The Church And New Years Resolutions

It’s January 1st. Last night, millions of people made New Years resolutions. Come March, most of those resolutions will be unattained. Come June, most of those resolutions will be forgotten.

This is especially discouraging as many Christians made moral resolutions yesterday. Some will determine to stop cussing. Others will determine to read through their bible in a systematic way. I would venture to guess that their success ratio isn’t any higher than your typical secular person trying to lose 10 pounds. The result of this can be a feeling of hopelessness and the creation of a sub-Christian belief that true change is not really possible. People are what they are and that’s that.

What the church needs is more earthy and practical theology. It’s one thing to determine that the church needs to give more to the poor and another thing to lay out simple steps regarding how people can make changes in their lives to become the type of people who sacrificially give. And no, I don’t want to sit on a couch and talk about mommy and daddy issues, I want real advice from real people that really works.

As an aside, I think this is one of the reasons why so-called ‘biblical’ or nouthetic counseling became so popular (and effective?) in the 1970s and 80s. Contrary to other techniques offered in the church, nouthetic counseling was not only biblical, but rigorously practical.

I’m excited by a recent (for me) web start up called Started by two Yale professors, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, users sign up to the site and create a ‘commitment contract’ to help them follow through on a goal. After selecting a referee to check up on their progress, users determine to give a large amount of money to an anti-charity (e.g. the American Nazi party) of their choice if they fail to meet their goal. This is all done courtesy of a legally binding contract that you sign so you can’t back out if you fail. The money is automatically deducted from your credit card if you fail. Please note that this is all public, so if users fail to meet their goals, there’s an extra layer of humiliation added to the mix. The thinking behind this concept is that we all need added incentives to meet goals whose completion lies in the distant future.

It turns out that ideas like this work. According to one of the founders, 78% of stickK users who put money on the line and have a referee completed their goals. Only 35% met their goals when they put no money down. And if you’re not willing to believe the founder, hey, one of the Freakonomics guys loves the concept.

What people in the church need are not just exegetical sermons on personal repentance. We know that we need to. We need help; real and practical help.

So consider when it comes to meeting your New Years resolutions, whether it’s disciplining yourself to pray everyday or lose those last 15 pounds.

Here are some more web resources for you to peruse:

Two JP Moreland sermons on personal change and New Years resolutions

Dan Ariely on temptation and self control: