State of Stephen 2020

I have often heard the joke, “The most useless thing I bought this year was a 2020 planner.” We have all had to throw out plans and make new ones this year. As I looked back on my goals for 2020, I had to do the same. Multiple goals were not met. Several were changed to something completely different. 

Yet, instead of focusing on what did not go well and where I did not achieve my goals, I want to take time here, at the end of 2020, to celebrate what went well. My hope is that this inspires you to look back on this tough year with fresh eyes and look forward with renewed hope for 2021. 

Goal 1: to teach, train, and implement Ministry Team structure to help empower the congregation in mission and allow the consistory to focus on the work that it alone can do. This should be completed and presented by the November 2020 Congregational Meeting. 


  1. 2 Timothy 1:3-7, Exodus 18:1-27
  2. to fan into flame the gifts of the congregation
  3. to reduce burnout in ministries and allow for healthier turnover
  4. to train new leaders
  5. to shorten consistory meetings

Status: Not completed

Commentary: In February 2020, I spent a good chunk of our consistory meeting walking through the core of a ministry team model, its benefits, and my hopes for what it could look like at Bethel. There was enthusiasm and we were planning to revisit it in the coming months to solidify our understanding and determine how best to move forward. Then March 2020 happened. Our church (and their pastor) had to switch gears quickly and reprioritize. We spent months in ‘survival mode’ and our consistory meetings were filled with concerns about COVID, growing isolation, and how to do adaptive ministry. I still hope we can move to a ministry team model as a congregation, but our circumstances changed rapidly this year and I was not able to follow through on my initial hopes for this goal. 

Goal 2: to create a Small Group Ministry Team and begin campaign for small groups by October 1, 2020.


  1. Acts 2:42, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  2. live out “Growing in Christ Together”
  3. to build momentum from City Groups
  4. to increase small groups at Bethel
  5. to deepen connection between members at Bethel

Status: Not completed

Commentary: I had four goals in 2020 related to my work at Bethel Reformed Church. One was structural (Ministry Teams) and the rest were related to each of the three areas of our vision. This small group ministry goal was also derailed by COVID. The people I was intended to invite into this ministry team went through their personal crises as well. Some existing small groups never met again after March because they struggled to transition to digital meetings (or the strict regulations of in-person meetings). I was able to run a successful book group, which went through J. Todd Billings’ The End of the Christian Life via Zoom. It was a great group of readers and very fruitful conversation. Even though I failed this goal, I learned a lot about what does and does not work for small groups in our context and I have grown in my ability to think creatively about future small groups. I am hopefully for 2021, where I have a goal of starting six different small groups throughout the year. 

Goal 3: to strengthen the relationships in our family by having twelve family outings (6 one-on-one & 6 all-family) in 2020.


  1. Create memories with our kids
  2. Intentional time to build relationship with my children
  3. Demonstrate curiosity and joy to my family

Status: Completed

Commentary: This one took some creativity this year. We wanted more memories and less stuff in 2020 and started strong. Lockdown made life difficult, but the warm weather enabled us to still find ways to spend good, quality time together as a family. Even working from home for a while was good for our family relationships (even if I was a bit less productive). 

Goal 4: to sign a contract for publication of my book of devotions through the Heidelberg Catechism by September 1, 2020.


  1. To use my gifts to build up the church and make disciples
  2. To create more opportunities for future publication
  3. To have my work read and used by a wider audience

Status: Completed

Commentary: I am counting this one as a victory even though the ink has not dried. I finished a full book manuscript in 2019 and wanted to pursue publication. I submitted to multiple different publishers and the only deals I found were in self-publishing (very expensive, very little work done by the publisher itself). Late in the summer, a friend connected me with an editor at Wipf & Stock and I submitted my book proposal. In short, I was contacted by the editor and they are planning to publish my book. The contract is being drawn up right now with an expected publication date in Summer 2021. I did not meet my initial deadline and I won’t technically have the contract signed by the end of 2020, but I am so grateful that it will be published and for the support of those I have already talked to about the book. I have long loved books and wanted to be a writer, so this truly is a dream come true for me. 

