At the New Year, Take Inventory | By Glenn and Holly Packiam
Pastors and church leaders can avoid burnout by taking personal inventory, then making a plan to implement healthy change. Here’s how.
It’s that time of year — when the world falls in love and every song you hear seems to say, “Did we make budget? Will our end-of-the-year giving goals come true? How many people did we baptize? How many are in small groups? How much money did we give away?”
Okay, so Christmastime is a little different for church leaders, isn’t it? We wish it could all be carols and candles and warm feelings, but the truth is, we feel a lot of pressure to hit the measurables we’ve been hoping for.
And yet, somewhere deep inside, we know that as important as numbers are, there are things that matter that are hard to measure. We don’t just want to track growth; we want to look for health.
Health, even in our physical bodies, is harder to measure. We tend to look for the absence of something bad — a fever, cough, tumor, and so on — rather than the presence of something good. To check health, we need to take inventory.
How to Take Inventory
We have learned to regularly take inventory of five key spheres of our lives. We suggest that you begin with your own life and then make it a part of your one-on-one conversations with the people on your team — perhaps once a month or once a quarter.
You can even use this inventory as a discipleship tool for the people in your church as you meet with them: Ask them about these five areas of their lives and help them discern what practices to embrace and engage in.
One caveat: In reality, these spheres overlap and interlock, but it’s helpful to name them separately so we can take a more detailed inventory of our lives. Each sphere represents a value, something worth prizing and prioritizing on purpose. They are:
What we want to examine in each of these areas is not setting a goal but building a practice.
Practices are better than goals because they last longer and become more deeply embedded into our sense of who we are.
For example, if you make a goal of running a marathon, you may run until the day of the race. And once it’s over, you may never run again. But if you run because you are a runner, then running will become part of your daily routine.
Similarly, if your goal is to read the Bible in a year — a worthy and powerfully formative goal — you may get up and read the Bible daily but then quit once you’ve finished. The hope is that the year of aiming for that goal was habit forming.
Too often what happens with goals like these, however, is that we fall behind and then give up on the goal. But when you choose a practice instead of a goal, you’re simply committing to read the Bible every day, no matter how long a passage you read.
Let’s look at some examples of practices to build into each of these five spheres.
Practices of prayer are practices that help us connect with God.
You might think about incorporating prayer in various ways: through a daily practice, like Bible reading; a weekly practice, like a walk alone with God; and a monthly practice, like a day alone with God.
Practices of rest are practices that slow us down to a place of trust and peace.
A keystone practice here might be observing a Sabbath.
Many people think they don’t have time to keep a Sabbath. But the truth is, making the time to stop — to take a day or the majority of a day to refrain from doing any kind of work, paid or unpaid, and to be attentive to God in his world and in the people around us — actually shapes the way we organize time in the rest of our week.
Genesis begins its day with evening, indicating that rest comes first and that we work from a place of rest, trusting that God is the creator and the sustainer and that we are not.
Practices of renewal are practices that bring life back into our souls.
It may look like a bike ride or a Pilates class or board games with your kids. It could look like dinner with friends.
These, too, may be weekly or monthly or even daily — an evening walk around the neighborhood with your spouse or a friend might be an example of this.
Practices of relationships are intentional places of connecting with others in a meaningful way.
They might include scheduling a monthly dinner with a close group of friends, making time for a weekly date night with your spouse, or getting ice cream on the weekend with your kids.
Finally, practices of work are about the way we work.
When will we check email and Slack? When will we not? When will we fit in appointments with people? How many nights a week will we be away from home?
These practices may be just as much about what we won’t do as they are about what we will do.
If we don’t define these practices, work tends to bleed into every corner of our schedules.
As church leaders, we can justify overwork or at least acquiesce to it because it’s ministry and therefore we think we have to. But Jesus had practices that guided his decisions: when to go out to new towns and when to pull back with his disciples and with the Father.
Making It Stick
Taking inventory is just the start.
In the process of examining these five spheres, we may discover that we have no clear practices in a given area — or we may find that we have too many.
Our advice is to choose one or two practices for each area. Don’t be too ambitious about it; it’s better to be honest about your capacity.
But there’s one more step: getting them into your calendar.
Practices must become rhythms. They must get embedded in our daily lives in order to enshrine our values and priorities.
We take inventory of our practices in order to make a plan. When we craft a specific plan and write it down, we’re actually embodying our values.
What we spend our time on reveals what we value. And conversely, if we value something but don’t put it on the calendar, it remains an ambiguous idea — it’s something we want to do, but we don’t actually know when we’re going to do it.
Kellogg School of Management professors Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal highlight the difference between “fuel” — motivation, value, reasons — and “friction” — obstacles, ambiguity, effort. We assume that people always choose what they believe is best. But people often choose what’s easiest.
Part of the key to adopting new practices is not just clarifying the why; it’s simplifying the how. And the best way to do that is to eliminate the ambiguity around it by making a specific plan that happens rhythmically in our lives — whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly.
The calendar is more than a schedule. Think of it as a written record of how you will embody the practices the Spirit is leading you to integrate into your life.
We all want to enter into a new year healthy and well. But health doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality. And the difference between having good intentions and actually being intentional is taking inventory, identifying key practices, and building them into your rhythm of life.
Adapted from The Intentional Year by Glenn Packiam and Holly Packiam. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.