There are two times a year when I get more introspective than normal. In the summer months when I go on vacation, I ask “Lord, am I where I am supposed to be?” In other words, how’s my relationship with the Lord, and is His purpose and plan clear in my mind? The second time of the year when I ask myself questions is at the end of the year. It is during this time that I ask, “Lord what did you teach me this year?”
â€œProgress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.â€
I have found it be essential to stop and consider what the Lord has taught me in the previous year (just as it is essential to stop and “sharpen my ax” in training). There are some people who are not adding experience to their lives, they are simply repeating the same year again and again making the same mistakes again and again. The following are some of the highlights from 2013. Because sometimes life’s lessons come with a scar, involve people (with feelings), etc., Â they are intentionally brief and without much commentary.
1. Â Invest in people before you invest in possessions. Physical property will break, technology will fade, and eventually every â€˜thingâ€™ will need to be replaced. People, on the other hand, are an investment that has limitless dividends. For example, if you help a person become a teacher (or a better teacher) then not only do you help them, but you influence all the people they will eventually teach.
We as Americans like to hold things in our hands. We think that we have security in our possessions. We find comfort and limited peace in our bank accounts and retirement. But our true wealth is what we cannot hold on to â€“ the lives of other people. A Christian leaderâ€™s life long job is to invest in and equip others in order that they can be sent out to do ministry. So it is a lifetime of letting go (in love), not of holding on.
Donâ€™t get me wrong we need stuff to do ministry and life, but people should always come first. If you only have a dollar then buy a friend a cup of coffee and spend time in conversation.
2. Â Know and learn to love the culture where you minister. If you are a childrenâ€™s volunteer then you need to be able to enter a childâ€™s world and know what the child likes. You should know what they are doing when they play in their homes.
If you are a youth volunteer you need to know what youth think is â€˜coolâ€™, ‘righteous,â€™ â€˜sickâ€™, â€˜illâ€™, or whatever. If you are on staff at a church then you learn to love whatever the culture you find yourself. If you donâ€™t, then you always stand outside the circle making commentary on things you donâ€™t understand or appear to appreciate. This is an issue of immersion. You must immerse yourself in a culture (dress, language, food, customs, etc.) and actually adapt them to your life.
3. Â Respect and Honor Otherâ€™s Investment in the Ministry Where You Find Yourself. Rarely are you the first to â€˜till the groundâ€™ and â€˜reap the harvest,â€™ where you minster. Usually there is someone (or even many others) who have come before you. These are people serving in your church who have been doing it longer than you have been alive. Thank God for them, give them what they need to do their ministry, and leave them alone.
4. Â React. Do something when someone comes to you with a concern. You do not necessarily have to do what they want done, when they want it done, but if someone has taken the time to set up a meeting with you, then they are expecting you to take some kind of action.
It is not good (in the eyes of your relationship) for you to develop a plan, pray about it, and begin to work the plan if what you are doing is not communicated with the person who initially brought you the concern. If you have not communicated with them, then they assume you are doing nothing, do not value their concerns, and they get very frustrated (especially when needed change takes time).
5.Â Keep people â€œin the loop.â€ especially those on your staff. When ministry gets hectic, stressful, and you feel attacked from all sides, information is more precious than gold. But it seems that this is exactly when people get guarded, protective, and keep things to themselves. Earn trust in the good times, because you will need it in the bad times.
6. Â Invest in Friendships. If you want to have a friend, then you have to be a friend. Quit sitting around and waiting for people to come to you (who are you that people should revolve around you?), you make the effort, take the risks, and build the relationship. No, they wonâ€™t all work out, but some will.
Take some time and ask yourself the question, “Lord what have you taught me this year?” I would love to hear your list!