Church Objectives, New Year."
From the top of the page, those words were staring at me. Ten minutes passed. I had nothing written down. Ten minutes more, and still noting. The annual dilemma of planning for the new year had just gripped me with a paralyzing force. What should my church do this year? What's realistic? Could this year be different from previous years? Should the church have objectives at all? Should mission have a definition? Should ministry have a plan?
When the seventy went out on their first tour of ministry, they didn't begin their work with a sheet of paper marked "objectives." But they did begin with a goal, a mission. They knew what was to be accomplished. They planned for success, and God gave them success: "Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name' " (Luke 10:17, NKJV).
Today's ministry may not be quite like that of the seventy who blazed the gospel with "neither money bag, sack, nor sandals" (verse 4, NKJV). We may have our IBM desktops, four-color brochures, multifaceted ministries. But as Robert Coleman, president of Christian Outreach, points out, the ministry of Christ, despite the passage of time, retains a planned approach to reach a singular objective: "to save out of the world a people for Himself." 1 Our tools may have changed, but we're working on the same masterpiece begun 2,000 years ago.
What if my ministry style is not the disciplined type? Spontaneity may have its place, but successful ministry, whether it is in preaching, visiting, or teaching, demands planning. "Whether he [the pas tor] likes it or not, the program of the church will not just happen, nor can he ignore those duties and hope lay-people will take care of them." 2 Great achievements in the life of your church do not come by accident. Instead they are conceived as ideas, and they mature through planning.
A philosophy for planning
For five years I had practiced the philosophy of a planned ministry. So why was it suddenly so hard for me to come up with my church's goals? The task of setting goals and defining the direction of my church had at first seemed easy. Just take last year's achievement in Ingathering, baptisms, worship, and Sabbath school attendance, increase it by 10 per cent, and there you have it! Instant objectives for the new year. No fuss. No wait. Having just arrived as the new pastor, I could really make my presence known. Rally the church to new heights of 10 percent increases. Next year would be a good year for my ministry. These goals were safe. Attainable. A few sermons, a special appeal here and there. That's all it would take. Still, a gnawing sense of doubt kept my pen frozen in hand.
The past year we did achieve some objectives, while other goals languished in congregational apathy. Some programs received a yawn; others an uninspired greeting, such as "good luck getting the goal, Pastor." I looked at the page title once again. "Church Objectives, New Year." Whose objectives would these really be? Mine? The conference's? I might feel good about them, but would the members feel the same? Could successful ministry relate to who sets the goals?
Pastors lead. The church follows. Right? Maybe.
Planning isn't a question of who's in charge of the church. Instead, it is a question of who is charging the church.
You see the problem, don't you? Goal-setting is an acceptable means to further God's work. Certainly the success of our ministry can be measured by new buildings and expanding church rolls. But we must begin by reminding ourselves that success, like ministry, belongs to God. Let's not confuse our ability to make things happen with what God wants to have happen. As one successful pastor points out: "There is an enormous number of people who years ago offered themselves for ministry and have never come close to achieving their goals. So we have to offer ourselves to God to do whatever He wants us to do." 3
Setting objectives, then, is not a test of my pastoral ability. It could just be a solitary activity between me and a sheet of paper. That approach may keep me safe from risk. Yet it also shuts out the dynamic process that propels the church forward. Goal setting should be a spiritual exercise in which a church is plugged into God's will. You and I simply help make it happen. The plans are God's, not ours. It's amazing what happens when God's will replaces our instinct toward professional self-preservation. We dis cover that our goals look very small.
I've also found that in good management God defines one's mission through others. His presence is not limited to an individual. It is multiplied among His people. A seasoned administrator once told me "if you make up goals yourself, you'll have to reach them yourself."
It was just as well that my paper marked "objectives" remained blank. Objectives dropped on the laity from the "top down" are at best patronized and at worst ignored. Shouldn't we involve the church in planning the goals we expect it to achieve?
Corporate management recognized such logic long ago. "The most effective contemporary management process is participative management." 4 But how does shared planning begin in a church?
I begin planning by evaluating the real needs of my church. That under standing entails more than a review of budgets and baptisms. The first Sabbath in my new pastorate, an elderly lady approached me in the lobby. "Pastor, please come by this week and visit. You 're new, and I want to tell you all about our church." During our visit she told me that this was not just any church. It was different. As different as the people who sit in its pews.
Recognizing the uniqueness of each church is perhaps a good place to begin the process of planning. The "one size fits all" philosophy never works with ministry. What one church can do may be quite different from what another one can do. What one church can do one year may not be the same the next year. The point is: don't impose your plans on your church, but rather let the church discover its ministry. As Coleman warns, this kind of surrender of control may be painful, and "some cherished plans of our own making may have to be redirected, or perhaps abandoned altogether."5 The object is to let the goals fit the church. Not the other way around.
Take time, and feel the pulse of your church. Do this before you surprise them with a list of "what we're going to do." Remember that your church has a story to tell. A story about itself. You won't see that story in goals and line charts. That story is in faces, in lives. It has taken me a year of visitation, committees, and old-fashioned listening to know my church. Its history of ups and downs. Its history of people and events. The spiritual depth of some. The emptiness of others. My church, with its warts and its beauty, has something unique to give. All these go into planning.
Individualize and involve
So you know your church. You're in touch with its unique role in God's plans. You're committed to harnessing its re sources to meet its ministry. But skeptics will say this is where philosophy breaks on the rocks of reality. Does this really work? It will if you remember two words: "individualize" and "involve."
In November I begin a series of sermons on the church's awareness of mission. In December I take a special Sabbath service to define that mission in terms of the new year. That definition may include objectives for evangelism, church growth, retention of new members, social activities, community minis try, and the annual traditional programs of the church. The objectives are tailored to our church, to fit the context of our community, our people, our vision of ministry. Demographics studies, community surveys of felt needs, and even local government social service offices can provide input for individualizing mission objectives for our church.
On "mission day" we divide the congregation into groups of five or six. Each group meets with a leader previously selected for his or her facilitation skills. The groups discuss what a statement of mission is and how to define its goals. After a thorough discussion, each group writes down a mission statement. The groups determine specific objectives. The poster-sized results are taped to the walls in the sanctuary. The worship atmosphere is positive, expectant, and even exciting.
Next evening a "planning board" meets to consider the mechanics to accomplish the goals. They analyze the financial and human resources available. They bring back to the church the plan for the year, the resources, the methods, and the personnel to accomplish the plan. In the weeks that follow, we display in the church lobby these goals and objectives. We print them in the bulletins. The church owns these goals. It's not the pastor's program. It's our program. Our goals. Goals to impact our city. In the place of apathy, there is clear purpose. With shared objectives, with a plan in which we were all involved, our church is on the move.
That can happen to your church, too. Wherever you pastor, whomever you pastor, Jesus Christ calls you and your church to a successful ministry. Planned goals that are sensitive to need and shared by the church can provide such a ministry.
1. Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Old Tappan, NJ.: Fleming H.Revell, 1963), p. 17.
2. Robert C. Anderson, The Effective Pastor (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 277.
3. Richard Nelson Bolles, "The Pastor's Parachute," Leadership 11, No. 3 (Summer 1990): 19.
4. Max DePree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Doubleday, 1987), p. 22.
5. Coleman, p. 115.