The trinitarian God of Scripture is the consummate planner. The Bible opens with the picture of the Holy Spirit moving over the surface of the waters. Why? Because He was planning to do something. At a critical juncture in Jesus’ ministry, the Lord announced to His disciples that “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18, NASB). Nearly two thousand years later, men and women around the world are involved daily in the accomplishment of that strategic plan. God the Father chose to reveal His mercy and grace through His breathtakingly beautiful plan of redemption. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:28, 29, NASB).
That is why we have gorgeous beaches and towering mountain ranges. That is why my fingers can receive a signal from my brain and move around this keyboard. That is why the Children of Israel offered sacrifices in the wilderness. That is why we have the cross. That is why we have rainbows. That is why we have hope. The list of examples is practically endless. Open your Bible to just about any page and you will see evidence of a God Who plans.
Magnifying God by Planning Well
Because others formulate their view of God by watching us One amazing aspect of the Lord’s design for creation is that human beings are made in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). Because of that unique position and calling, we were simultaneously given privileges and responsibilities like no other aspect of God’s created world. We could never have achieved what theologians often call the “creation mandate” without the ability and willingness to plan. To the degree to which men and women planned well, we were choosing to be like our God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His followers that they should “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father whom is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16, NASB). The entire context revolves around planning and living in such a way that our watching world would have a better understanding of what God is like. Fundamentally that is what it means to glorify God—to give others a better understanding of Him.
Yet consider what would happen if a person walked inside the average church and asked a series of simple questions:
What is this church specifically planning to accomplish in the next year, three years, or five years?
What are the ten to twenty plans that have been accomplished by this body of believers in the last twelve months?
If I bring my resources to this church, what assurance would I have that those gifts and abilities would be stewarded well?
If God chose to bless this church financially in an unusual way this Sunday, do you have unmet plans and dreams that could be accomplished?
In other words, do people have a better understanding of the nature of God as a result of watching the way the average church functions? Or is it possible that the haphazard and unorganized way we sometimes (frequently?) live and do ministry leads others to the powerful though misguided conclusion that God must not have His act together because His people surely don’t?
Because of the principle of stewardship
Please pause for a moment and think about all the resources God has entrusted to your church. You may even want to begin listing them on a sheet of paper. Write down all the people and their experiences and spiritual giftedness. Think about your property and buildings. Consider the financial wealth Americans enjoy. Then look out the nearest window and begin listing all the ministry opportunities. God has entrusted you with all of that.
Allowing that trust to motivate you to action is the essence of the Biblical principle of stewardship. Undoubtedly you remember Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey” (Matt. 25:14, 15, NASB). Consider carefully what the first faithful steward did next.
“Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents” (v. 16, NASB). I absolutely love that guy, don’t you? He knew exactly what he would do if he had more resources. And when the trust came, he got after it “immediately.” The tense of the verb “traded” also suggests that this was not a onetime windfall, but that the man worked his plan of investment over and over and over. I believe it is impossible to be a faithful steward without a specific and aggressive plan to leverage all the resources God has entrusted to His church.
Because of the principle of accountability
Regardless of your church’s precise organizational and administrative structure, there is no question that the offices of pastor and deacon are emphasized in Scripture as possessing significant influence and authority.
However, with authority comes accountability. The writer of Hebrews explained this principle when he said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17, NASB).
Someday God will call his pastors before Him and ask for an accounting of our leadership. I agree with those who say in reference to 1 Corinthians 3:10–15, “As a Christian, I do not fear the fire of Hell, but I certainly fear the fire of Heaven.” Wise planning prepares us to honor Christ with a good account of what has been entrusted to us.
Managing the Church to Accomplish More
Visioneering is the process of leading a church family to accomplish what God desires in specific, measurable, and fulfilling ways. Some pastors might object with excuses like “I’m not a gifted administrator” or “planning doesn’t come easy for me” or “I just want to preach and pray.”
Good luck with all of that, guys. Scripture makes it clear that pastors are “overseers” and “managers.” Administration, planning, and vision casting may be very difficult tasks for you. If so, there is nothing wrong with bringing other people in your church family who are skilled in these areas around you to help. But ultimately it is your responsibility to lead and manage the church under your care.
