It’s Time to begin Planning for the New Year
2020 has finally passed and with a Covid-19 vaccine on the horizon we can finally begin to look past the latest school closings, and hospital surges. While masks and social distancing will be with us for a while, a new year opens up new opportunities for something new. Do you think I’m ready for something new (absolutely!)
God in His grace gives us newness; new days are given after a night’s rest, new growth is seen as the seasons of the year change, and a new year is given to be used for His glory. Honestly, this has not been the best year for me, and I know it has been really hard for many people. If you have not had a good year, or if you seem to be reacting to life instead of moving the rudder of your life’s ship, then consider the following as you approach the new year:
Six Items To Consider As You Prepare For a New Year
1. Pray. It seems obvious, but God already has your year mapped out, so why not see what he says about your next year. Are there things that you find yourself foolishly repeating year after year simply because you didn’t spend time with the Lord? Before we begin to plan our next steps, we must consult the Lord and His plans for us.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Develop Your Calendar. It has been said, “If you don’t control your calendar, then your calendar will control you.” As you chart your next season of life, begin by taking your yearly calendar and adding all of the big annual events (vacations, ministry events, family events like anniversaries and birthdays, and conferences). While Covid-19 may have changed how we do these things, we must think creatively, with purpose and understanding, to see that the intention behind these “big rocks” have the space needed in our lives.
Once you have yearly events, then move to monthly, and then weekly. But before you add all the events from last year to the calendar for this year, you must prayerfully consider each one. How will you evaluate if you need to do this or that event again, on the same scale, or the same way? While I pray that life is not about quarantines and closings this coming year, we still need to carve out the weekly and monthly items that are important.
Make sure you put as much information as you know on the calendar. There will be events that you do not have a specific date for yet, but try to place it as close to the date of where you think it will be held. By having all your events on the calendar before you, you can also evaluate if there will be simply too much going on, or if more things can be added to the calendar. Perhaps, an alternative is to move events around until you find the balance between the two.
3. Along with your events, simultaneously, develop your budget. How much will you need for specific events, trips, or ministry efforts? You may find that you need to scale down an activity or that you have the ability to do something else or to do the event on a larger scale than you once thought possible. Like air in a clown’s balloon, you can twist all the links into it you want, but there is only so much air and the balloon can only stretch so far.
4. Consider your own personal goals and need for growth. If you are finding yourself feeling “burned out” spend some time asking the Lord, “Why am I feeling this way?” or “What am I doing regularly that is negatively impacting my life?”
It may be that you are spending too much time away from home, or not enough in devotional time. It will be different for everyone, but now is the time to plan out how you will not continue to do these same things. You don’t have to feel tired, depressed, worn out, etc. all the time.
This is also a great time to consider the needs of your family. Just as the seasons change, so do the needs of family. Each year brings its’ own set of problems and challenges, and so as you prayerfully plan your budget, calendar out events, and set your personal goals, also consider how your family has changed in the past year. Avoid excessive activity, and build in family time, or special time with a child that may need some extra attention. Your first responsibility is to your family, and then to ministry.
New Year’s Resolutions
For a person to keep a New Years’ resolution it has to be rooted in the person having a genuine need and the person seeing the benefit of keeping the resolution. Your praying, planning, budgeting will bring needed resolutions to your attention that if you make these changes will help you to be healthier, happier, more rested, and growing as a person.
5. Review the previous year. I keep a journal where I record detailed notes of meetings, planning lists, journal entries, ideas etc. and I when I go through this time of planning, I review these journals from the previous year. I am reminded of ideas that I had forgotten about, people I need to develop relationships with, projects that have been completed (or not completed), or even goals that have been met.
These journals are encouraging because I am able to see how God has answered prayer, provided what was needed to complete various ministry projects, and carried me through one more year of ministry. They are a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
Unlike a previous year’s calendar, a journal reminds me of thoughts and feelings. There are some items and information that I will transfer from an older journal to a new one, but for the most part each journal is a step forward into a new year.
Regardless of your method, how will you review the previous year? Do we just say it is a “one off,” and treat 2021 like 2019 and pretend 2020 really didn’t happen?
6. Contentment but not Satisfaction. This is not about “we had 20 last year, so this year I want to have 40.” Or “we had 6 groups last year, so this year I want to have 12!” Wanting more people, money or equipment simply because that’s how the world measures success is not a good way of determining a direction in ministry. This method is rooted in pride and will be quickly abandoned when things get difficult.
