I am one of those people . . . the kind who make New Year’s resolutions every year. I don’t make a lot of them. I try to keep them achievable and realistic. I know what the pundits say about how many of us end up not keeping them. But still I do it, because I have this fundamental desire to live a better life this year than last . . . to be a better person . . . to be the person God created me to be.
Mary Oliver, in her poem “The Summer Day,” asks the question: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Every year, on January 1, I take stock of my life, my one wild and precious life, and ask myself: Am I living my best possible life, because I only have this one life, and it is going by oh so quickly? So I ponder: What do I want for myself; what do I want for my relationships with family, friends, co-workers; and what do I want for my contribution to the world? And then I decide what tangible steps could I take to help me live into the answers of those questions, and those become my resolutions.
For example, I want to travel more. That costs money, so I have a resolution to double my savings account this year, and I figured out how much more I need to save every month. That is an actionable and do-able step and will help me accomplish my dream. I might need to say no to some other things in order to save more, but ultimately it helps me focus on what I don’t want to miss out on in my one wild and precious life.
So what does this have to do with church? Well, I think spending time as leaders in annual reflection is an essential practice for vital congregations. Once a year, we should look back and ask ourselves: How are we doing in living our best for God? Are we being the church God calls us to be? And then we should ponder and dream about what “better” would look like if we were to move towards God’s potential for us.
Now here is the trap I see so many of us fall into—churches and people alike—when we dream. We can see a picture of what we want . . . more people growing in their faith, more engagement with the community, more expansion of our ministries . . . and we make our resolution or goal too big (double our worship attendance in six months) or too ambiguous (more young families) and we don’t create concrete action steps to help us achieve that dream.
We need to ask a question on the next level: What one or two actions can we take that can make a significant difference in helping us achieve our dreams, and how will we make those actions a priority? So to go back to the example from my life, I don’t say I hope to save extra when I happen to have extra money left over (like that ever happens!). I have put my monthly savings goal into my bill pay list, and it gets set aside in the same way that the heat bill and the mortgage and my tithe to my church get paid. Going out to eat and seeing movies is what happens if I have any money left after making those payments.
The actions we take might not get us 100 percent of the way to our dream for the future, but we know that if we don’t take them, we will not ever get there. Starting is good. Intentionality is good. Aiming in a particular direction gives us more odds of actually getting there.
One last word: Most churches I work with want to reach new people but, for a variety of reasons, don’t have a plan of how to do that. Mostly they hope people will somehow magically come and find them. How about this for one concrete, actionable step: Find one ministry in your community that is your ministry, something beyond supporting another organization’s mission or ministry, something that meets a real and tangible need in the community—that actually helps people live a better life and helps your community be a better community.
What if, in 2014, as leaders, you said: We will discover and start that one difference-making ministry, and we will make it a priority. Would that get you closer to reaching new people? I challenge you to give it a try and tell me about what you discover along the way.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church