Three Questions for the New Year

It’s a brand new year.  There’s something about the word “new” that appeals to us.  It’s a fresh beginning, a new start.  Gyms will be crowded for the next few weeks with people looking for a new start with their fitness.  Smokers use the new year as motivation to quit.  A new year is an opportunity to turn a new page in life.

Many people would welcome change, but they either don’t know what to do or don’t want change badly enough to do what it takes.  One thing is certain: you can’t keep doing the same things in life and expect different results.  That’s why a new year is an opportunity.  It’s a chance to take a different path.

If you’re sensing that there ought to be more to life than what you’re experiencing, allow me to suggest three questions to ponder.  How you answer these questions can help you decide your first steps toward personal change.

1. What kind of person are you becoming?

Do you realize that you aren’t the same person you were five, ten, or twenty years ago?  It’s true.  Life has a way of shaping us, changing us, and molding us.  Think back over your earlier life.  Chances are you have different hobbies and interests now compared to before.  You probably spend your time and money differently these days (think kids).  How has your worldview changed as you’ve grown older?  And then there are the choices you’ve made which has impacted the direction and your outlook toward life.  You aren’t the product of your circumstances.  You are the product of your choices.

So who are you becoming?  What kind of person have you grown up to be?  Are you satisfied with your ability to love and be loved, to control your emotions and your anger, to accept and learn from criticism?  If you don’t like the person you’re becoming, then the New Year is a perfect time for change.

2. Where are you going?

I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, and a favorite summer activity was tubing down a river on an inner tube.  It was fun for me because there was no skill involved except to stay on the tube.  You don’t have to paddle.  You just relax, and the river does the rest.

Life is a lot like tubing, and many people live their lives as if that’s what they’re doing.  They allow the river of life to move them along, never realizing that changing direction or enjoying a different outcome requires purposeful, sustained effort.

Where are you going in life?  If you continue on the same trajectory that you’re on now, where will you end up?  If the answer is somewhere different that where you dream of being, then why not use the occasion of a new year to make a course correction?  Set a goal.  Accept a challenge.  Take a chance.  This time last year, I was 25 lbs. heavier, unfit, and unsatisfied with the way I felt about myself.  I accepted a weight loss challenge at my gym, met new friends, set a goal, and got to work.  Now I’m fitter, stronger, lighter, and more confident.  Let me tell you- if I can do it, then so can you.

3. Who is doing life with you?

Have you noticed that in our culture, movie heroes are most often loners, people who want to keep to themselves?  Rambo, Batman, Jack Reacher, and the list goes on.  We’ve been conditioned to think that we are islands and we can thrive and survive by ourselves.

The product of that mindset is a life that makes little impact on other people.  An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with others.”  The greatest impact of your life will be judged by how you have impacted other people.  Most people believe that the goal of life is to be happy.  Unfortunately, that’s not true, because pleasure does not bring fulfillment and satisfaction.  A much better life goal, one that brings exponential amounts of fulfillment and satisfaction, is to positively affect the life of another human being.  That’s the only way your legacy will survive you.

I have a goal for my own life this year.  I want to compete in a Spartan Race, which is a distance race that includes obstacles and physical challenges.  The clock is ticking for me (I’m getting old), but a Spartan Race would be a great goal to achieve this year before I get too old to run.  You can read more about Spartan Races here.

What about you?  Where’s the area of your life that you want to grow or change in 2018?  Maybe for you, it’s time to address an undesirable habit.  Maybe you want to read more.  Or perhaps it’s time to turn your attention to your spiritual health.

I’d love to hear from you.  Take a minute to leave a comment and tell me what you’re thinking.

Walking A Different Path

The Cheap Seats | Random reasons why I do what I do

The older I get, the more I realize that I’m a creature of habit.  I’m fast becoming the kind of person that I said I never would become.  I remember (vaguely) being young, naïve, and under the impression that I knew it all.  I had energy, ideas, and the courage to take chances.

Isn’t it funny how a few decades can change a person’s perspective on life?  As time marches on, there is a temptation to become locked into the easy, the safe, and the convenient. Innovation gives way to efficiency.  Bold steps are replaced by cautious ones.  Stepping out turns into sitting still.  And unless a person purposely pushes forward, they settle into a life of routine and monotony.

In his excellent book “Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge,” Pastor Mark Batterson poses three simple but important questions that can serve to break the cycle of living life on autopilot.  Here are his questions:

1. Are you open to change?

Think about your life as a road.  What’s at the end of your road?  If nothing changed the trajectory of your life from your current direction, how would your life end?  If you are unsure or unhappy with your answer, then something needs to change in order to bring about a different destination.

