By Eddie Pipkin

Let’s make some resolutions, kids!  It’s that time of year, and as people of ritual and calendar-based customs, it’s a fine exercise in thoughtful visioning to get on the 2023 resolutions bandwagon.  And I’m not just going to produce a generic ministry resolutions list for next year – oh, no – I’m going to bare my soul to give you a glimpse into my own personal resolutions for the upcoming 12 months and suggest to you that what’s good for me may — just may — in some way also be beneficial for you as well!

First of all, let me be transparent and confess myself as a lifelong resolution resistor.  I’ve always been that guy at the end of December who rolled his eyes at the folks who were sharing their resolutions for the new year.  That is, until recently.  I scoffed impetuously at people and their grand, enthusiastic goals, and I reserved my most stringent antipathy for those who were continuing whole hog with their bad old habits for one, final, debaucherous week until starting a new lifestyle on a specific calendar date (e.g. “I’m gonna eat all the bad stuff until January 2nd, but then, you wait and see. . . .”).  I was always on the sideline tossing in comments like “If it’s important enough to do it January 2nd, why not start today?”  In general, I always felt the idea of New Year’s resolutions was a performative sideshow, a substitute for true personal discipline.

Maybe it was the pandemic that broke my arrogance and softened my stance, but these days I’m a fan of anything (performative or not) that leads to personal or institutional progress.

I do think, at least for the purposes of this blog, that there is a difference between making a resolution and setting a goal.

A goal is a strategic objective, a quest for a quantifiable end result.  Once we set a goal, we establish steps to achieve that goal, and we work relentlessly to bring that goal to fruition.  We succeed or we fail.

Individuals should definitely set goals, big and small, short-term and long-term.  I set a goal a couple of years ago of running a half-marathon, and achieving that result took months of disciplined training and preparation.  Around this time of year, one of the most popular goals that people commonly set is to lose weight, and almost always they have a specific goal weight in mind.  They either lose that 25 pounds or they don’t (and it’s an emotional roller coaster).  Many times people take the alternative strategy and set a more vague “goal” of “getting in shape” are the people who are even more likely to fail because the end objective is not subject to quantifiable metrics. 

It’s good for individuals to set goals.  It keeps us pushing forward in our quest for personal growth.  It’s very, very good for institutions to set goals, especially ministries.  It gives us a sense of common purpose and focuses our strategic vision.  It holds us accountable to results.  If churches and associated ministries did this one thing, committed to setting measurable goals for the upcoming calendar year, the results would be profound. So many organizations and programs flounder without clear, measurable objectives.

So, I’m on the record that goals are good.

But for the purposes of this blog (and my own approach for healthy personal progress in 2023), allow me to make the case for “resolution” not being synonymous with “goal.”  Indulge me as I I argue instead that “resolution” is more profitably understood as integrating a “new habit”: a habit thoughtfully executed and relentlessly practiced.  For instance, I’m not setting a personal, quantifiable goal of doing 100 push-ups a day, and I’m not even setting a vague goal of “getting in better shape.”  I am, however, resolving to move more often and more vigorously in the course of my day.  Between task-blocks and during times of transition, I’m going to work in bursts of exercises, whether push-ups or squats or jumping jacks or walking, experimenting with what works best and trying to increase my frequency and intensity as the months progress.  In other words, I’m going to try to develop a habit of purposeful, healthy movement.  I do believe that the development of this habit, if I am successful, will result in quantifiable fitness gains – who knows, maybe I will be doing 100 push-ups a day by July – but the trophy goal will not be the driver of this change in my routine.

