Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Principles for Progress in the Church, Part 5: Plans

Somehow when we consider our finances, or education, or career plans, we have no trouble being intentional and putting a strategy in place to help us make progress. But with our families, and with our churches, too often we let things go on autopilot. When we do, we almost guarantee that we will drift in the wrong direction. If you’re not progressing, you’re automatically regressing.

With this series we have been advocating a simple approach to ensuring that we continue to move forward, specifically here with reference to our local churches. Using the Scriptures as our principled guide, we begin with an understanding of our purpose as a church. From purpose we move to values. Then vision. Then goals. With each of these areas, we move from talking about universal ideas (every church’s purposes) to a more specific identity (individual church plans).


In the last post we described an approach to goal setting that requires faith in God’s promises and character. Now with faith-filled goals to set parameters, plan now and re-plan regularly to meet the goals the Lord has helped you to set. The next logical step is to ask God to help you meet your goals by planning your church’s life.

Design a progress plan that will help direct your church in meeting your God-given goals. Again, if a vision is in place and goals have been set, this task is simply placing items on our calendars and in our budgets to make sure they happen, if God grants them. There are all kinds of ways to do this effectively, and my intent here is not to promote one particular style of developing strategic plans. However, there are a few ideas from the Scriptures that are particularly helpful.

First, pastors need to be leaders, but not blindly. They need to be faithfully diligent (see Romans 12.8), and humbly seek wise advice:

Plans fail when there is no counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.

(Proverbs 15.22, HCSB)

Also, I think that plans should be important, but held loosely. We all need to shift things around on the fly, because there is no way to predict the future. So expect the unexpected. This means having a balanced understanding of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. In the last post we looked at Proverbs 16.9, but take a look also at 16.3 (HCSB):

Commit your activities to the LORD,
and your plans will be achieved.

In other words, be faithful to make plans, but also entrust them to God, who will act according to His pleasure and our good.

There are of course some practical and perhaps obvious (but sometimes overlooked) ideas, like weekly meetings and planning as far in advance as possible. But equally important are mid-course corrections, as circumstances change. To help do this, many wise leaders schedule one or two staff (or volunteer leadership) progress getaways per year to check the status of their goals and vision (even though most folks call this type of session a “staff retreat,” that name seems counter-intuitive; one pastor calls it a “staff advance”—I prefer “progress getaway”; regardless of what you call it, do it).

I’m no expert, but I know that these strategies need to happen regardless of church size. It may seem easier to do in large churches. But these practices can and must be used anywhere. As a small church pastor, I can seek the advice and agreement of our deacon team. And we can certainly schedule time away together to plan for our church’s progress.

Purpose, values, vision, goals, plans. A general-to-specific approach that is biblical, and that will help us keep progressing toward who God has called us to be, and what God has called us to do.

[This is part 5 of 5 in the series, Principles for Progress in the Church. Here are the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Principles for Progress in the Church, Part 4: Goals

In writing these posts on strategic thinking for progress in our churches, it has crossed my mind more than once that there have been many, far more eloquent and astute thinkers to write about these ideas. So in adding my two cents, I’m essentially encouraging my church and any who read here that this type of intentional strategy is absolutely necessary to move us forward to where we need and want to be. There are certainly great resources available to help you think through effective goal setting.


Previously we looked at developing a godly vision. Now, with a godly vision guiding you, set realistic goals for what you pray your church will become by God’s grace and ability. This is the next logical step: Ask God to help you establish legitimate, measurable, attainable, faith-filled goals.

By legitimate I simply mean reasonable. God may choose to work miraculously on your behalf, but your mid-term goals shouldn’t bank on the miraculous. Don’t illegitimately presume upon the grace of God. Your goals should also be attainable, but that doesn’t mean without faith. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please God (see Hebrews 11.6), and whatever is not done from faith is sin (see Romans 14.23).

How can our goals be full of faith? On one hand, there are times when God’s vision for you will be bigger than your expectations (or goals) for yourself:

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— (21) to Him be glory.... (Ephesians 3.20-21, HCSB)

In those cases, follow Him in full faith that He will accomplish whatever He promised, just as Abraham learned to trust through near-unbelievable circumstances (see Romans 4.18-22).

On the other hand, there are times when it is as thought God is silent on a particular concern. It is in those times when God does not give specific answers that we must obediently follow His principles, again, in faith. So in goal setting, whether God seems to give specific paths or not, He requires our faith.

Either way, think of your goals as intermediate steps to obediently fulfilling God’s longer-range vision for you, your family, or your church.

What does it look like to set clear goals? I think a couple of examples from Paul’s life are instructive. Paul had set a goal of going to Rome. He was determined to get there. He wrote to them and expressed that desire (see Romans 15.20-32). Eventually he got there, but not by taking the path he had hoped: he was taken as a prisoner. In another instance, Paul had clearly communicated his intention (goal) of going back to Corinth, but when he was unable, he wrote a brief explanation to let them know he was sincere and not fickle (see 2 Corinthians 1.15-18).

Goals are to be put in place to act as reminders of a larger direction and directive. We’re following God, who always puts our steps in order:

A man’s heart plans his way,
but the LORD determines his steps.

(Proverbs 16.9, HCSB)

In the final post, we’ll talk about plans to accomplish the goals.

