I’ve been marinating much in 1 Timothy 4:11-16 since Eric Alexander took it as his text at the 2003 Shepherds’ Conference. My recent ordination also put the passage back on my mental front burner. Verse 16 strikes at the core of my responsibility: “pay close attention to yourself and to the teaching”; I do desire for my “progress to be evident to all” (verse 15).
My flock benefits most when I grow personally, and according to Paul, my salvation and the salvation of those who hear me depends on it. There may be few things as demoralizing, or as dangerous, as a stagnant spiritual leader. And I’ve found over the last few years that a year-end review and resolution-making helps keeps me in check and provides accountability for future progress.
There are any number of things I would do well to examine this year. I need to continue thinking through how to best apply the sabbath principle. I want to keep praying more and more and more. I want to learn how to appreciate the “narrative.” Mo might add that I should make a commitment to be nice to my wife all the time.
But in light of ordination to the gospel ministry, and in light of being an image-bearer, here are my two 2009 resolutions.
Articulate something six days a week.
As an image-bearer of God, I am responsible to use the skills and desires He has given me. As a pastor, I am required to pay close attention to “the teaching.” Writing until I’m clear fulfills (at least parts of) both.
Of course, articulating something doesn’t require writing it out. Articulating simply means to express, to put in words, or to communicate. But I specifically have in mind writing out or annotating something all the work days of the week. Writing is a good discipline, beyond the physical, and more mental and possibly spiritual (cf. 1 Timothy 4:8) depending on the topic.
This is my most specific resolution ever. It is not a commitment to post to the Void six days a week. But whether I handwrite a sermon, post to the Void, dash off a rough draft, tweet a paragraph summary, or journal various thoughts, putting down more words on paper is my desire. It’s time to work and produce, even if it isn’t much. When I began running on the treadmill, I wasn’t stumbling over as many revolutions of the belt as I do now. I took it step by step. Now I’ll work sentence by sentence.
Initiate individual and interpersonal repentance.
As an image-bearer, I am made for relationship. Nothing disrupts community like sin, and the first step toward reconciliation is repentance. Likewise, in light of ordination, I must pay close attention to myself. I know it is easy for me, as a leader, to be defensive rather than humble when I’ve wronged someone else.
Repentance is the starting point of the Christian life, let alone a new year. While certainly not every problem under the sun comes from sin, most of them do. Sin is the dominant human problem, not personality flaws, not a genetic defects, not adolescent hormones, not difficult environments. Simply ignoring sin won’t make it go away. Rationalizing sin won’t overcome it. Medicating sin won’t pacify it. Repenting from it is the only proper course of treatment.
The fact that sin is our fundamental problem turns out to be good news in a way. If sin isn’t the problem then we are really stuck. There is no hope if the diagnosis is something other than spiritual. God doesn’t make any guarantees to get us out of a particular situation, to help us get organized, to increase our metabolism, to change our academic ability, or even to alter our emotional or mental make-up per se.
But He does have extraordinary news if the problem is sin. There is a Substitute Sacrifice who takes the guilt of our sin. There is a Spirit who frees us from slavery to sin. There are promises revealed in His Book about the impotence of sin for those united with Christ, along with detailed instructions on how to kill remaining sin. We can make all the resolutions we want, but unless those resolutions tackle our sin problem we are going to be fighting at the wrong front.
Nothing stunts personal spiritual growth like sin. Nothing cripple’s a leader’s influence like sin. I want to grow. I want to influence. So I want to be a person and a pastor whose default response is to consider my own sin, not another’s. When we sin for what it is and repent, we increase our influence rather than loose it. That certainly was the case for Augustine. Reading his Confessions, as well as his biography by Peter Brown, has been a great example to me of changing the world by confessing, not covering, sin.
I should have plenty of opportunities to put this particular resolution into practice since plenty of sin remains for me to mortify. Building this commitment to initiate repentance into my response paradigm is hopefully a good start.