This article first appeared on Small Town Summits Articles. I serve on the Leadership Team for Small Town Summits.
Note from Tim: I would like to thank the other members of the Small Town Summits Leadership Team for their help thinking through resolutions.
There can be a healthy way to consider New Year’s resolutions as it is a natural time for us to look ahead to the coming year. Jonathan Edwards even famously showed us that resolving to live life for the glory of God can be a helpful way to take stock of our life and goals. As a small-town pastor, here are specific resolutions that I have as I think about ministry in 2020.
Resolved: to “watch my life and doctrine carefully.” Paul instructed Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:16) This means that I am resolving to exercise more in the coming year as I need the discipline, better health, and energy for ministry that regular exercise will cultivate (1 Timothy 4:8). But it also means that I will take the same care to guard my mind and doctrine by reading one theological book that will challenge me. For me, this means Owen’s The Holy Spirit that has been sitting on my shelf for a few years.
Resolved: to preach with all the passion & preparation the Word deserves regardless of how many are in the pews any given Sunday. The sheep need to be fed well. As pastors we are to preach the word and be ready “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2) For a small-town pastor like me, that may mean putting just as much preparation and passion into a Sunday sermon when I know that it will be a smaller Sunday. One of the realities of small-town ministry is that several families all gone the same weekend can put a damper on the excitement of Sunday morning. But my call to preach the Word is not dependent on how many are in the pews, but on the unchanging Savior I am called to proclaim.
Resolved: to read one biography of someone who had a fruitful small-place ministry, to readjust my vision of success. Our heroes of today are so often the large-place pastors and big conference speakers. Our heroes of the past are so often the Spurgeons who preached the gospel to thousands week in and week out. But sometimes we need to be reminded of lives perhaps not as well known but just as well spent, ministering in smaller and lesser-known places (our Small Town Summits Resource Page provides some ideas).
Resolved: to believe that Jesus is enough, and that he is worthy of all my labors, regardless of the fruit I’m seeing or not seeing through my ministry. As I look ahead to 2020, I long for God to work in big ways in our church and community as I see the gospel advance for God’s glory. There are so many within miles of our church building who hardly know the name of Jesus beyond perhaps a curse word. While I want to pray for revival and ministry fruitfulness more, I am also seeking by God’s grace to need it less. I resolve to be content with the pace of ministry that God grants by his grace.
Resolved: to be a husband who better reflects the love of Christ to my wife, and to be a dad who disciples his children and has fun with them. Ministry is serious business. In the same day we could go from visiting a member moments from eternity to visiting a newborn baby in the hospital. In the same week we could go from counseling a marriage that is on the verge of divorce to the joy of officiating a wedding. And there is always more to do. But I am resolving to remember in 2020 that I will never regret spending time with my wife and focusing on growing in better reflecting the gospel through my relationship with her. Sometimes date night may be more fruitful in my ministry than a couple more hours put into the sermon or visitation. I resolve to continue to join my wife in discipling our kids and to remember to have fun with them. They may struggle with believing in a Jesus who became like one of us if I never “stoop” to speak their language of fun and play.
Resolved: to joyfully embrace the place that God has sovereignly assigned to me. Missionary Jim Elliot once wisely remarked, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” God sovereignly placed you in the small town that you are ministering in today. There are people there that he means to reach with the gospel through your unique gifting. We have the privilege of shepherding some of God’s people in the specific context he has assigned to us. I resolve to remember what Peter instructed: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you…” (1 Peter 5:2) There is joy in serving in the place that God has placed me in.
As I look ahead to ministry in my small town in 2020, I know that these resolves will never happen by my own strength or resolve. But I know that the Spirit loves to fulfill what God commands. So, fellow small-town pastor, know that this is being prayed for you today and into the new year: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you… (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12a)