Looking back to look forward

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

It’s 2021, and while a new year doesn’t magically erase 2020’s ripple effects, we think it feels pretty good to say “2021” instead of “2020” now. Traditionally, the world rings in the new year with festivities, fireworks, and fanfare as we reset with new resolutions and hopes. A calendar flip is so simple, but can feel so cathartic.

There is one challenge, however.

If we rush too quickly into 2021, we may evoke a forgetfulness that risks obstructing our view of the new year. And rather than charting a new way forward, we risk either repeating or reacting to the past.

2021 needs to be its own year—rather than “Not 2020.”

Youth leaders can prepare for this new year and help others do the same by intentionally gazing in two directions—looking back and looking forward. And while we encourage you to make this kind of reflection a regular discipline, we can’t think of a better time to start than right now.

Here are some helpful ways you can lead your ministry into 2021 by looking back and looking forward.

Tweet this: 2021 needs to be its own year—rather than “Not 2020.”

Looking back

Our Christian tradition depends on remembering the past. Throughout the Scriptures, God urges people to recall where they came from, what God has done, how they have responded to God, and who they are as a result. God regularly invites us to reflect, repent, and remind each other of the life Jesus calls us toward. Accepting this invitation requires us to pause and look back on our lives, whether it be yesterday, last week, or last year.

The same is true for ministry leadership. Looking back on 2020 can offer you the perspective and wisdom you need for the ministry year ahead. When we reflect on the past year, we may learn that bad experiences don’t need to haunt us, or that good experiences may be worth celebrating but not repeating. Actively reflecting on the past keeps us from defaulting to ministry autopilot or reactive leadership, which cloud our thinking, dull our empathy, and rob us of our passion.

If you haven’t taken time to say farewell to the old year before ringing in the new, we encourage you to grab a journal, find a quiet space, and respond to these four prompts.

In this past year:

  1. When was I leading at my best? What helped me lead well?
  2. When was I struggling in my leadership? What made leading difficult?
  3. What’s something new we tried in ministry that went well? Why did it go well?
  4. What’s something new we tried that didn’t go well? Why didn’t it go well?

Write what you really think. Be honest with yourself. Re-read what you wrote, and begin to talk to God:

God, I’m grateful for…

I’m sorry for _______. Please forgive me.

I’m afraid of…

I’m hopeful for…

Be courageous as you look back. You can do it. Acknowledge the joy and pain, and don’t rush ahead until you’ve had some serious talks with God about how your experiences in 2020 have brought you to this present moment. If it feels too overwhelming, allow your looking back and talking with God to remain short and simple, and then reach out to a trusted mentor, friend, or counselor to help you keep processing. It’ll be worth it—giving you a clearer view for the year ahead.

Looking forward

The Christian gospel also encourages Jesus followers to look forward. Our hope is in God who, through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, promises to heal every fiber of our lives and world. Death to life. Discouragement to hope. Separation to unity. Hate to love. We have every reason to look forward and search for the glimmering horizon of hope and healing.

In our new book, Sticky Faith Innovation: How Your Compassion, Creativity, and Courage Can Support Teenagers’ Lasting Faith, we propose you start the new year with this same hope and anticipation. This invitation stems from more than mere positive thinking; it is deeply Christian thinking. We know you can hone your forward-looking vision with these innovative steps:  

  1. Discern what your teenagers need most from your ministry this new year by rediscovering empathy. Start your new year by asking: Which teenagers and parents do I need to check in with to hear how they’re doing?
  2. Innovate fresh ministry approaches and practices that respond to their greatest needs. Start by considering: What’s the best way to use the resources (people, finances, location, building, technology, etc.) we have to address their most pressing needs?
  3. Amplify your compassion, creativity, and courage to take faithful risks for your teenagers. Start by considering: Where do I feel most prepared for the new year and what might be holding me back?

You don’t have to guess your way through this new year. Looking forward can be an intentional act that is longer-lasting and more inspirational than the new year resolutions that typically fade by mid-January. 2021 is more than a new year. It is a new year that God is calling you into. What awaits are new challenges, new opportunities, and new surprises. Prepare for these by readying yourself and your ministry by looking back and looking forward. 

Happy 2021, youth leaders! Let’s do this.

Tweet this: 2021 is more than a new year. It is a new year that God is calling you into. Ready yourself and your ministry with these tips on looking back and looking forward.


For courageous youth leaders everywhere. 

You have the compassion, creativity, and courage you need to serve your teenagers in your youth ministry.
Spark innovation to cultivate their lasting faith.

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