In 2014, I celebrated two decades as youth ministry prof at New Orleans Seminary. Any time there is a zero at the end of an anniversary, a birthday, or ministry tenure, we tend to reflect a bit. We also naturally reflect as a new year begins. As 2015 begins, what if you thought about your “youth ministry resolutions” for the coming year?
A New Year’s Resolution is a promise that you make to yourself, seldom taken seriously and hardly ever kept.
According to a couple of websites (including usa.gov), the top resolutions for 2014 and most every year include the following list:
Eat healthy and exercise regularly.
Get Fit/ Lose Weight
Drink less/Quit Smoking
Learn something new
Get a Better Education
Get a Better Job
Take a Trip
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Better work/life balance
Save Money, Manage Debt
Finish those around the house “to-do” lists.
First, let me state concerning the idea of making resolutions in the first place–I am for them. Human nature looks at the new year as an opportunity to start something, stop something, create something, change something or just to do something.
Beyond our tendency to make adjustments as the ball drops and the calendar turns over is the reality that our relationship with God is “resolution-based.” The word used often to describe the peculiar relationship is covenant. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary explains:
A covenant, in the biblical sense, implies much more than a contract or simple agreement. A contract always has an end date, while a covenant is a permanent arrangement. Another difference is that a contract generally involves only one part of a person, such as a skill, while a covenant covers a person’s total being.
God is the initiator of the covenant relationship. In 2 Samuel 23:5 (NASB), the prophet writes,
“Truly is not my house so with God?
For He has made an everlasting covenant with me,
Ordered in all things, and secured;
For all my salvation and all my desire,
Will He not indeed make it grow?
So we are people of promises, agreements, and resolutions (“If my people. . .then I…”). While God’s steadfast love is such that He is faithful even when we are not, we are still invested in the covenant. I would like to do more word study on the promises that are exchanged in the life of a disciple, but I need to get back on topic.
What does all this have to do with professional development? January is a good time to do an inventory of priorities both personal and ministry. On a personal level, maybe look at the list of resolutions and pick one or two that you need to work on and set some goals. On a ministry level, look at things that could use tweaking. Please allow me to pick a “top ten” and make some suggestions for your new year. I am right here with you on this journey–I am going to work on a few myself.
Eat healthy/Exercise regularly. Not a bad one in any year. Youth ministry is not always kind to good habits. Both of these have mental health benefits that extend beyond weight loss or looking ripped.
Get Fit/ Lose Weight. Weight tends to creep on over time. Those of us who are older have a tougher time of it. I have just lost 25 pounds simply by being aware of portions that I eat. I needed to lose what I gained over several years combined with knee and back issues.
Drink less/Quit Smoking. If you are convicted of these things in your life, I will state the obvious. Don’t be a cause for teenagers to stumble. If these are part of your lifestyle, you might consider making a change.
3a As many of you do not struggle with #3, you might want to substitute “watch television less” and “quit video games” if these are habits that take up too much of your time and yield too few productive results.
Learn something new/Get a Better Education. Maybe there is a degree you need to finish or one you need to start. Perhaps there is a seminar or conference that would be helpful for you in youth ministry. What about a foreign language to prepare for missionary possibilities?
Better work/life balance. Youth ministry tends to suck up time and often in a way that is not efficient or productive. Maybe you should have a conversation with a spouse, an accountability partner or a pastor and evaluate a good mix of time spent at and around youth ministry with time spent with family. If you are single, you need a life away from teenagers as well. Seek counsel here as we sometimes have trouble seeing it ourselves.
Volunteer. Find a place in your community where you can volunteer to serve others when it is not part of your job. Habitat for Humanity, community shelters and community events/festivals are good starting places. We occasionally need to make ourselves be around people who aren’t members of our church or ministry.
Save Money, Manage Debt. This is becoming critical in our world. Credit cards, student loans, and poor money management are causing some youth ministers to lose their focus and in some cases their place of service. Find a budget plan that works for you to achieve some financial goals and seek help if necessary. Most state conventions have a person who will help you get some structure.
Get organized. Take a day or two and figure out what you do not use in your office, closet, or home and either get rid of it or put it out of the way of your normal routing. Find a calendar system that works for you. Schedule and keep appointments. I am working to get my mind around how to deal with e-mail in a way that doesn’t keep me spending two or three hours every day reading and responding.
Read more. I have finished a fascinating book by Nicholas Carr called, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In it, the author talks about the lost art of reading a book. Reading is a mental discipline that has benefits in both the content of the book (biographies, histories, classic novels–even mysteries). All reading helps us to sharpen vocabulary and critical thought skills.
Manage Stress. Figure out what energizes you and what drains you. I heard Bob Goff say at a conference, “do less of what you stink at.” We all need to say no to things that rob minutes or joy and have little kingdom impact.
Speaking of stress, don’t attempt the whole list. Be brutally honest with yourself–and maybe include some other people who love you to determine what might need adjustment. Start with small and realistic steps, but 365 days from now, as you assess this year, I pray that you will feel like you have made some positive contributions to your end of the covenant.