By Eddie Pipkin

Happy New Year, everybody!  Here’s hoping you had a great couple of weeks, catching up with family and friends, celebrating joyfully, and maybe even enjoying a couple of days of downtime.  As we turn the page on the calendar and find ourselves waving goodbye to 2017 and welcoming in 2018, our inboxes are flooded with emails and articles about resolutions for the new year.  Who am I to say no to the zeitgeist?

(Here’s a resolution for the new year: take a moment to look up words you don’t know.  It’s easier than it’s ever been in the whole history of words.)

As for other resolutions, I thought I would focus on three broad goals for us as ministry leaders—habits to be developed which, if exercised on a daily basis, will make our ministry stronger, no matter what our individual goals or our individual ministry contexts or circumstances.  But before we even get to my three resolutionary insights, here’s a great one that somebody else thought of:  Lianna Brinded, athlete and adventurer says get more sleep!  (Actually, her resolution is to buy a decent mattress to facilitate getting more sleep, but the broader point is to prioritize the value of a regular good night’s sleep for our physical and emotional health, just as we might prioritize the common goals of weight loss, getting more exercise, quitting smoking, or making more healthy eating choices).  We ministry heroes are a hardy bunch who often brag of ourselves as part of the group that Brinded terms the “sleep elite,” those amazing high performers who take pride in how few hours of sleep they ever get.  Meanwhile, science says we sleep deprivation braggarts are full of beans.  Increasingly, research points to the many valuable aspects of a full night’s rest for maximum daily performance and long-term health.  So, if you are fishing for a 2018 resolution, and you want to pick JUST ONE THING to focus on, pick sleep.  Good things will happen.

If you want to pick one thing for your personal well-being (which we have now established as more sleep) and THREE THINGS for institutional leadership resolutions, I offer up these three goals for ministry enhancements.

More Conversation.  Less talking about things, and more talking to people.  The one habit that ministry leadership falls into that probably most limits new possibilities is becoming so comfortable in our inner circles that we forget to make space for interactions with other people: people who would partner with us in ministry, people who would challenge our assumptions, and people who desperately need to be on the receiving end of ministry we might offer.  Conversation is the starting point for deeper relationships, and deeper relationships are the path to deeper, more creative, and more meaningful ministry.  Even as I had begun this paragraph, I came across Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s argument that soliciting new and unexpected conversations is one of the keys to productivity for everybody:

There are so many benefits to getting outside of our comfort zones to connect with those least like ourselves. First up, studies have shown that greater innovation is born out of combining diverse perspectives. Having lunch with someone from a different department might just provide the spark you need to solve a problem that has you stumped. I have found time and again in my own career and from seeing others around me that we do our best work when we understand our shining strengths as well as the areas where we’re weak — and find partners who can complement us. Are you naturally creative? Pair up with an analytical buddy and swap ideas. Are you an extrovert? Seek out an introvert and listen intently to what she has to say. You might be inspired.

O’Hagan is writing from a business perspective, but the value of these kinds of interactions have arguably even greater impact for ministry.  One central aspect of our calling to lead is to connect with people beyond our normal circle.  When we don’t diligently seek out new voices (or a deeper connection to voices we casually take for granted), we fall into the trap of decision making based on assumptions and confirmation from the echo chamber.  There is value in new perspectives and a deeper appreciation of the motivations of those with whom we work and those on whose behalf we work.

The Value of Incremental Change.  Adjusting small things steadily can have big impacts down the road.  We get caught up—particularly in transitional times like the beginning of a new year—in trying to make big splashes with high impact shifts, but for long term success, a careful strategy of small shifts executed with intentionality can pay off without all the drama.  In a recent blog I wrote about the potential impact of more prayer in our interactions.  That’s not a flashy or controversial addition, but it can set the tone for healing, cooperative vision casting, valuing one another’s opinions, and remembering why we do what we do.  On a more technical note, picking a small change per month in worship or communications, focusing on getting that one thing right, and then adding the next thing, can build a sense of confidence and positive momentum.  The key for this resolution is discipline.  It only works if we are intentional, focused, and consistent.

Who’s Got Next?  All leadership positions should have a leader in training.  Again and again, even when we have had a strong leader in position on our ministry team, we forget to pay attention to who’s got next (who’s the next leader who will step up when the current leader’s time has been faithfully concluded).  We should constantly be training the next generation of leaders: identifying talent, helping those who would lead learn valuable skills, guiding them in taking on projects that will develop those skills, encouraging them to see their abilities, and making them partners in decision making, so they will be ready for what comes next.  Such leadership development strengthens our bench, builds enthusiasm, defends us all against burnout, and makes ministry stronger.  Sit down with your team and encourage each leader to identify and nurture others who carry forward their vision.

And a bonus: Stronger Communication in the new year.  That’s a tactical goal that can enhance every aspect of your ministry.  Communicate more often and with more precision in both directions: to your inner circle of team members and to the broader community that supports and participates in your ministry.  All three of the resolutions discussed above can strengthen communication, and stronger communication inevitably leads to stronger ministry across the board.  Use pictures.  Tell stories.  Employ multiple platforms.  Encourage interaction and feedback.  Celebrate.  Challenge.

Let me do a little of that right now!  What are your resolutions for the year ahead?  Share them in the comments section (a free book from the EMC3 resources store for the first of you to do so).  We love to hear from you—so how are you challenging yourself and your team in 2018?  What topics can we address to help you with the challenges you expect to face in the coming months?  And, by the way, if you’re reading this late at night, get to sleep!  It will make you better at being who God has called you to be.