Goal 5: Take an evening walk with Olga six days per week for thirteen weeks starting July 1, 2020.


  1. Create space for meaningful conversations in our marriage
  2. Intentional screen-free quality time with Olga

Status: Completed

Commentary: This was not the original goal. We were planning some romantic weekend together, but those plans were killed by COVID. Instead of giving up, we decided to find a different way to achieve the same end of quality, screen-free time together. Olga was going through an exercise routine that called for daily walks. We started walking together after the kids were in bed and have been doing it ever since (even in -10C weather). It is a time we look forward to spending together every night. 

Goal 6: Do 100 pushups per day, six days per week, for 13 weeks starting July 6, 2020.


  1. Lord willing, more healthy years with the family
  2. Greater health and more energy
  3. Reduction in chronic paid

Status: Completed

Commentary: I originally planned to bike 2020 kilometers in 2020, but changing life circumstances (read: COVID) made that goal not realistic for me. I still wanted a health goal, but decided to switch to strength instead of endurance for the year. It took a while reach 100 pushups a day, but I was pleased that my body could do it. While I still deal with chronic pain (and I have a goal related to that in 2021), I feel proud of accomplishing this goal. 

Goal 7: Read two mornings a month for nine months starting January 1, 2020.


  1. Joy of learning
  2. Establish better and more regular research habits
  3. Determine the scope and direction of my next writing project

Status: Completed

Commentary: I had an ambitious writing goal in 2019 (finishing my book), but that left little time for the reading and research I enjoy. I wanted to find a better balance of reading and writing in my life so that I could do both sustainably and productively in the future. I still have work to do on this balance, but I was able to read over 80 books this year. 

Goal 8: to improve my preaching to both believers and unbelievers through intentional reading, review, and skill development with the purpose of developing a regular editing and review process for my sermons that will allow for steady growth.


  1. 2 Timothy 4:1-5, 1 Timothy 4:11-16
  2. to live in deeper faithfulness to God in my personal calling to preach the Word.
  3. to help the congregation live out “Worshipping the Savior”
  4. to preach in a way that encourages unbelievers to attend and hear the gospel
  5. to rejoice as God saves the lost through the preaching of the gospel.

Status: Completed

Commentary: I developed this goal once I realized that no one was going to force me to grow as a preacher. Practice definitely improves preaching, but so does intentional reflection on it. I read several books on preaching (some better than others) and developed a monthly focus for reviewing and editing my sermons. Basically, I know that I cannot improve every aspect of preaching at the same time, so I wanted to identify key areas (e.g. exegesis, structure, introductions, conclusions, application) that I would focus each month. Ideally, this will let me steadily improve my preaching over the years. 

Goal 9: Read/Pray a Psalm and journal four times per week when I arrive at work for 13 weeks starting January 1, 2020.


  1. Delight in the presence of the Lord
  2. Practice and grow in prayer
  3. Grow as a disciple of Jesus
  4. Strengthen my soul for the work of leadership

Status: Completed

Commentary: I knew that I could not make a measurable goal of ‘closeness to God,’ but I could commit to creating space to meet with God. I particularly enjoyed praying the psalms in this process, since it forced me to pray differently than I would have on my own. 

Goal 10: to develop a “Care of Souls” process that will enable me to listen better to the work of God in the lives of others and speak the Word of God into their lives so that they might be drawn deeper into relationship with the Triune God in Q1 2020.


  1. 1 Peter 5:1-4, Galatians 5:13-26
  2. to speak the truth of God’s Word into the particular lives of parishioners
  3. to gain trust so I can lead people through change
  4. to increase my ability to see God’s work in the lives of others

Status: Completed

Commentary: I was greatly helped in this goal by Harold Senkbeil’s Care of Souls. I created a journal with various intentional questions at the beginning and where I took notes after each visit and conversation, paying particular attention to where I saw God at work. I could review my previous conversations each time I planned to meet with someone, helping me see long term patterns and notice significant changes over time. It also gave me something to pray over after a meeting and prior to the next one. 

  • What goals did you have in 2020? 
  • What can you celebrate as you look back at the year and see how far you have come? 
  • What are you hoping to see in 2021? 

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