Goal Setting for the Non-Goal Setter

I’m married to a man who LOVES to set goals–he has entire systems for goal-setting that help him live intentionally and thoughtfully throughout each year, month, and day. I deeply appreciate this about Michael; it makes him focused and purposeful in how he lives and in how he loves our little family.

But I happen to be on the “loose” end of goal setting; I have ideas in my head but I rarely write them down, and although I’m a very driven, productive person, I’ve never been excited to get my goals down on paper or really think through entire years or months at a time. The typical lists and formats that I’d seen for goal-setting really didn’t seem to help me–or inspire me.

Then, last year, I purchased my first ever set of PowerSheets through Lara Casey’s Cultivate What Matters shop, and my paradigm shifted; now I want to invest in making time to set goals! Ha! This happened, in large part, because PowerSheets is way of approaching goals that has been created by a woman who deeply loves the Lord. PowerSheets are not just about checking items off of a to-do list; they help you shape your life around what matters most and take steps toward living whole-heartedly, whether you’re a working professional, a stay-at-home mom, or a college student.

I LOVE PowerSheets and use them for both the personal side of my life and the professional side of my life, because this is a tool that helps me stay focused on not just getting things done, but on becoming who I want to become by the grace of God.

PowerSheets by Lara Casey

In short: PowerSheets have been a delightful game-changer for me. If you are looking for a way to intentionally approach this coming year with hope and peace and a heart that’s wide-awake and ready for what’s ahead, I highly recommend getting a set for yourself. They just launched today, and they often sell out, so click over and look into them for yourself!

Full disclosure: I’m a store affiliate for PowerSheets, but I requested the opportunity to do so because I believe in this product so much. I use them myself and encourage my Writing with Grace students to use them, too!



Easy Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

Easy Ways to Encourage your Pastor! www.annswindell.comThis is the start of my most recent article for the Deeply Rooted Magazine blog.
You can read the entire article here!

I love church. I really do. I love the Church with a capital C—the church universal that Jesus died and rose for, filled with every tribe and nation and people and tongue (Rev. 7:9). And I love our particular church that meets every Sunday in a building that used to be a funeral home (a reminder of the beauty of going from death to life every week!). And after years in church ministry, as a pastor’s wife and now as a seminarian’s wife, I can unequivocally say that while church is messy and challenging and sometimes deeply painful, I know that there’s nothing else I will give my life to—because that’s what Jesus did. If he gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for and serve his people.

If Jesus gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for… Click To Tweet

While my husband and I are not in full-time ministry right now, I know what it’s like to be married to a pastor, and one of the many things learned in those years of ministry is that most pastors live in the simultaneous reality of loving what they do and also being tired. Sometimes pastors are just kind of tired. But other times they are exhausted. Getting to pastor the people of God is an incredible gift, but it is also a job that doesn’t have very clear starting and ending times. Ministering is fluid; people don’t have important questions and life crises only between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. Work and ministry and life bleed into one another. And yes, sometimes pastors need better boundaries. But sometimes life and ministry are one and the same thing—and that’s ok. And tiring.

Your pastor is meant to be a gift to you. But you are also meant to be a gift to your pastor: Click To Tweet

I don’t know who your pastor is, and I don’t know what kind of season your pastor is in. But this is the pastor that you have in this season of life, and he is meant to be a gift to you and your church family. The flip side of the equation is that you are meant to be a gift to your pastor, too. One way to do that is to intentionally encourage him and the other staff members at your church. So, as we end Pastor Appreciation month, here are some simple ways you can encourage the pastors in your life:

  1. Say thank you. Say thank you when you see him on Sunday. Send a quick note of thanks to the office. Write a thank-you email regarding something specific that meant a lot to you. This will go so, so much farther than you can imagine.
  2. Drop off coffee or food at the office. Find out when the weekly staff meeting is and drop by with donuts or coffee. You might just make the staff’s entire week! They will know they are loved and thought of on days other than Sunday.

Read the rest of the article here, at Deeply Rooted!

