My problem with the strategic plan…

[Chapter 19 of “How God Guides.” This is where I get a little testy about 21st Century thinking, especially when denominations seem like corporations and churches feel like businesses.  Let’s plan, but mostly let’s pray!]

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.  James 4:13-17

I have an issue with our modern obsession with the “Strategic Plan.” I’m all for having goals and I get why most businesses have a five-year plan where they set certain goals and develop strategies for how to achieve them. But on a more personal level, I wonder if much of our strategizing has hurt, rather than helped our efforts to serve in the adventure of God (the Spirit of God as our “Adventure Guide.”) Some Bible scholars say that Paul had a “Major-City-Strategy” (a pre-conceived tactic to spread the good news in the economic and social centers of his day). But I just don’t see him doing demographic analyses or consulting the sociologists of his day about how to best market his spiritual product. I’m more inclined to think he was on a mission to find out what God was doing and to try his best to do it with him.

I’m not saying that the Spirit had no wise scheme for reaching the most people in the best possible way. I’m just not so sure that he let Paul and his colleagues in on the scheme. I think the bulk of the strategizing went on above them – apart from them! “Someone else” was planning, pointing, and leading them; but not necessarily laying out any strategic blueprint for them to follow. It’s in vogue these days for ministry leaders to sit in conference rooms with white boards and markers to identify the most likely places to go and the most potentially receptive people to go to. They pray about it, but their prayers are usually only to get the Lord to bless their ingenious strategic plans.

I love that when God called Abraham, he “went out not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11). I remember when this was one of the key passages for us as we went to plant churches in communities with which we weren’t particularly familiar. This was before you could read any number of books on the subject of church planting, go to conferences, boot camps, and seminars to learn how to do it strategically and systematically. We really had no idea what we were doing; and frankly, those were the best years of our lives in God’s service. He used us in spite of our ignorance – maybe even because of it! We didn’t know where we were going, but we knew who would go with us!

In the passage above James described a man overly self-assured about when he’s going (“today or tomorrow”), where he’s going (“to this or that city”), how long he’ll stay (“a year”), what he’ll do when he gets there (“carry on business”), and what the results will be (“make money”).  James derided the arrogant attitude, but wasn’t saying we shouldn’t make plans.  He’s just saying that we shouldn’t leave God out of them!

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