By Derwin L. Gray
Most ministry leaders tend to be goal setters, especially during this season. We’re closing out a year and gazing ahead to the possibilities of a blank calendar.
We’re visionaries, looking to see where God is going to take us individually as people, and corporately in our households and our congregations.
We make pronouncements of how we’re going to do better—as a spouse, parent, church leader, student, whatever roles we have.
But most of us don’t follow through on these commitments—often labeled “New Year’s Resolutions” we make in December. Goal setting is a good thing, but my advice? Stop making resolutions to “be better.”
Instead, consider making these resolutions that I think you’ll find are not only more life-giving than any haphazard target to keep aiming at, but also will be beneficial in being who God made you to be.
1. Resolve to receive the ministry of Jesus to you before the ministry through you.
Resolutions tend to be focused on what we’re going to do. And I think we need to focus more on what Christ has done for us.
As ministry leaders, it’s important that we focus on receiving the ministry of Christ to us before performing His ministry through us.
So often we allow working for God to destroy the work of God in us. And it’s a failure for us think what we do is more important who we are in Christ.
God doesn’t need us. He allows us to participate in His redemptive purposes because He loves us. And the overflow of that love is His ministry through us. And so we want to recapture a focus on the sacred romance of intimacy with Christ into me.
And so as we see the heart of God for us, that moves us and compels us, but so often we forget about our first love and we go to working for God instead of being with God.
When our ministry flows first from working for God this leads to burnout, idolatry, and pride.
Being with God moves us to an act of worship. God wants us to be holding Him because he’s holding us. Let’s strive to have our ministries marked by His presence.
2. Resolve to focus on your personal discipleship.
A church leader’s discipleship is crucial to the health of a local church because we can’t give away what we don’t possess.
Discipleship is partnering with the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and the people of God to be conformed to the image of the Son of God.
And for us as leaders to image the Son of God is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The more we’re discipled, the more we’re growing in love. And love looks like the fruit of the spirit. The fruit of love is patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness—all those beautiful aspects.
We want to join the Holy Spirit in cultivating that type of life in us. The most important gift I can give my family—and my church—is my holiness, not my gifting.
3. Resolve to be more concerned with your leadership team’s spiritual intake instead of their work output.
The church I lead, Transformation Church has existed for 10 years. And every Tuesday since our church began, we have a staff gathering called “Transformation Time” where outside church leaders who’ve been in ministry for decades join us and pour into our leadership team.
One of the things that has shocked me is that many of our guests for this weekly meeting have said some form of, I’ve never been a part of a church, nor have I heard of a church where you spend the first part of a day discipling your staff.
They were just blown away, but nothing about discipling my staff seems particularly revolutionary. Right now we’re reading through the book of Acts together.
We’ve made a commitment that leadership without discipleship is failure. Discipleship, which is being conformed to the image of Christ, is the ultimate way to produce healthy leadership.
Oftentimes the church is more concerned about competency than character. We want to develop character that produces competent leaders.
And so staff and/or volunteer discipleship and development should be of preeminent importance to any church leader.
4. Resolve to invest in soul care.
We become pastors and ministry leaders because we love humanity. We love our congregations.
But the problem is we’re so busy pumping everybody else’s gas. The danger of doing work for God is when we begin to think we don’t need the same grace we preach and teach.
Soul care is important to all aspects of our health—mental, spiritual, emotional, and even physical. I have a Sabbath and it’s typically on Friday. That means I go fishing. That means I do things that recharge me—that bring me delight.
It ultimately means I’m resting.
Silence is also important in soul care. We live in a day when screens are always on; there’s always noise. We’ve lost the ancient discipline of silence where we’re hearing the heart of God, where we’re not just talking to God—we’re listening.
Solitude is good as well. I love to go for walks (when my back isn’t hurting). I just want to experience God’s presence.
Growing in Jesus takes a lifetime. When we’re made new, we’re made new at the core of our being. But we still have the old vestiges—who we used to be that comes back to haunt us. God brings us out of Egypt in a moment, but it takes a lifetime to get Egypt out of us.
Sometimes that might require speaking with a therapist in order to give ourselves the soul care we need and for those we lead. Sometimes this means we need other leader friends we can pour into and who can pour into us.
Do you have a church staff or leadership team of volunteers you can confide in? The lead pastor in a church doesn’t have to be the strongest at all times.
It’s okay to show vulnerability in front of those we lead. Not only is it okay—it’s healthy to do so.
Here are some questions to consider as you assess your level of soul care:
- Are you spending time enjoying Sabbath?
- Are you getting wise counsel from a mentor—someone who’s pouring into your life?
- Are you experiencing solitude and silence?
5. Resolve to move the congregation from consumerism to participation.
Because of American Christianity and the cultural ethos we’re in, church leaders feel like it’s their job to cater to the needs of the congregation. But God equips everyone who is in Christ to be redemptive agents in the world.
I’m not saying everyone in your congregation needs to go on a short-term mission trip or become a small group leader.
What I am saying is resolve to create ways—even small ways—in which they can participate in the Great Commission with their time, talents, and resources.
For example, involve your congregation in giving to the community. There is a local school we’ve partnered with by having people drop off backpacks stocked with school supplies before the beginning of the academic year.
This not only allows us to resource area children who can’t afford school supplies, but it also helps anyone in our congregation—regardless of where they are spiritually—to practice participation in Kingdom work, even by something as seemingly small as picking up a few school supplies.
At the close of every sermon, I like to recite a commission with our people as they go out into the world—back to their homes, to their job, to school, or wherever life takes them that week. It simply goes like this: “Upward, inward, outward.”
Loving God completely (upward) provides the right view of ourselves (inward) so we can love our neighbors compassionately (outward). Does everything you plan to do in 2020 through your leadership contribute to God’s mission?
Does it equip those you lead to love Him, have the right view of themselves, and care for the world around them?
By resolving to make these five steps a priority in your ministry, you are supporting God’s first call on your life as a ministry leader—and you’re shepherding others to do the same.
Derwin is the co-founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. He is a former NFL player and author of several books, including his most recent, How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation. Learn more at DerwinLGray.com.