Learning to Plan

by John Richardson

Learning to Plan

The final session of our church leadership retreat was supposed to be the highlight of the weekend. The way it turned out, however, the goal-setting session turned into chaos. There were plenty of notable objectives on the marker board-improving our greeting system, enhancing our facility, spending more time mentoring future leaders, and many others. The problem was the lack of cohesion. A new member on the elder board likened the group to a bunch of race horses busting out of the starting gate-but with no idea which way to go, It was clear that we needed to step back and evaluate the overall direction of our ministry.

That was a year ago. The intervening months have been filled with deep searching to discover God's plan for our congregation. Our burning desire is to have a sense of where we are heading so that we might coordinate our ministry decisions. Sure, there were plans, books, and resources available, and we consulted many of them, but this was our turn. After a year, we are nearly finished with our first draft, and I have been amazed at the benefits of this activity in my life and in our church. Here are some of the lessons I've learned in the process:

It is of the utmost importance to find one individual who will keep the leadership team on track. In our case, I asked the observant elder who pointed out our lack of common purpose. His experience in the corporate world, along with his personal style and heart for God, made him the ideal candidate. I still have considerable input in the process, but it is clear to all that this was not pastor-driven, but leadership-team driven. Now I not only have a plan that will guide our church, but I also have an experienced leader who can carry the torch to others in the congregation.

The process of developing our vision, mission, core values, and goals served to meld our church together like nothing I have experienced before. For a year the leadership team was reading about the purpose of the church, discussing options for accomplishing great things for God, and learning about one another. The result is a team of church leaders who know one another and who are unified in their commitment to our mission.

Everyone in the church needs to be involved in some manner. We intentionally broadcast our efforts as widely as possible. For example, we have a woman in our congregation who is the CEO of a large non-profit social service agency. Prior to this effort her chief contribution to the work of the church was to copy sermon tapes for parishioners. After explaining what was going on with our strategic planning, she enthusiastically became something of a consultant for us as we moved along. Her ministry role expanded and the entire church benefited from her involvement.

Again, a man in our church is a commercial ad writer. His profession is to take a big message and squeeze it into a 30-to-60-second spot for television or radio. We walked him through what we had compiled and turned him loose to build a team to work on turning our pages of material into a solid vision statement. In three weeks we had twelve options presented to us-and more people in the church had invested in the plan.

Time spent focusing on the mission and vision of the local church provides natural emphasis in the life of the congregation. My preaching now naturally includes references to the bigger picture of God's will for His people and for our ministry. Furthermore, the chairman of our deacon board now plans his meeting agenda around the three parts of our vision statement: "bringing people in; training believers up; and sending disciples out." The business items are related somehow to one or all of these areas. Others in the church have come forward and shared how their own spiritual passion has been ignited as a result of our time spent focusing on what the church is to be about.

Developing a clearly-written statement of purpose challenges leaders in various ways. The tension is found between those who want to "rush to print" and those who want to scrutinize each element so closely that it will likely never arrive in a final form. We emphasize that it's okay for a first plan to look like a first plan. It is our hope that the ministry plan and objectives we have in our church ten years from now will make this first attempt look rather elementary. But it is a beginning.

My personal life and pastoral life have been stretched more in the past year than I can easily explain. I have learned to love God's people more and I find it easier to give them permission to search God's will for our ministry. I have learned more about how I can be used of God to mobilize His people to deeper levels of service. And I have become more convinced of the central mission and purpose of the church.