Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strategic Planning or Strategic Thinking?

Time to face reality—strategic planning is dead. It has been for a long time, but few have been willing to acknowledge its demise. Things change too fast to develop a three, four, or five year plan of action. The environment, the markets, personal interests, and technology make it impossible to set specific goals for an unknown and unknowable future.

I work with a consulting group that provides planning services for churches and not-for-profit organizations. When I first became part of the group, I was reluctant to call what I offered “strategic planning” because I realized the futility of promising anyone that you could help them come up with a hard and fast route to their desired future.

We do a visioning process with our clients. You may say, “That’s still planning,” but it is more of a way of thinking that takes into account the realities of a changing world.  We need to be open to respond to opportunities that come our way unexpectedly.  We also must be ready to create opportunities for ministry and service when we see the potential.

In strategic thinking, we help the client to discover these things:

Values. What is really important to you and your church or organization? What are the non-negotiables that you would never give up or compromise?

Strengths. What have you done well in the past? What are you good at? What are things that your people do well or can learn to do well?

Passions. What do you really care about? What would you “go the second mile” to accomplish?

Context. What is the environment in which you serve? This may be a neighborhood, a city, a region, or a particular clientele. How well do you know your context?

Opportunities. What are the apparent challenges you can address given who you are as an organization? Is there something you can provide that no one else is providing? Can you create a market for what you can provide?

The bottom line for planning today is to be receptive to the unexpected, keeping not only an open mind but a prepared mind that sees the emerging opportunities.   This means that you have to know who you are and what you have to offer. This is strategic thinking.

(An earlier version was posted on Medium on October 16, 2013)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Disciple Development is a Priority for the Church

After the gift of the Holy Spirit, the primary resource that God has provided for the development of the church are the women and men who make up the people of God.  Each believer is a unique individual who has been called and gifted by God.  The challenge is to help each person discover how God has “wired them up” to serve.

The writer of First Timothy provides this challenge:

"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:14-15, NIV)

The role of ordained and lay leaders is to call out, encourage, and empower all believers to be part of the mission Dei (the mission of God).  This is disciple development and it can be done in many ways.  The church has used various processes for growing disciples through its long history, but I suggest three that are particularly important today:  mentoring, coaching, and developing learning communities.

First, experienced leaders can mentor promising protégés.  They can model ministry and support believers as they try out new skills and enter into new relationships.

Second, trained coaches can encourage the personal, spiritual and leadership development of others in the congregation.  With proper coaching, individuals can discover and pursue their vision of ministry and service, becoming aware of their own gifts and skills, and using them in challenging ways.

Third, leaders can encourage and support one another in learning communities and draw lay leaders into similar communities.  Support groups, planning teams, and “think tanks” are all forms of learning communities that can expand the ministry of individuals and the church.

Both clergy and laity can learn to use the practices of mentoring, coaching, and learning community formation for personal, spiritual, professional, and leadership development in various ministry contexts.  In doing so, we are helping to fulfill God’s mission in the world.