Four Ways to Stretch in 2022

By: William D. Shiell

This past year has stretched pastors, churches, ministries, and seminaries. We’ve all used muscles that many of us have not flexed since the 1920’s. It appears that 2022 will continue to challenge us even more.

Many are fatigued, frustrated, and close to burnout based on what we are learning about ministry trends today. Ironically, Christians address these conditions by stretching further. We don’t take a break or quit. We do something in 2022 that counters our fears, improves our resilience, and strengthens our faith.

We embrace the coming year by stretching further toward God’s call.

For example, from the “quarantine” of a prison, Paul and Timothy explained the kind of church the Roman outpost of Philippi needed when they were feeling exhausted (Philippians 3). They described the church as a colony of heaven’s citizens who live to humble themselves, serve for the sake of others, divest earthly honors, rejoice in sacrifice, and unite in strength. But this process requires further stretching. Instead of backing away, they lean into—the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).[1]

We are still heaven’s colonists, pulled in many directions in our mission outposts. Endurance requires counterintuitive action—to stretch when we are feeling exhausted. As we begin 2022, here are four ways we can.

1) Reexamine your calls

Paul describes the Christian life as a “double calling”—one at the beginning of the Christian journey. We accept the invitation to follow Jesus. The other happens at the end when we are “called home” at the end of the race. For many in vocational ministry, we also sense a call to serve where we work. Now is a time to take inventory of your calls—and to spot people the church has ignored.

Ask yourself– How do your calls align with your lifestyle, work, accomplishments, and goals? Do your daily practices cause you to lean into the final call from God?

As you reflect on your work, look in the back pew, on the sidelines, or in the virtual chatroom. Spot some people others might ignore. Who are the people waiting to be asked to serve in this new space?

At Northern, through the Center for Women in Leadership, we’re discovering women and men wanting to dig into the scriptures. Often their pastor has not asked them to serve, and their spouse has discouraged this call in their lives. They have put their family first by raising children or caring for aging parents but now have the time to follow through on something they have sensed since high school.

2) Think practically about your church in light of your context

Our tendency when fatigued is to binge more content: Netflix, podcasts, social media, and audiobooks. Paul and Timothy challenge us to take time to think differently, examine the scriptures together, reflect, and grow in our mindsets about the church based on what we’ve learned about our communities (Philippians 2:5, 4:8).

In Philippi, they faced at least two groups like those in our neighborhoods today—fundamentalists and veterans. One group fixated on their family pedigree and rule-enforcement, intimidating others in the colony. The other group served in the Roman army, retired in Philippi, and were loyal patriots. Paul and Timothy expanded their minds about the kind of church needed to address these challenges. They don’t want to exclude these groups; they plan for Christ’s Spirit to convert them. Both groups needed Jesus as Lord, but the Philippians needed to adapt to their audiences. Paul and Timothy challenged them to engage the scriptures, unite with one another, listen and study together. He even drew on familiar images common to the life of a veteran (“strive side by side for the faith of the gospel” 1:27-30) to help them understand how the Christian life could provide even greater protection and support than a Roman legion.[2]

Based on what you’ve learned, what community pain can your church address in 2022? Your church may not return to 100% in-person attendance, but what new ministries have developed in the virtual ministry space?

Pastors may not be able to visit personally at the hospital as they once did, but how can the body of Christ be mobilized beyond the hospital waiting room to care deeply for people?

Cities deal with violence, injustice, hate, suicide, viruses, and addiction. How can the church address the public’s physical health and spiritual well-being?

Through the Grow Center for Church and Mission and Seminary Now, we provide the content that expands our minds about what the church can be and how to respond locally to challenges.

3) Pray with (not just for) those with whom you disagree

Paul and Timothy redefine what it means to be a mature believer in Philippians 3:15. We often view maturity as a personal growth award, but they measure spiritual maturity on our obedience with one another. They challenge us to seek out people with different viewpoints.[3]  If we do not agree, we should pray together about our disagreement, trusting that God will reveal the answer.

Jesus reminded us in Matthew 18:20 that believers resolve conflict best wherever “two or three are gathered.” Mature Christians seek out those who interpret scripture differently or think differently about ministry and pray with that person—not just privately for that person.

Who have you been praying for in 2021 that you now need to pray with in 2022?

4) Develop new ministries

Once you have reflected on your call, examined the scriptures, and prayed with those you disagree, take action on new ministries that address the new realities. We trust that God will reveal the next steps we can take in this process. They will stretch us—and make us stronger for the year to come.

For example, our students in Kenya are preparing their church for upcoming national elections. They have recognized that the church needs to be agents of peace when people are divided and cities are struggling. Using the principles they’re learning from our program in Christian Community Development, they train their churches to be ambassadors for peace and justice in their cities in 2022.

At Northern, trusted guides can walk with you as you take practical steps to lead the church and engage the world. Contact our admissions office today to learn how to do so.

[1] James W. Thompson and Bruce W. Longenecker, Philippians and Philemon, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 112.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011),  212.

[3] Witherington, 213.

December 13, 2021

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William

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