Before Covid-19 many church leaders measured success by how many backsides were in the pew, and how many dollars were in the plate. Now we are talking about virtual services and giving online. Covid-19 has taught us new ways of measuring success, such as “engagement,” and “relationship building.” But, this is really as it has always been since the time of the early church, we just needed a pandemic to bring us back into focus.
Let me be of encouragement to you, that God loves you, has a purpose and plan for your life and this coming year is going to be a year of recovery and re-building. As we all are beginning to come out of our post-apocalyptic bunkers, know that God will reward our faithfulness to Him.
 1 Timothy 3:4
***There is a sermon link at the bottom of this page from a sermon I preached on Ecclesiastes 3, a few years ago.
Life is constantly moving from one thing to another and we are in constant transition. When you are born your body radically changes daily. From there it’s walking, potty training, eating by yourself, then eventually reading, writing, driving, Calculus, girlfriends, college, marriage, kids, mini-vans, thinning hair, kids start dating, kids leave for college, etc. At every stage, just when you have it figured out, guess what? It’s time to change to something else. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that life is going to change, and rarely does it go back to being “normal.”
The following are a few mistakes that we can make in dealing with transitions.
Mistakes of dealing with transitions of life:
Moving Forward Too Fast
This is when we are looking toward the next transition too soon.When I was in seminary there were those that would max out the amount of classes they could take. They rarely (if ever) left their rooms except to go to class. If you did happen to see these recluses, and were able to squeeze in a conversation, they constantly talked about how they wanted to finish school as soon as possible (yeah, no kidding).
They were missing “the seminary experience” in order to get to the “real world” of ministry. The whole purpose of seminary was to equip them for the ministry they desired to do, but in their rushing through the experience they were short circuiting the process of being equipped in order to move to the next stage. They were checking the boxes as fast as they could.
At every stage of life and in every time of transition there are things we are to learn, life lessons to experience, and people that we are to meet and engage in life with. If you move from stage to stage, and transition to transition, with never stopping to engage in the moment, then you are going to miss something very important in your life. But seriously, “When have you finally arrived?” At what point of success will you slow down and concentrate on the moment?
Holding On For Too Long
The second mistake is the opposite of the first. This is when we try to hold on to the past so long that it keeps us from moving with the flow of the present. It’s like we are anchored to the past, and the swirl of the current of life roars past us. If Stacy London and Clinton Kelly have taught me anything, it is that people get trapped in a time of their lives then they were happy or at least felt safe. But when they aren’t able to move forward in life (like when someone dies, a divorce, or some other tragic event) their fashion/dress gets stuck and they don’t move on. This is a visual picture of what happens when we don’t roll with the transitions, but emotionally (which we can’t see) it make take the form of shutting down, not trying, or just trying to disappear from society. Life becomes this dance of grabbing on the present, while letting go of the past – moment to moment.
People Are Important
Another mistake people make in dealing with transitions is Not Developing Relationships As You Go. Life (and ministry) is all about relationships, people, and how we are all connected together. It took me until my adult life to realize that the people who have been in my life weren’t just there (as trees in a landscape), they were there for me to develop meaningful relationships with.
In our self-centered lives we tend to view people as ways to get us to where we want to go; they become tools we use to help us advance in our goals, visions, or careers. If they can’t be of help to us, we tend to marginalize them out of our lives. This is a huge mistake because even if you perceive that a person will be in your life for a short period of time, you still should make an effort to get to know them, love them, befriend them, and invest your life in theirs. Who knows where it might lead and what the future holds? But also, what if we are in one season of life much longer than we had anticipated?
Not Enjoying the Moment
There are moments in my kid’s lives that I will always treasure. I have loved leading Joshua and Caleb in Scouts, having lunch with Isaac and picking him up from school, or doing Hannah-Grace’s hair for a dance recital when her mother had to go out of town.
It sounds cliche, but “stop to smell the roses.” Our kids are only in their transition for a moment and then they move on to something else. Each day is a gift, and each new change is an opportunity to keep a great relationship, start over, or make things right.
Transitions cause stress in our lives. We feel the need to make decisions, and our focus can become completely consumed by this need to take some action, make a final decision, or the feeling to just do something. During these times of transitions (especially during moments like today) we are not sure of what we need to do. In that time of stress, life still moves on, it doesn’t stop because we are not sure what we should be doing.