But there’s a problem with change.  It means thoughts, actions, and/or attitudes must be different.  You can’t keep doing the same things in life and expect your outcome to be different.  When do people finally change?  When the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of doing something different.  Are you willing to do something different in order to change the direction of your life?

2. Do you have a teachable spirit?

One of the greatest lessons that middle age teaches is that we’re not quite as smart as we think we are.  Unfortunately, that’s a lesson that some people fail to learn.  People who think they know all the answers are doomed to a frustrating life, because they refuse the help they need.  Pride has a way of causing us to misinterpret the instruction of others.  Instead of hearing an offer for help, we hear insinuations of being dumb or slow.  If we’re going to change the pathway of our life, we must gain wisdom and knowledge that we don’t yet possess, and unless we’re teachable, we’re doomed to the same old life.

3. Are you hungry to learn?

I had dinner with some old friends recently, and I asked how my friend’s elderly parents were getting along.  I learned that my friend’s dad (who is retired) is enrolled in geology classes at the local community college.  He was interested in learning how to synthesize and understand the different geological time periods.  The guy is pushing 80.  That’s a hunger to learn.

We only have one life, and what a shame it would be to live into middle age and settle for the simple, the easy, and the mundane.  Time passes so quickly, and if we take no opportunity to survey how we’re living our life, before we know it we’ve settled for less than the best. 

Don’t settle.  Make a change.  Learn something new.  Make your life count.

Three Church Trends, Part 2

Last week I highlighted three trends in today’s churches that have brought changes in the way ministry is carried out in local churches.  This week, I’ll offer some observations about how churches can continue to be relevant in our changing culture.  Let me once again add my usual disclaimer: I am not an authority on culture or church growth, nor I am not a best selling author or pastor of a famous megachurch.  However, I do pastor a local church where all three of these trends are front and center, and  I believe most local churches are dealing with these same dynamics.

Trend #1: Irregular Attendance

Our culture has redefined what regular attendance means.  Today, people consider themselves regular church attenders if they come to church more times than they are absent.  Family lifestyles, especially for families with young children, make it virtually impossible to be at church Sunday after Sunday.  What can the church do?

I believe the church needs to understand and work with families whose schedule is overbooked.  Piling on guilt over church absence accomplishes little.  Many churches are providing online opportunities to view or listen to the worship services.  At my church, we are seeing an increase in online viewing of our worship services through our church app as we see our attendance dip during the summer.

Providing opportunities to get and stay connected with others is critical to keeping people coming back.  The larger a church grows, the smaller it must become by connecting attenders through small groups, Bible studies, Sunday School classes, or whatever works for any given church.  We might not be able to keep people from sporadic attendance, but we can provide ways to make people miss us when they are gone.

Trend #2: Optional Church Membership

This trend reflects the new attitude of our culture- individualism and autonomy.  People today don’t recognize the importance of belonging to something bigger than themselves, thus they hesitate to commit to church membership.  We as churches can make a couple of changes that counteract this new attitude.

First, we must make church relevant.  People will never commit to something that has no relevance to where they are in life.  Sermons must have life application.  Worship services must be more than musical performance.  There must be a point to what’s going on in church in order for people to find enough value to commit to membership.

Second, church must be real.  Pastors and church attenders must be more than “perfect people”  who project a perfectly lived life.  They must be real people who aren’t afraid to own up to their failures and struggles.  They must be genuine, authentic, and approachable.  If church seems fake, contrived, and without integrity, it will be rejected.

Trend #3: Different Giving Habits

In today’s culture, people are paying their bills in much different ways that earlier generations, and those differences are showing up in the way people want to give to churches.

My wife and I are middle aged, and we (actually, she) spends time and energy making sure our checkbook is up to date and balanced against the monthly bank statements.  But for much of today’s culture, checks are a thing of the past.  Now many financial transactions are executed online.

What does this mean for churches?  It means that if churches are reaching younger people, they must offer an online option for people to give to their church.  I’m not advocating a shift away from cash and checks, because the majority of people still give in this way.  I’m saying that in addition to cash and checks, an online option must be added.  Although giving online seems foreign to many traditional church attenders, we must realize that writing a check seems equally foreign to many younger people.  The key word is options.

I realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic.  There are some very good books written about the changing dynamics of church in our culture.  One of my favorites is Lasting Impact by Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof.

I believe in the mission and power of the church.  The ministry of the church changed my life years ago, and it is still changing lives today.  The church is alive and well.  But living things change.  Changing things grow.  And growing things live.  That’s my prayer for the church- that it would live, change, and grow.