By Joel Rainey
We’re almost through the first month of 2019, and guess what? I still haven’t fallen off the resolutions wagon.
That’s because I never jumped on. I just don’t do resolutions. In fact, I typically don’t like people who do (can I be that honest?)
For years, I didn’t go to my local gym from January to February. It was so full of people who’d resolved to get in better shape that it felt like an hour wait to get on the stair climber. And if you were waiting for a lane to swim in, you’d better take a day off!
So I just bowed out for the first two months, knowing the “resolved” wouldn’t be so resolved by St. Patrick’s Day. I could head back to the stair climber without having to take a number, and the “not so resolved” could return to their couches.
Resolutions typically don’t work. They’re only as effective as your knuckles are white and your grip is strong. By April, most of us feel like failures–if not by February or March!
Even so, for pastors, there are some resolutions worth making—and keeping! As I write these words, we’re only 25 days into 2019. And some of you hate this year already!
Most churches “start slowly” in the new year, meaning those huge crowds at Christmas have disappeared. Even many of your regulars are having a hard time getting themselves out of bed.
January also tends to be a slow month financially for most churches. Many pastors, as a result, feel like the church was moving ahead wonderfully only to land in a ditch somewhere between December 25 and January 1. And wheels are still spinning!
Obsessing over such things can wreck your whole year. Instead, let me suggest you make some promises to yourself.
1. Take Care of Yourself
Make sure you’re getting adequate diet, rest, and exercise. Commit to going to bed by a decent hour. If you have a TV in your bedroom, get it out of there! Let the bedroom be the one place where “white noise” doesn’t invade your mind and soul.
Commit to physical activity at least three times per week. Whether it’s something as physically taxing as racquetball or something as easy as taking a walk, do something.
Take your Sabbath—whenever that is—and guard it as if your life depends on it. It does!
Too many of us are overweight, overworked, and overstressed. And too many of us have no one to blame except the guy we see in the mirror every day.
You’re no good to your people if you’re dead. Make this the year you finally put a stake in the ground when it comes to taking care of yourself.
2. If you have a family, take care of them
In recent years, a false binary relationship between church and family has emerged. Many pastors know “my family comes first” is a phrase used by our members to excuse themselves from having to participate in any meaningful service.
When this happens, the greatest temptation for a pastor is to fill that gap himself. And while the “balance of family and church” isn’t as binary as some of our people think it is, there’s a difference between “church work” and “the work of the church.”
Always give yourself to the latter. But when it comes to the former, don’t let it hurt your relationship with your family.
There are going to be pastoral emergencies. During those times, we need our families to understand. Dad may not always make it home for dinner. That’s the nature of ministry.
However, someone needing a key to the building isn’t a “pastoral emergency.” Someone asking a question about Scripture via a Facebook private message can wait.
The ministry leader who calls frantic that the tech isn’t working properly for his Thursday night class can likely get help from someone in that same class.
If you have family at home, commit in 2019 to be present with them more often.
3. Focus on the Faithful
Paul put it this way to Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Love and pray for those folks who only show up at Christmas and Easter. Be kind and loving toward those people who, when there’s work to be done, are suddenly and conspicuously absent.
But at the center of your church is a core of faithful servants of the Lord. As the pastor, you can either spend your time grumbling about the “lack of commitment” among the crowd, or you can be thankful for the core God has given you.
Spend the overwhelming majority of your time doing what Paul commands—develop your people so they can develop others just like them. Commit in 2019 to focus on the faithful.
4. Measure the right stuff
Let’s be honest. The culture of western Christendom doesn’t make this easy.
The same leaders who tell us repeatedly “it’s not about the numbers,” are the same leaders who constantly feature the “fastest-growing” among us.
And since we tend to become the very thing we celebrate, that environment can leave every pastor in America obsessed with how many seats were empty last week.
Nevertheless, we can’t focus on making disciples if most of our attention is focused on bringing in a crowd. The pastors who’ve managed by God’s grace to draw those crowds—if they’re spiritually healthy pastors—will tell you it started with years and years of developing disciples.
Too many pastors fret over an empty seat when they should be rejoicing over the marriage that was healed just last week.
It’s likely God is doing amazing things you aren’t noticing if you aren’t looking in the right place. Commit in 2019 to measure the right stuff.
5. Above all, please Jesus
2019 is just another year. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. Just a tad more than 31 million seconds.
For a follower of Jesus, the importance of this short period of time is exclusively connected to how you invest it for eternity.
When the budget is lagging, when staff and volunteers resign, and when the critics pile on, how we react in those moments should be governed by a moment yet to come.
I want to hear “well done” when that moment comes. Commit in 2019 to, above all, please the One who called you to this task.
JOEL RAINEY (@joelrainey) is Lead Pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He’s husband to Amy, father of three, serves on the adjunct faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of four books, and blogs at Themelios.