Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). If we look to His development as an example, we will desire mental, physical, spiritual, and relational health. We don’t seek to grow in order to earn His love, grace, or favor. His perfection is already ours, already freely given to us by His grace. But because He has already accepted and approved us, we should strive towards the goal of Christlikeness – seeking to live up to what we have already attained.
As we consider our development, we should consider all areas of our lives because we are unified people and each area of our life impacts the other areas. As I have thought through my personal development and helped other leaders consider their development, I have used the following framework and questions.
1) Mental Development
What is my plan to develop my mind?
Several people have shared with me that they believe their minds were the sharpest when they were regularly studying during formal education/training. Sadly, many people graduate from formal education and fail to continue to sharpen their minds through informal education (reading, listening, trying new skills, etc.). Reading is one example of development, and as I shared here—John Wesley boldly told young ministers to “read or get out of the ministry.”
2) Physical Development
What am I doing to steward my body?
For about 18 months in my late 20s, I completely neglected my body. It started as I was wrapping up my doctorate and continued as I wrote Simple Church. I stayed up really late each night writing, ate an extra carb-filled meal about midnight, and packed on 30 extra pounds. In time, it affected other areas of my life. I had less energy for my wife, less energy for reading, less energy for everything. Laziness, I learned, spills out to other areas of your life. Finally, my pastor confronted me and said, “Dude, you look like a skinny-fat man.” It hurt, but in a good way. I set a plan to adjust my diet and to begin exercising again. Five years later, I still feel much better, have much more energy than I did during that season, and am grateful for the confrontation.
Stewarding your body is very different from the two extremes of body worship, where your caloric intake and exercise regime dominate your mind, and body neglect, where you don’t take care of the one body the Lord gave you.
3) Spiritual Development
What is my plan to train myself to be godly?
D.A. Carson wrote:
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. (For the Love of God, Volume 2, January 23)
Sadly, I know Carson’s quote to be true. At times I have approached my spiritual growth haphazardly and found that drifting into growth does not happen. By His grace, I have also enjoyed sweet times of growth with Him through “grace-driven effort.” For example, when I first became a Christian, I used a daily devotional by John MacArthur called Drawing Near. I shudder to think where I would be in life if I hadn’t spent those first few years in a posture bent toward growing in Him. We won’t drift toward greater maturity in Christ. We must, by His grace, strive to become more like Him.
4) Relational Development
How am I investing in my most significant relationships?
My most important ministry is my ministry to my family. The most important conversations I lead each week are the conversations with my wife and daughters. The most important meetings I lead are the times around the table with my family.
I haven’t always poured into my family well, and I know I still fall short all the time. During the first year of full-time ministry, I put my role and the expectations of others ahead of my wife. Neglecting my wife was a poor example of the gospel, of God’s pursing love for His bride. In His grace, He led me to repentance. Kaye and I now prioritize our time together, and with two little girls, she helps me prioritize one on one time with each daughter.
I will share my current plan for development not as a model but merely illustratively as I am sometimes asked about it. My plan changes each year. For the last several years I have mapped out and tweaked my annual plan at the beginning of the calendar year. Right now it is fairly simple. I have learned to only have a few bullet points or action steps in each area:
- Reading in key categories (goal of one book a week)
- Listening to several podcasts to and from work each week (goal of two a week)
- Exercising with Kaye 5 nights a week (after kids go to bed)
- Playing basketball 2 mornings a week
- Reading the Bible through this year
- Reading some key works
- Date night with Kaye each week
- One on one time with Eden and Evie each week (breakfast or donut shop)
I don’t have a goal-setting app or a program that I reference each day, but I do occasionally check-in with the plan I mapped out at the beginning of the year. And while growth in each area requires discipline, I choose activities that I enjoy, that are expressions of God’s graciousness to me. For example, because I really enjoy playing basketball and reading on certain subjects, those actions are not drudgery but joyful discipline. If it is helpful to you, my plan for this year is attached as a PDF here, or as an image below.