Have you ever picked a New Year’s resolution and stuck to it? Some of the experts tell us that New Year’s resolutions don’t work. I don’t believe that’s accurate. I believe what really goes on is that many people are not motivated to keep their resolutions. It’s not the resolutions that are the problem, it is our commitment.
It is possible to keep a resolution. It has now been over a year since I have eaten a donut. If you think that is not a big thing, then you haven’t tried Tim Horton’s apple pie fritters. I totally forgot about them when I made the resolution. But I wanted to do one thing, something attainable that would have a positive impact on my health. And this was before I knew I had diabetes!
You still might think donuts are not a very good example of kept resolutions. After a number of years of abusing alcohol in my late-teens and early-twenties, I made a New Year’s resolution almost twenty-five years ago that I would never get drunk again. I have been sober ever since. That was about a year before I actually made a commitment to Jesus.
Before Advent, we took two Sundays to look at the early church and what they valued. I won’t get into detail about them now, but I will remind you of the four values: 1) studying the apostles’ teaching, 2) fellowship, 3) breaking of bread and 4) prayer. You can go back to those sermons for more details if you wish.
I bring this up to say that I would like us as individuals within this congregation to come up with some resolutions in each of these four categories. Before looking at our options, I want to give some guidance on setting goals. You might want to invite enough people to triple the size of the congregation, but that might not be very realistic. You might want to grow as a follower of Jesus. But how do you measure that? The best thing to do is to set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for:
With that in mind, let us take a look at our options.
One of the things that we find in the early church is that they were devoted to the teachings of the apostles. By this we understand the traditions about Jesus that eventually became our New Testament. In no way do I want to diminish the importance of the Old Testament. It is very important, as we see by the many quotes in the New Testament. The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the apostles. But as followers of Jesus, if we are going to resolve to know him more, we need an emphasis on the New Testament.
Studies have demonstrated that Bible engagement, both outside and inside the church, is way down. Some pastors, discouraged by these trends, barely mention the Bible in their sermons. I can not do that, as I have seen the impact of biblical study on my life and I’m convinced that it can transform a church.
Assuming you agree that it is important to know the Bible, I want to offer you some options in setting goals in that area.
- Participate in a Bible study. We offer a number of opportunities to study the Bible. We have an after church sermon discussion group. We offer Bible studies during the week at various times. If there is a specific time or day that works for you, let us know and we can make it happen. I encourage you to participate in one Bible study this year.
- Read the New Testament. Group discussion is important but so is private study. You are not getting enough spiritual food just hearing a couple of passages read on a Sunday morning. You need to eat every day. Many people encourage reading the entire Bible in one year. I would say, start with reading the entire New Testament in one year.
- Something else. Either or both of those options are good. But you might have another idea. If you do, design your own goal, just make sure it is SMART.
Another value we see in the early church is the importance of fellowship. The people in the early church knew each other and cared for each other. I think as a congregation that we do pretty good in this area. But we can always do more and there is always the danger that we will do less. The early church sold all their possessions and shared with each other. I’m not going to suggest that, but we can do something. Even something uncomfortable.
- Sit with someone different in church. You may like to sit in the same place every Sunday. I understand that. If I was not the pastor, I would want to sit in the same place. But what if for one Sunday, you looked around and decided to sit with someone you have never sat with before? One Sunday. It could make a difference.
- Stay after church and meet someone new. One of the things that I love about this church is our fellowship time after church at the back of the sanctuary. You might be more comfortable in leaving right after the service, but what if you decided to stay once, twice, or every week? And what if you decided to spend the time talking with someone that you have never talked to before and not just your small circle of friends? There are times that people in our sermon discussion group never make it to class because they are talking with people at the back of the church. No need to apologize for that! Fellowship is important. And by the way, I’m an extreme introvert, so I understand what I’m asking you.
- Something else. You may have another idea of how you could contribute to fellowship. Go for it.
Breaking of Bread
We also saw that the breaking of bread was important to the early church. There is some discussion as whether this was a regular meal or communion. I suspect it was both, but with emphasis on the meal. There is something special that happens when we eat together. How can we integrate this value?
- Take someone out for coffee. You do not have to drive or even walk very far in St. Catharines to encounter a coffee shop. Why not take someone from the church out for coffee? Some of the best conversations I have had have been in coffee shops. The coffee shop does all the work, all you need to do is share a beverage and a snack and build relationships.
- Invite someone over for dinner. Some people have the gift of hospitality, and if so, you should act on it. But even if you don’t feel you have that gift, you still probably eat dinner every day. How much more work is it for you to invite one or two people over to join you. Get them to bring the dessert and everyone wins. There are entire churches that built around table fellowship, about gathering for a meal. How much could we grow relationally, if everyone here had people over even just twice in the coming year?
- Something else. People can be creative with food. Come up with something that includes food and people.
Finally, we see that prayer was an important part of the early church’s activity. There is so much that I would like to say about prayer. Prayer is found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Even Jesus, as God incarnate, prayed to his Father. If Jesus considered prayer a priority, then surely we should as well. We have some very practical ways to put prayer into action.
- Come out to the intercessory prayer group. We have a weekly group that meets for prayer for specific needs, within the church, both our Saturday and Sunday congregations. There are very real needs and prayer makes a difference. It is not a long prayer meeting and you don’t have to commit to every week. Even joining monthly would be good.
- Pray with our prayer team. In addition to our intercessory group, we have a prayer team that is available after church. They are availab https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51%2BvI7fnRzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg le to pray with you about anything. But what if you do not have a current crisis that you need prayer for? There is no reason why you could not join them for five minutes and pray for our church, our city, our country or our world. Would you consider coming forward to pray, even just once this year?
- Something else. The great thing about prayer is that it can be done any time and any place. You can be very creative when it comes to prayer. What kind of prayer goals work for you?
I hope that you will look at each of the four values of the early church, and choose one goal for each area. None of them are too overwhelming. But if we as a church, take all of these things seriously, I really believe that we will grow the way we are supposed to grow. I am setting goals for myself and I hope that you will join me.