As we come to the end of another year, the finish line is in sight. Christmas plans are in place, and all those events will soon be over. Before you know it, we will be into 2023 with all the familiarity of a New Year and the uncertainties of a new year. We know people will join the gym and try to read through their Bible, but we never know what is about to happen.
Between the Christmas events finishing and the launch of 2023, let’s take a moment to take the pulse, actually, several pulses. If you are involved in church ministry, then here are some pulses you need to be checking:
1. God. How does God feel about your church? How does God’s heart beat for all that matters to you? God’s heart is your ultimate concern. Knowing God’s heart doesn’t require mystical guesswork. It requires time in the Bible and time in prayer. We should prayerfully prepare every sermon we preach, and I think it is wise to seek God’s heart for each passage and how it should land in the hearts of your listeners. But why not take the year-end as an opportunity to seek God’s heart about your church, your ministry, and your part in His plans?
2. Society. Are you aware of what is going on in society? There is a whole edifice presented by the media, the news, and the current catalogue of acceptable issues and concerns. We need to have our finger on the pulse of society, whether we agree with all of it or not. That sense of what is normal will throb in the veins of the people you encounter daily.
3. Reality. Are you in touch with what you are not supposed to think? There will usually be significant parts of society that are not convenient for reality as presented in the media. It is good to have a sense of what people are thinking but not saying. Or what they are saying but you are not allowed to hear. It is good to know what is happening, and sometimes others will need you to point beyond the cultural narrative they are constantly hearing.
4. Congregation. Your congregation is not a perfect representation of your society. The culture is pushed along by sophisticated ideas and/or unsophisticated entertainment. Still, your congregation is a specific group in a particular location. The country could be thriving while your part of town is economically depressed, or vice versa. The nation could be gripped by avant-garde notions, while your congregation may seem to be living a generation behind. Who is in your church? What are their concerns? How are they doing? The culture may be focused on saving the planet, but your people may be more worried about staying warm and paying their bills this winter.
5. Future Congregation. It is understandable that we tend to focus on the flock God gave us. But it is also wise to ponder what the future may look like for your church. If you have a very established congregation, you still need to preach to people new to the church. They may not even be coming yet, but preach to them anyway. Your congregation will not feel comfortable bringing them along if you don’t make it a suitable environment. So, what kind of people might God want to add to your church in the coming years? Why not prayerfully think about preaching as if they are already attending so the church is ready to receive them when they do?
6. Co-Workers. If your church program gives you room to breathe, be sure to prayerfully consider the health of your coworkers. You know that your church is not your church. You cannot do everything yourself and your church would be in dire straits if all your coworkers were to quit or burnout. Whether they are paid staff members, or busy volunteers who give sacrificially of their “spare” time, how are they doing? Pray for them. Reach out to them. Write them a note to thank them. Make sure that you do not head into 2023 unaware of warning signs from those around you.
7. Me. Ministry can take its toll. How are you doing? Are you in a good place with God? How much has your ministry depleted your energy reserves? Are any situations weighing heavily on you and setting off warning lights? Are you letting yourself slide in any areas, succumbing to temptation, or developing unhealthy habits? The end of the year is an excellent time to take your pulse before launching into another year. Take your pulse spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. How is your walk with Christ? Are you looking after yourself properly? Do you have the relationships you need to thrive? Is someone mentoring you? Are you mentoring someone? Who can you be open with as a peer? Who is looking out for your heart? Are you proactively meeting people outside of church circles? Oh, and don’t trust yourself to self-evaluate. Ask God to search you and try you, and ask those close to you for their perspective as well.
8. Family. Ministry can take its toll. How is your family? It is easy to sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry, but is God honoured when you do that? Suppose you have a child who is not thriving spiritually. Would it make sense to devote more time to your primary responsibility of parenting? You might even do well to consider a sabbatical or taking a step back to pursue their heart for a season. I know it is complicated if you depend on ministry for your income, but many readers are not receiving a salary. And whether you are or not, it could be a significant example to others to see you put family first and seek to win the hearts closest to home. It is not a simple decision. Nevertheless, I raise it because too many of us would not even consider stepping back from the ministry that gives us too much of our identity to care for the people God has most entrusted to us. Nobody else can be your spouse’s spouse, and you only get a limited window with that child still under your roof. Of course, you may find such drastic changes are not needed. But perhaps you need to tweak some things at home so that your church ministry can flow out of greater strength at the family level?
I know we are taking a deep breath before the chaos of Christmas. I pray that your Christmas events will proclaim the peace that only Christ can bring into this desperately needy world. And I also pray that we will all get the opportunity to take a deep breath after it is all over. May we all take the opportunity to check the pulse in these areas and head into the New Year looking to Christ for each of the needs we discover!
This year’s video quest through the Psalms will soon reach the finish line. Here is Psalm 139: