After 31 years of ministry, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to his protégé, Timothy. In this letter, which we call 1 Timothy, Paul wrote:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
– I Timothy 4:16
Watch your life closely. Examine it. Review it. Perform a check-up on yourself to see how you’re doing, how you’re growing, what you’re learning, and how God is blessing you.
In Jeremiah 17:10, God says,
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
If God is searching my heart and examining my mind, I figure I ought to do the same. And if he’s going to reward me for my conduct and deeds, I want to take a look at those as well.
Here is how you can review your year for a better new year.
1. Total your top 12 blessings.
Every Thanksgiving, after the feast, our family sits around the table and develops our “thankful list” for the year. One person records, while we all recount what happened this year that we’re thankful for.
It’s so easy for a leader to remember the challenges rather than the blessings.
One month later, during the last week of the year, I sit down and generate my own list; then I put the items in order. Generating and rating them forces me to meditate on the good things God has done. Usually my problem is limiting the list to just 12 items. I started with a top 10 list, but year after year I couldn’t narrow it to ten, so I upped it to a dozen.
A year ago, my blessings included the salvation of my 85-year-old dad and his wife, my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, the launch of a new campus, 1700 salvations, and the opportunity Lori and I had to open the nation of Panama to church planter training with Dynamic Church Planting, an international church planter training mission started by members of our church.
I’ve done this for several years, so now I have an on-going record of God’s provision. I keep these in a notebook, along with my goals and dreams for the year, so they’re easy to find. Once I’ve generated my list, I go back and read over the previous years’ lists.
Then I have a personal time of thanksgiving.
Reviewing your year will help you grow. More importantly, it will give you a deep sense of satisfaction; and I’m pretty sure it will help you stay in ministry for the long haul.
2. Record your accomplishments.
The second thing I do at year-end is record my accomplishments. Every year, I set between 20 and 25 goals.
Some of them are personal: like how many books I’ll read, how many times I’ll exercise, how many people I’ll personally invite to church, and how many prayer retreats I’ll take.
Some of them are financial: like how much money I’ll donate to the church, how much I’ll donate to missions, and how much I’ll reduce debt on our mortgage.
Health and fitness
Some of them are health-related: like how much I’ll weigh, and how fast I’ll swim a mile.
And most of them are ministry-related: like how many we’ll lead to Christ, what improvements we’ll make to our systems, or to our building; and always a goal is to launch a new campus.
Then I have one personal professional goal – which is writing a book each year.
Our church is involved with some pretty strategic mission organizations, so I have three goals that involve assisting DCPI; I have the goal of helping another of our missions lead 2,000 to Christ; and I had a friend who was publishing his first book, so I had a goal of helping him get that done successfully.
Goals are all supposed to be measureable and attainable, but the final goal on my list each year is “Love Lori deeply.” I’ll never finish or fully accomplish this, but it’s on my list to remind me of what’s really important.
3. Reset your goals.
Since my previous year’s goals are on my computer, I create goals for the new year by copying and pasting last year’s goals. I tweak the number of salvations, books read, exercising, and the like, and then I adjust my financial goals, set goals on what I want to write, and pray over how I can help our missions and missionaries. I try to think if there are new areas I ought to add to my list, and think if there are any goals from last year I can drop from this year’s list and count it a success.
When I’m done with this list, I make it into a list of simple statements with a blank in front of each one, and then I print this list and tape it to the bulletin board right above my computer. This may be the best part of my goal setting system because at least a few times a week, my eyes glance over that list, and I remember what I’m working toward.
4. Update your dreams.
The next thing to do the week after Christmas is to dream.
Years ago I created a bucket list. These aren’t things I can accomplish in a year, but things I hope to see happen in my lifetime.
Some of the things have been accomplished, like planting a Spanish Congregation. Some are in progress, like taking ten overseas vacations. Some will take until I retire, or longer.
I’ve got four mega-goals, and about a dozen long-long term goals. Every year I evaluate to see if I want to drop something from this list, add something to it, or if I can cross one off because I’ve accomplished it.
I usually spend an hour or so a day, over several days, working through these lists.
5. Seek God for a theme.
Something I started doing just a few years ago is asking the Lord if he has a theme he wants our church to major on for the upcoming year. To my surprise, he always does!
The first year I asked him for a theme, I did it during the first week of December, because that’s when it occurred to me.
The next year I did it on Black Friday, because I don’t go shopping on Black Friday, so after I put the Christmas lights up, I had some quiet time to kill that day.
Last year, I didn’t have to ask. God gave me the next year’s theme while I was training some church planters in Fort Worth. I thought I went there to teach them, but instead, God spoke to me in a dynamic way. And after he did he said, “Now that I’ve begun to teach this to you, I want you to begin to teach this to your church.”
So we have had the Year of Freedom, the Year of Jesus, and the Year of Faith. And next year is The Year of the Lord’s Favor.
Once I get the theme, I start building many of our sermon series around it. To launch it, we’ll produce a bookmark with a verse on the Lord’s favor on it, and preach about it the third week of January.
6. Generate lessons learned.
My final year-end detail doesn’t actually happen at year end. It happens at our annual Pastoral Staff Retreat in January.
Every January we go away together for prayer, vision, refreshment and planning. And in one of our sessions while on retreat, we get out a big sheet of paper and we record the lessons we learned from the year before.
Some smart guy said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I find that by reviewing what the Lord taught us over the previous year, the law of repetition kicks in, and we learn it longer and deeper and are therefore less likely to repeat our errors.
Then the Lord can continue to build on what we’ve learned, rather than teach us the same lessons over and over again.
Take some time this week, and in the next few weeks, to do your own year-end review and goal setting.
If you’re in the people business, there is never a finish line. There’s never an endpoint, but your review will provide a permanent record of progress forward. It is good for your soul.