SOME RESOLUTIONS FOR ME for 2023 (Which May or May Not Prove Useful for YOU):

  • Make That Call.  Or Send That Text.  You probably have excellent phone discipline already when it comes to contacting that person who pops to the front of your mind who needs to hear from you.  Alas, I find myself waiting to try to time the call or text perfectly or waiting until I feel more like engaging in a conversation or waiting until I do a little preparation for the call before I make it.  This stall pattern means that too often I never get around to making the call, so my resolution for 2023 is to dedicate myself to making the call or sending the text when I initially think about it.  It might not be convenient for the person to talk – even if they answer – and we might need to reschedule a follow-up.  Ditto if a longer conversation is needed.  But no longer am I going to self-edit the conversation before it can even begin.  Communication is good, people!  Connections are vital.
  • Seek Clarity.  For those of you who like to have a “word” for the new year, mine is CLARITY (well, that’s my serious word for the year – my fun word for the year is “cobbler”).  I am going to take the time to do everything I can at every opportunity this year to be sure that my communication with other people is crystal clear.  If that means repeating myself, I’ll be repeating myself.  Did I mention I will be repeating myself . . . because I will.  And beyond run-of-the-mill communication, I’ll be clarifying myself in my relationships, too, to be sure I am on the same page with the people who matter to me.  No more guessing and assuming.  If I’m not sure, I’ll ask.  If I’m not sure if they’re sure . . . that’s right, I’ll be repeating myself.
  • Don’t Stoke the Drama.  I will not be adding to the drama next year.  If people are trying to lure me into a mini-series of conflict and bruised emotions, I will not be taking the bait.  In fact, if I can be an agent of deflating the drama, I will choose that path.  I am leaning energetically into the call to be made “an instrument of peace.”  If I have to take one for the team to achieve this status, I’ll be praying for the strength to do it.  If I have to assume the best of people instead of the worst, if I have to defer to other people’s needs instead of my own . . . oh, wait, shouldn’t I be doing that already?
  • Hydrate More.  I could have as easily written “Move More” here (based on my explanation earlier in the blog about resolutions versus goals).  The point is that this resolution is really personal, and it revolves around building healthy habits, and I need to be drinking more water and way less Diet Coke.  I’d like to encourage you to do something healthy too, whatever it is that is going to be the best fit for you.  Starting a new healthy habit (or three) is not just beneficial to you.  It’s beneficial to your ministry and to the people with whom you are partnered.
  • Stay Out of the Shallows.  I want to put my phone down more next year – in fact, I am resolving to have swaths of the day in which I don’t even have it on my person.  This is a hard-core anti-scrolling strategy.  You probably have excellent smartphone discipline, and you are probably never ever looking at your phone when there is another person present who could use your full and undivided attention.  But alas, I am not you, you wonderful paragon of self-control.  I am me, and I am freshly committed to spending less time on the surface of things this year (like clickbait articles) and more time taking deep dives into subjects that matter.  Less scrolling, more substance.
  • Express Gratitude.  I’ll be expressing gratitude at every opportunity this year, thank you very much (see what I did there?).  I’ll be expressing gratitude directly to people vocally and especially in written form.  I will not be taking things for granted.  I will not be assuming that people know I am appreciative of them and their efforts.  I’ll be looking for creative ways to show my thanks in unexpected places and to unsuspecting people.  I will be thinking of expressing gratitude as synonymous with expressing joy.

These are my resolutions, and now you can give me a shout-out if you catch me failing to fulfill them.  Yes, it will be a lot to keep up with.  Yes, it’s too many to attempt at one time.  But while I agree that too many goals can be a problem, resolutions can be attempted by the bucketfull! Yes, I will fail, often and with gusto.  But I will be thinking about these habits every day and getting better at them as I go.

Your resolutions may be similar or starkly different.  You will meditate and pray about where you need to focus (if you can put the phone down for long enough and if you are hydrated enough to concentrate, haha!).  But please embrace the concept.  Do so not out of a sense of failure in 2022, but out of a profound and prayerful sense of possibility in 2023.  Establishing a resolution is an embrace of hope.

If I could challenge you to concentrate on one thing as a leader responsible to other people’s health and happiness, I would challenge you to focus on relationship resolutions — making those bonds stronger.

So, how do you feel about resolutions for yourself?  For the teams you lead?  For the greater communities that you are responsible for leading?  What are some specific resolutions that you will be making for 2023, and what are your plans for holding yourself accountable to these new habits and practices?  I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section.

Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!  We here at Excellence in Ministry Coaching are wishing you an abundance of blessings in the new year ahead.  See you in 2023!

The difference between a resolution and a goal (habits applied over time).