Mentor for Life: Why Discipleship Matters

If you know me, you know that I care deeply about discipleship in the local church–I care about it so much because Jesus cares about it. He called us to be disciples who make disciples, and the church is the place where we can most readily and powerfully fulfill this mission, while inviting those who don’t yet know Jesus to join us, too.

My friend and fellow writer, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, recently wrote the book Mentor for Life, which addresses the beauty, power, and necessity of mentoring and discipleship in the church. I’m honored to have an interview with her in this space. Read below, be encouraged, and buy this wonderful book!

Discipleship and Mentoring is so important!

Natasha, why did you want to write this book?

The process for Mentor for Life came about quite organically. I was leading a mentoring ministry in my local congregation and it was the type of ministry I wanted to be a part of my whole adult life. I was growing my faith, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and reading thoughtful kingdom-focused books.

The ministry was important to me so I would frequently talk about it and I wrote about it on my blog and in some of the leadership articles I wrote for Christianity Today. When I would share what we were doing and how I was watching God change people’s lives through mentoring as intentional discipleship, I started hearing people say, I want to be a part of something like that, or I wish there was a ministry like that in my church. I would get messages on my Facebook page, notes in the comments section, or emails from my blog asking for a resource or my curriculum. When I saw this was a need in the church and people were sincerely asking for help, that’s when I sat down to write this book.

What makes Mentor for Life unique, as a book?

Mentor for Life is unique because it addresses mentoring from a perspective of 1-on-1 relationships. It clearly defines mentoring from the kingdom perspective of intentionally making disciples, and we do that within a small group of approximately six mentees and we invest in building quality relationships through intentional learning over a longer period of time (approximately a year). The book is kingdom-focused, it engages the Biblical texts, there is opportunity for theological reflection, it is missional (not just about what we do in the church but how we live among people), and it is challenging.

This book is also personal and relational. Throughout the book, I share about my faith journey, along with the leadership and mentoring lessons I learned while attending the United States Naval Academy and serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

How do you imagine the book will be used in both an individual and group setting?

Mentor for Life is not necessarily a book to rush through. It is a book to ponder. I have included questions, opportunities for personal reflection, and exercises at the end of each chapter. I encourage the reader to complete those, and I pray that as they go through the book they are not only thinking about starting a mentoring small group or ministry, but they are also asking themselves, “How can I be more intentional in how I live?”

I pray that Mentor for Life is spiritually transformative for every reader and it’s my hope that they will share and model what they learn with others.

I’m grateful to  Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this book and to Natasha for sharing her words here. I believe this is an important book for us today and highly encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for yourself–and share it with your church leadership and friends! 

God Doesn’t Care How Big Your Platform Is: An Article for RELEVANT Magazine

God Doesn't Care How Big Your Platform Is. www.annswindell.com

Most of my life, I’ve felt a tug toward greatness.

You know–that feeling that burns deep and can push us wide? Deep because we know that we were created to do important, meaningful, gorgeous things in the world. Wide because we look around us at all that we aren’t doing and see people who seem great in our eyes—people who carry great influence, great ideas, great power.

And that feeling in us, that yearning for greatness, can sometimes make us feel very small. Small because we lack great influence. Small because we lack world-changing ideas. Small because we lack great power. I don’t have a million followers, a best-selling book, a corporate position or a lot of money. I’m guessing you might not, either.

But we look at others who do, and it’s easy to feel like we should be doing something bigger and greater and more important with our lives. Sometimes, we might even find ourselves thinking: “What if I’ve missed it?” “What if I’m never great in the way I long to be?”

Those are the moments when I find myself trying to push my way into greatness. I think that if I can work harder, think more deeply or just be better—then, perhaps, greatness will fall upon me like a cape. If I just keep driving my way forward, maybe I can make this thing—this elusive greatness—happen.

But I can’t. It never works out that way…

Read the rest of the article here, at RELEVANT!

