. So if your fun looks a little different from their fun, people may not get it on a superficial level, but if it's expressed in love, there's a good chance they'll feel your sincerity and respect your choice.