And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:19-21
A lot of churches and church leaders are doing strategic planning right now. We all enter into a new year (and a new decade) with great hope and excitement for all the new and innovative ministry approaches we will endeavor to take. And we will talk a lot about mission and vision and goals and measurement. In that process, let’s keep some perspective.
Jesus and Strategic Planning
Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry. He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs. Jesus did not plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization. Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do any of those things. It just means we should keep all those things in perspective.
I believe Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision. In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should …
When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:37-38
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 1 Corinthians 15:51
I am no visionary. I am the first to admit it. I am envious of those who are visionaries. I’m pretty quick to admit that as well. I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.” I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen. So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed. And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.
I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity. You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men. When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan. If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently …
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Acts 8:26-29
About 5 years ago, my church got a phone call from Catholic Charities about 40 or so refugees from Burma whom they were helping to relocate into our city. Our church had been an emergency shelter during Katrina and I suppose that helped put us on Catholic Charities’ call list. “Sure, we can help!” After all, providing this small group of dear people with some much-needed help as they acclimate to their new home here in San Antonio would not exactly tax our church’s human resources. But, rest assured, this was not a ministry we had identified in our strategic planning process. This demographic was nowhere on our radar screen. There was no grand plan for this ministry at all. All we had was a sense that God had used Catholic Charities to place this opportunity before us, so we said “yes”.
To me, it seems similar to this passage from Acts 8 about Philip. We are not privy to very much of the “planning meetings” by the Apostles or by the other leadership of the early church…we do not know what kinds of ministries they had put into place that were aimed at the spread of the church in the face of serious oppression and …
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2
I am not a sailor. Maybe you are. So, forgive my ignorance of the whole experience, and please forgive my stealing of this illustration…but it seems to me that sailing involves a whole lot of hard work and attention to details, on the one hand, and a lot of being still and waiting on the wind to blow, on the other hand. In that way, it is a lot like the church.
I once heard one of the important spiritual mentors in my life say: “I don’t like 5-year strategic plans for the church…I am always afraid we will reach the 5-year goal and have missed out on what God wanted for us.” When I was a young leader in the church, that truly spoke to me. It pretty much rocked my world. I learned that God does want God-sized things for His people. He does want to show us great and amazing things of which we cannot even conceive. We really do get so wrapped up in our planning and our business-like approach to spiritual things that we end up missing God completely…sometimes. I think those were valuable lessons for me to learn as a young leader. I definitely needed to expand my vision of God and of His sovereignty.
But there is another side to scripture. There is a very practical side to it. There is Jesus asking the question, “What kind of man sets out to …