Trusting God When Life Changes

Endings are that strange and mystical combination of sorrow punctuated with joy, of hope dancing with nostalgia. Our little family is coming to the end of many things in these coming weeks as we prepare for what is ahead, and within a two-week span, both Michael and I are coming to the end of jobs we have loved and lived for years.

Trusting God When Life Changes: The Joy of Walking with Jesus. www.annswindell.com

Yesterday was Michael’s last day on staff as a pastor at the church that we have been a part of for nearly eight years. We are moving to a new state so that he can finish his seminary degree, and yesterday we had the gift of preaching (together!) one last time to the church community that has so richly shaped us.

We are thankful. Thankful for fellow believers who have pointed us to Jesus and ministered to us even as we have ministered to them. Thankful for the countless nights of small groups and meetings and prayer times and worship sessions. Thankful for truth spoken to us on wonderful and difficult days. Thankful for weddings and babies and celebrations of many kinds. Thankful for friends who have held us up and counted the cost with us. Thankful for camaraderie in the Kingdom.

But new beginnings cannot come without endings, and yesterday was a day of ending our official ties with that church family. Tears? Yes. Laughter? Yes. Hugs? Most definitely, yes.

And also, expectation. For the first time in my life, I am not terrified of the unknown. Perhaps, for you, change is a wonderful and heady thing. For me, change has always felt gut-wrenching, difficult, gear-grinding tight. I have never loved change; I have usually avoided it.

But in this season where God has invited us to lay down all that we have known and step into something strikingly new, I am filled with hope. I am filled with expectation. I am filled, even, with joy.

I am learning that this joy is the fruit of obedience; joy is the natural response of saying “Yes!” to God. 

Jesus talks about this very thing right before he obeys all the way to his death on the cross. He is sharing his heart with his closest friends, here in the hours before his dying:

    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my        love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and      that your joy may be complete.” John 15:9-11

God loves us. He loves us! And when we obey his commands–when we say yes to him–we not only experience his love, but we receive the treasure trove of joy he has to offer.

What kindness! We are broken, sinful, selfish people, and yet when we make the choice to obey God (which is what we should do anyway) he meets us in the place of obedience with love and with joy. Love and joy–the two things our hearts desire perhaps most of all–are found in obedience to God.

Love and joy--the two things our hearts desire perhaps most of all--are found in obedience to God. Click To Tweet

And this is the pearl that God is forming in me in this season. As I rub up against the pain of leaving our home and our community for what he is calling us into, I am finding that there is such deep joy in obedience that I hardly know what to do with it.  At present, the circumstances we are in are foggy at best: timing, finances and jobs are all up in the air. But I am so hopeful. So expectant. So joy-filled!

As one who used to be so afraid of change, I am surprised to find such tenderness in my heart. I have moments of fear and concern, of course, but I have more moments of joy and delight. And I am thankful. I am thankful that as good things are coming to an end, I know there is deeper joy up ahead–not because of the circumstances, but because Jesus is there.

He is, after all, the pearl of greatest price, the treasure trove of joy himself.

As we obey his call, I am meeting Jesus afresh at every turn. And the joy in him is the greatest gift of all.


4 Questions to Ask When Making a Big Decision

In a season where our little family is making some huge decisions that are going to affect the rest of our lives, I’m thankful that we had an intentional process that we walked through before making those big choices. I’m sharing my newest piece over at RELEVANT, about the four questions to ask when it’s time to make a big decision. Here’s the start of the article:

4 Questions to Ask When You're Making a Big Decision. This is so good!

This summer, my husband and I will pack up all of our things, strap our daughter in her car seat, and drive to a different state—a state where we currently have no jobs, no housing and no community. Why? For my husband to pursue a graduate degree.

Are we crazy, stupid or silly to be leaving established jobs, a strong community and a house we own for my husband to pursue a degree?


Or maybe we’re following God.

By faith, I believe we’re doing the latter—I believe that this step we are taking is actually a response of obedience to God. Still, from the perspective of those who don’t know us, our choice to move may seem ridiculous or even irresponsible.

