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Clergy! You Have One Year — Make it Count

In an episcopal system like the United Methodist Church, the clergy and congregation know that they live in a one-year covenant. One announcement of a new appointment and the relationship dissolves. In such a climate, it behooves the clergyperson to prioritize what he or she hopes to accomplish during the appointment year. It is in this context that the Apostle Paul's words to the church at Rome can help.

"For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11, NRSV).

John Wesley's notes on this passage state that, unlike the Corinthians and Galatians, people in the Roman church lacked spiritual gifts. Paul, seeing their spiritual dearth, expressed his desire to visit there so he could share some spiritual gift with them. This sharing occurred as Paul spent time with them in personal ministry: preaching, teaching, praying, worshiping, exhorting, and fellowshipping. He modeled what he wanted them to imitate.

Set Spiritual Priorities

Being an apostle, Paul rarely spent long periods of time in any place; so he set short-term spiritual priorities. He provided focused care and ministry in each place he stopped—regardless of time limitations. Clergy in episcopal systems set tons of priorities with churches to meet finance goals or reach membership and attendance targets. But what about setting spiritual priorities? What if clergy included among their goals at least one spiritual priority -- one spiritual gift to share?

In a denominational study titled, "The Place of Prayer in United Methodism," results showed that only sixteen percent of United Methodist churches in the survey had an intentional process in place to teach people how to pray. Only eight percent of those same churches stated that they employ prayer as an essential part of decision making. What spiritual gift would you share with these churches?

In recent years, writers have asked, "What will people remember about 'the dash' when you're gone?" The dash represents the span of a person's life from birth to death. Writers used it as a metaphor to motivate people to live their lives meaningfully. Another way to motivate yourself to focus on living purposefully is by creating a spiritual will.

Create a Spiritual Will

For many years, Jewish culture has encouraged parents to create an ethical or spiritual will to pass on to their children. In these wills, the parents share with their children every important thing they learned in life—from triumph to tragedy. By sharing these thoughts, parents express what they want most for their children. They hope their children will benefit from the wisdom contained in the will and that the life-lessons will be more valuable than any material possessions the children will receive.

What if clergy wrote a spiritual will at the beginning of each appointment year? Here's what clergy could do: Identify at least one spiritual gift to share with the congregation--that becomes priority one.

Help your church. If people in the congregation need to learn how to pray, teach them. If people in the church are biblically illiterate, share the Bible so convincingly that they will begin reading it for themselves. If members yawn at the mention of evangelism, introduce them to people whose lives Jesus has transformed. You have one year; share a spiritual gift that people can use for a lifetime.

Spiritual Will: Cliff Notes Version

Writing a spiritual or ethical will helps you to discern which spiritual values are most important to you and what you should be modeling and sharing intentionally in family and ministry relationships in order to leave a spiritual legacy.

Sample Outline of a Spiritual or Ethical Will

  1. SalutationWhom are you addressing?
  2. Values and beliefs statementsGive serious thought to the values and beliefs that are important to you. You may want to add a word or two about why they are important to you. Where did you succeed and where did you fail to stand up for those values and beliefs?
  3. Meaningful life experiences. Which people had the greatest impact on your life? What are you most proud of? What were some of the most difficult decisions you had to make? What event(s) changed your life? What key lessons did you learn in life?
  4. Hopes for the future. What hopes and dreams do you have for your loved ones' future? What do you really want for your children, spouse, close friends, congregation?
  5. Personal and family (ministry) memories. Recall family or ministry stories that influenced you. Humorous stories can add a nice touch.
  6. Conclusion: Heart-felt parting words. Express your gratitude for being part of your loved ones' lives. Ask forgiveness if you have hurt someone. Offer blessings.

A shorter outline version is:

  1. What I believe.
  2. What I did.
  3. What I learned.
  4. What my dream is for you.

Focus on the last statement, "what my dream is for you." That is what you would focus your attention on for the year. If you dream of a praying church, an evangelizing church, a missional church, pour yourself into accomplishing that.

You have one year. Make it count.

Recommended Resources

Writing and Reading Ethical Wills

Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper

The Place of Prayer in United Methodism (Scroll to bottom of page)

Kwasi Kena, the former Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries, is now an Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry at the Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Indiana.