Everybody makes a New Year’s resolution. OK, actually only about 45 % of people actually make a resolution. Those that do have an 8 % percent success rate at keeping said resolution. Now I was not a math major, but 8 % doesn’t seem like a high success rate to me. Nonetheless, about 8 % of the 45 % who attempted a resolution out of a total of 100 % of people make improvements in their lives each year. That tells me that we aren’t getting better very quickly or easily.
The top 5 resolutions are usually something like:
1 – Lose Weight
2 – Get Organized
3 – Spend Less, Save More
4 – Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5 – Stay Fit and Healthy
All are worthy resolutions and should be monitored more than once a year. These are valid goals in life and, even in failure, should be attempted again and again so that the individual is pursuing things that are worthy and enduring over a lifetime. I have made all of these resolutions at some point and likely will make them again, because they should be life goals and not New Year’s goals. Being healthy, happy and whole are not yearly goals, but a lifelong pursuit. Achieving a resolution does not make us a champion and will not guarantee our happiness, but it will help to identify what is important to us and where to invest our best energy and effort in working on an area of need, weakness, or desire.
This time of year and this type of reflection makes me wonder something. Should a church make resolutions for a New Year? I guess a church can choose one of two paths: identify areas that need to be addressed/faced for improvement as a congregation OR continue “as is” as a dysfunctional, declining, and/or dead body of believers. With thousands of Christian churches closing each year, it seems that some new goals for church health and wholeness would not be a bad thing.
My top 5 resolutions for every church in 2015 are:
1 – Become intentional about teaching the Biblical truth from birth to death; don’t rely only on your favorite Bible or simple stories to teach or engage people into God’s story; and don’t just drop in a verse that justifies your preaching/teaching point. God has a word for every person and every situation that predates our service planning. Listen to what God says to your heart, and then speak that into the heart of those you are shepherding in faith. Enlist liturgy to help you say it. Let the grace of God pour over the problems of our world and transform our churches for holy living and loving.
2 – Become aware of what is happening in your community. Each church (and therefore each pastor) is uniquely planted to reach the people in your area. Don’t focus on a preferred demographic. Look right around you for people in need of the gospel. Make missions a priority for active outreach and not a program for educating or accounting. Preach, plan and be partners in assimilating your community into your church and your church into your community.
3a – Become available to children and teens who need to be adopted, mentored, protected, and/or accepted. Some of the kids in our community need forever families because they aren’t with their biological family. Some need an adult to show interest in them because parents are busy, addicted, clueless about their kids. Some have families and available parents, but don’t feel accepted and don’t quite fit with other teens. Relationships are the greatest asset every church has. Let’s not entertain kids. Let’s love them and personally lead them in the right way.
3b – Become active in reaching older adults. About 1/3 of the US population is over the age of 50. That is roughly 105 million people. We cannot assume they are all churched, and we cannot neglect their faith development and ministry engagement in order to focus on a different generation. Some are widowed/widowers, and many are living alone. Older adults are some of the most needy Americans in terms of hunger, loneliness, poverty, and/or vulnerability. These are all causes the Church cares about and can address.
3c – Become answers to problems in the lives of young to middle aged adults. The middle of life is full of problems that can affect our faith and involvement in the church, even though we often think we have life by the tail. Money, sex, and power are primary causes for detachment from those that matter most, divorce, obsession with our career, and unhealthy lifestyle issues involving food, alcohol and drugs. Many adults are dying spiritually and have no clue what is causing the dysfunction in their lives and homes. The church can offer a place of healing and hope if/when adults in chaos put their trust in Christ and allow him to be Lord of all things in life, marriage, family, career, etc. Gospel centered churches invest their energy and efforts in areas where sin reigns so that struggles don’t become failures which become factions or frivolous separations.
4 – Become aware of cultural perspectives and changes, but not addicted to being liked or approved by culture. If chasing cool or being trendy is your church’s passion, then you need a new one. If being relevant or modern supersedes being faithful and/or focused on missio Dei, then you have lost your way as the body of Christ. Jesus Christ redeems culture. He does not assimilate into culture, destroy it, or withdraw from it. His presence in culture is transformational; not conforming or incorporating. Culture is transformed through the practice of prayer, a commitment to holiness of heart and life, and engaging in mission where God is working.
5 – Become forgiving in everything. While forgiveness is central to the Christian message, the church may be the worst at practicing it. Not forgiving others will destroy our personal lives, our families/marriages, our congregations, our communities, and our country. Without forgiveness we are angry, bitter, fearful, full of regret, doomed to isolation and turmoil. The church in America could have a tremendous impact if we learned how to forgive others easily and then practiced forgiveness frequently. Every church needs a forgiveness “revival” to kick start how our people forgive themselves and others. Without a spirit of forgiveness in our personal daily practice our weekly corporate gatherings are weak, impotent and likely void of grace, mercy, and love.
Setting these goals will not make them come true. Putting your best leaders in charge and keeping these 5 priorities is not enough to be successful in changing the culture of your church and ministry. God must be at the center of it all. He will make our resolutions valid. He will make our struggles bearable. He will meet us when we fail and pick us up. He will take what is useless in our own power and make it useful in His. He will give us a future and a hope. He will be our God and call us to be His people. Resolve this year to embrace the life that God gives us in Christ Jesus. Everything else will begin to make sense and fall into place.
Amen and Auld Lang Syne.
January 4, 2014 – Christmas 2B
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1)