[This is part 4 of 5 in the series, Principles for Progress in the Church. Here are the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Principles for Progress in the Church, Part 3: Vision

Can you imagine the end of your life? Most people probably don’t want to do that. But I mean it in the best possible way. Imagine that you have reached old age, and that you are satisfied and content with the way your life and ongoing legacy have turned out.

It’s what I affectionately call the rocking chair moment: You’re near the end of your life sitting in cozy chair with your favorite coffee or tea, and you’re thinking through all that God has done in and through you. Again, imagine that things turned out the way you would want them.

Can you imagine that scenario? Now ask yourself: What would have to happen in order for that life reflection to be a satisfying one? How would you have treated your spouse, or what would you have done with your single life? Your children? Your career? Your finances? Once you think through what that would look like, what would you need to do in the next 30 years in order to get there? The next 20? 10? What would you need to do now in order to get there?

Now apply that to the church. What would we need to do in our churches to get us where we would want to one day be? We would probably come up with ideas that are different than what we’re actually currently doing on a weekly basis.

We have been looking at principles for progress in the church, and have noted that making progress requires intentional and strategic action. In the previous post, I mentioned that after understanding God’s purpose for the church, every local church should agree upon mutually held values. Once values are agreed upon, it’s time to start thinking about God’s vision for your church.


With godly values in place, develop a church vision for what you pray your church will become by God’s grace and ability. The next logical step is to ask God to show you what our church can become—for His glory.

Think of your vision as God’s guiding work to make you into what He has already planned. Notice how the KJV translates Proverbs 29.18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish….” We can see that the proverb is saying that when there is no guiding, agreed-upon principle, people throw off any restraint and recklessly do whatever they want.

But there’s more. The word behind what was translated vision has the sense of revelation. In other words, we need to hear God’s desire and plans, and then build our lives around that. The second half of the verse makes that clear. Here it is in the HCSB:

Without revelation people run wild,
but one who listens to instruction will be happy.
(Proverbs 29.18)

So vision does involve dreaming up big plans, but not without the revelation and instruction of God, primarily through His Word, driving the dreaming. How do we do it? I think Paul gives us an idea of that in Philippians.

For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (19) Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, (20) but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3.18-20, HCSB)

The answer is that we start to dream and cast a vision for our churches as citizens of heaven. I think there is an interesting play on words in verse 20 above. Certainly it is true that the Savior for whom we wait will come again from heaven. But Paul was also addressing their (and our) mindset as citizens of heaven. Our thoughts should be there. So while we wait for Him to return, through heavenly thinking it’s as though the work is already accomplished, and as though we wait from there for Him to finalize the work down here.

In other words, take a heavenly view of life now.

Outline a vision based on lasting, godly values. Ask:

  • What type of church will we be?
  • How will we spend our funds?
  • How can God use us in the coming months…years?
  • What can we be doing now to prepare ourselves for Him to work in and through us?

When we do so, we’ll be casting a lasting vision for ourselves, our families, and our churches, that is driven by His purposes and shaped by His values. Next time we’ll look at setting goals.

[This is part 3 of 5 in the series, Principles for Progress in the Church. Here are the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2.]

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Principles for Progress in the Church, Part 2: Values

It’s always fun talking to young couples just before marriage, and asking them about their value system. Most people tend to think they don’t officially have an actual system of values. But the facts are otherwise. We all have and use a value system whether we know it or not. And it affects everything else we do, so it is vital in young relationships to talk about values and establish an intentional forward-thinking strategy.

In the previous post we began talking about making intentional progress in the church, and how that must begin by understanding that our purpose comes from God through His Word, or we’re not the church at all. If we understand God’s purpose for all local churches, we can begin to see our church’s unique identity by building our church life together on strategic, stated values.


Again, as with purpose, these are derived from Scripture, and it is the next logical step: to determine our mutually held values, based on God’s Word.

And as before, the Bible is clear about values that fade versus values that last:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. (14) But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. (15) Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (16) For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. (17) But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. (18) And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3.13-18, HCSB)

To make progress in our churches, we start with knowing God’s purpose(s) and then begin to define who we are by what we value. The above paragraph from James makes it obvious that there is a profound difference between the type of wisdom we get from the world as contrasted with what we receive from heaven. Worldly advice is even described as demonic in verse 15.

Progress requires intentionality. We must be strategic by the Holy Spirit’s power. And we must therefore ask the tough questions to ensure that we are being driven by God’s Spirit. Is our church carefully navigating the demands of ministry with an eye for what God desires from us? Do we value the things He values? Or are we just floating along without any real direction?

Real change in value systems starts with individuals, and then families, and then the church together. So ask yourself: Are my values…

  • Physical or spiritual?
  • Temporal or eternal?
  • Earthly or heavenly?

In a family, these types of questions become important in practical ways when it’s time to decide on a newer vehicle, or on how many meals you eat out, or on how to spend that extra time on Saturdays. It helps us to actually think about daily decisions that add up to a value system.

On the church level, it could just change the direction of your church.

Ultimately I have to ask myself, are my values from the world or from the Word? Next time we’ll talk about vision.

[This is part 2 of 5 in a series titled, Principles for Progress in the Church. Here is Part 1.]