But how we got here was anything but irresponsible; we took practical, intentional steps to make this decision to move. We sought God’s voice and direction in multiple ways by involving our church, our friends and our families in the decision-making process. And we believe that the steps that we have taken helped us discern God’s will and hear His voice in the process so that we can move to a new city this summer with confidence and hope.

It is in big decisions like these—decisions regarding calling, career, community, marriage—that we need clarity regarding how we can hear God and seek to determine His will for our lives. There are no hard-and-fast rules from the Bible regarding how we make decisions: We don’t always put fleeces outside, we don’t always fast for three days, we don’t always see a burning bush. Similarly, God does not always speak to us the same way—He can speak through multiple people, experiences and interactions.

When it’s time to make a big decision, here are four questions to ask as we seek to hear how God might be speaking through several of those avenues in our lives:

The 4 questions to ask when making a big decision... Click To Tweet

1. What Does the Scripture Say?

While the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically to take one job over another or marry one person instead of another, the Word does have tenets that can—and should—guide these types of decisions. For example, the Bible cautions us to keep our minds fixed on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Will the job that you are considering help you live a life of truth, honor and purity? Will that person you are thinking about marrying help you praise God and live a commendable life before Him? We need to keep the Word of God at the center of our discussions about the decisions in front of us—it is meant to be our plumb line and our source of wisdom and truth in all things.

2. What Does Our Community Say?

As Christians, we are meant to live in a broader community of fellow believers whom we worship with, spend time with and do the work of the Kingdom with. In all of its various permutations around the world, this is Church—all of us with various gifts and abilities that build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).

Those around us who are fellow believers carry the Spirit of Christ within them, and they can often see our lives, personalities and tendencies more clearly than we can see them in ourselves. We need to invite others into our decision-making process, prodding them to ask the tough questions we shy away from—questions about motivation and calling. We also need them to offer encouraging words when they sense that we are moving in the right direction.

We need to invite others into our decision-making processes... Click To Tweet

If your close community senses health in your dating relationship, ask your friends if they think marriage with your significant other would be wise—and then also ask why. If you are considering pursuing a degree in hotel management, ask your close friends if they see the skills and gifts in you that would enable you to do that job well. To receive their feedback will require humility, and it may also protect us from unwise decisions.

3. What Does Our Leadership Say?

Churches have leadership structures, whether formal or informal. And while leaders are fallible and sinful, just as anyone is, they have been charged by God to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their role is to help us develop into men and women who are able to carry out the work of the Gospel and to proclaim the Good News that Christ came to save sinners.

Ideally, our leaders know us and can affirm God’s call on our lives, and can bless us and send us out into new endeavors. Talking with a trusted leader about the decision we are seeking to make can often (but not always) lead to a fuller insight regarding our role in the larger body of Christ, and that can help us to see the decision before us in a clearer light.

4. What Do We Sense God is Speaking to Us Personally?

Prayer—consistent, intentional prayer—should be a central part of any decision-making process, and it should include time both speaking to God as well as time spent seeking to listen to His response. Do we have a sense of peace when we pray about one choice and a sense of anxiety when we pray about another? Does a specific scripture come to mind when we are praying about the decision at hand? Do we hear the voice of Christ voice speaking direction to us (John 10:27)? If so, we can take that word, that peace (or anxiety), or that Scripture back to our community to ask our friends to help us sift through the options ahead of us.

When there seems to be a consensus with most, or all, of these aspects in our lives—Scripture, prayer, community, leadership—we can move forward with somewhat of a sense of clarity about what decision to make. Sometimes, the clarity is that either choice we make will be good; sometimes, the clarity is that neither choice would be beneficial. Regardless, making any decision in isolation isn’t advisable—neither by the Bible nor by common sense: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). Choosing wise counsel—from advisers and friends who love God and love us—will help us align with God’s leading in our lives.

Waiting with Hope Devotional by Ann Swindell www.annswindell.com

Check out the entire the article here, at RELEVANT!

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