Teach your church the focus of the plan. The first step is to be sure that everyone involved is growing in love for Jesus Christ. The focus of our planning process should be the person and work of our Redeemer. Our lips should speak in amazement at His grace in calling us to Himself and choosing to use us in ministry.
Write a mission statement together. If your church family has not developed a clear and compelling mission statement, make that job number one in the planning process. It is impossible to have an effective strategic plan without knowing why you exist and what you believe God wants you to achieve.
Establish a futures committee. At Faith we go through a strategic planning process once every five years. We invite anyone who wants to participate to serve on the futures committee. They are told that they are a working committee, not a decision-making body. Their role is to assist the pastors and deacons (the decision-making filter) by providing leadership to the planning process. The futures committee can be a marvelous tool if it is comprised of visionary men and women who love using their administrative gifts to help the church family plan well.
Launch a church and community-wide evaluation process. I have always believed that the next best ministry idea may be resting in the heart of someone in the church family or community. We generally design two surveys, one for the congregation and one for the community, asking for honest evaluation. Congregational surveys are distributed and made available online. Community surveys are mailed to our neighbors, advertised in the local newspaper, and made available online. Some of the questions ask for help in identifying what we are doing well as a church. But many questions invite people to offer constructive criticism, which often gives us profound insight into what we need to work on to be more effective for Christ.
Brainstorm initiatives. In my way of thinking, this is where the fun starts. Now we ask our church family and anyone from the community to suggest steps we might take to build on one of our strengths, shore up one of our weaknesses, seize one of the opportunities, or fortify ourselves against a threat. We ask our folks to pray for creativity and passion, and tell them that there are no bad ideas. All of the ministry ideas are then printed and distributed to the church family.
Let the best initiatives rise to the top. At this point it is important to host a series of congregational meetings. Now it is time to determine which ministry ideas are the best by asking questions like these: Which ten initiatives do you believe are most closely connected to our mission statement and why? Which of these initiatives would be the greatest blessing to our community right now?
Formally adopt the plan. Now you must decide how many years your plan will address, how many initiatives you will seek to accomplish each year, and the order in which the initiatives will be addressed. Then the final plan is discussed and adopted by congregational vote.
Invest in excellent design and printing. We all live with limited budgets. However, this is a place to splurge. You want to have a plan document that looks sharp and communicates well. You want your church members to hang on to their plan and review it often.
Celebrate and commit to accomplish the plan together. It generally takes our church family nearly a year to complete this process. It requires a ton of work, but there is great excitement. We schedule a stewardship banquet where everyone on our team has the opportunity to commit themselves in writing to working together to achieve what we have set out to do as a church family.
Build in a system of regular accountability. There has to be some mechanism in place to keep the plan before the minds of God ’s people. We frame several copies and hang them in strategic places in the church. At the beginning of each year we spend the first few Sundays highlighting the initiatives for that particular year. Staff members also must give quarterly updates of their progress and future plans.
Yes, God is the consummate planner. Perhaps it is time for His people to follow His example.
Take Action . . .
- Summarize your church’s plans for the next twelve months, for the next five years.
- If your church family has not gone through the process of developing a clear and compelling mission statement, put that process into motion.
- Organize a futures committee if your church does not have one.
- Create surveys to help your church evaluate itself, its ministries, and its ministry potential.
- Collect and evaluate ministry ideas.
- After prayerful consideration, formally adopt the ministry initiatives the Spirit has led you to.
Stephen Viars (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Faith Church, Lafayette, Ind. This article is an excerpt from The Pastor: A Guide for God’s Faithful Servant. Written by more than 30 experienced pastors and ministry leaders, The Pastor: A Guide for God’s Faithful Servant addresses a broad spectrum of subjects related to a pastor’s life and work. Each chapter is short, practical, and designed to introduce other helpful resources. This guide will be valued by students preparing for ministry and appreciated by seasoned pastors who seek wise solutions.