Ministry involves emotional work. Like nurses or police officers, pastors regularly engage in activities as a part of their day-to-day responsibilities where they must deal with other people’s problems, emotions, and behavior. They are expected to express love, compassion, emotion, or they are expected to reserve that emotion, to be professionally distant and to control it all like a switch.
So as the years go by, if we are not careful, our emotion switch gets stuck or even broken. Numbness and callousness sets in like a whiteout in the winter. We stop feeling, caring, and everything goes on autopilot. We are so “professional” that we can fool everyone, even ourselves.
But if we are numb on the inside, then we miss those moments of transitions that our kid’s need for us to be completely present. If you are at this point, and you are not able to enjoy the moment then stop what you are doing, take a break, pray, and focus on doing whatever it takes to regain your sense of feeling. One of the ways that I have found to manage that professional numbness is to focus on today (you can’t control tomorrow). I don’t know what God has in store for me in the future, but today I have responsibilities, children who need a dad, a wife that needs a husband, etc. If I can focus on that, and only that, then I can fend off the feeling of paralysis by analysis.
All of these things deal with finding the right balance between moving and staying still, holding on and letting go, building up and moving on (Ecclesiastes 3 puts it much better; see below). I would also recommend “Didn’t See It Coming,” by Carey Nieuwhof. While it doesn’t completely offer steps to solve this issue, it does give you a point of reference on the topic (in other words it is a helpful place to begin the discussion with yourself and others).
I have found that it has been my relationship with Jesus that allowed me to find that place between true joy through living out one’s purpose without slipping into numb professionalism and feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of life.
Here is a sermon on Ecclesiastes 3 that I preached at Daybreak Community Church, many a moon ago. It also deals with the issue of change and how life stinks sometimes.
Ecclesiastes 3 “A Time for Everything” (ESV)
For everything there is a season, and la time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to mdie;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to nweep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to odance;
a time to embrace, and a time to rrefrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to slose;
a time to keep, and a time to tcast away;
7 a time to utear, and a time to sew;
a time to vkeep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to whate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Churches and businesses are drawing close to the time when they will begin to gather and open in groups once again. Pastors, staffs, and business owners are going to make decisions regarding reopening their doors and gather in groups. While they have gained new ways of doing things (Zoom meetings, social distancing, sanitizing, etc.) its’ natural tendency is to go back to “normal” — but they are in a day that their “old normal” just can not continue. Churches and businesses have to change, but it is the vision of the organization that will allow it move through these unknown and treacherous times.
Focusing on the issues and changes that need to be made will keep you away from the vision if you allow it, but one would do it to their own peril. The following are three things that many leaders get wrong — it is the vision that will allow them to navigate through these tough decisions.
1. Mistake#1 – Vision is Not About Fixing Problems.
Vision is not seeing perceived problems that need to be fixed and then designing a plan to fix those problems. Fixing problems is on the job description for a leader, but it is not vision. A skillful leader can fix problems all the day long but never show vision.
The leader who falls into this category is stuck in maintenance mode. Nehemiah did not fix the walls because they were broken. The broken walls changed how God’s people were living, so the walls had to be built so that people’s lives would be changed. When we are only about fixing problems we have actually lost sight of the vision. Casting vision and pushing it through the organization will cause all kinds of issues, it actually creates problems.
A good vision will allow people to clearly see where the organization is going, there will be people who don’t want to go on this trip, and others will want to get on the bus with you. But don’t expect it to be clean and neat, and that everyone will be happy.
2. Mistake #2 – Vision is Not a Group Project.
A vision can be shared, but it cannot be developed by the organization, it has to come from the leader. Visions spread and are adapted as they grow throughout an organization. They begin to take a life of their own in different ways, but it is a guiding force from the top of the organization.
The top leader has to constantly push the vision because it will get lost among the masses. The organization as a whole cannot push the vision forward without the main leader encouraging them to do so. God does not give multiple visions to multiple people, He gives one vision to the main leader. If He did there would be chaos.
This is not to say that counsel should not be sought after before developing a vision or even letting key leaders have input into the process. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” But once they have been heard and their advice taken into account, it is the main leader who sets the vision.
3. Mistake #3 – Vision Is Not ALL About Making Changes.
Beginning something new, ending something that is not working, or making changes, is not vision. Changes are tools that allow you reach or achieve the vision. You can change how you are structured, hire or fire employees, etc. but these are changes that make organizations healthy and stable. Once the organization is stable, healthy, etc. you still have to ask and answer the question “Why are we doing this?” and you have to have an answer (and ask it again, and again, and again, ad nauseam).