Just mention “long-range planning” around a group of church leaders, and you are sure to get a variety of reactions – deep sighs, shaking heads, uncomfortable chuckles … and maybe a few eyes that light up. Planning is one of the most notable areas where churches can experience gridlock in the intersection of secular and spiritual leadership.
The aversion that some Christian leaders have to corporate-style planning relates to its reliance on facts and analysis. Perhaps this is because they are not oriented towards quantitative information. Their eyes glaze over when they see a spreadsheet full of data, and they feel intimidated by people who are eager to dive into the numbers. Because of this orientation, they can’t imagine that the data is useful. Or perhaps they believe that once data is introduced into the process, God leaves the room. This may be a reflection on past experiences in which a planning team thought all the answers would emerge from the analysis, apart from God.
In some cases, a leader may fear that a data-driven process will shine the light on poor results in the past. As long as the leader can talk in qualitative terms and not confront the facts, he or she can pretend that all is well. In Christian organizations, stories and anecdotes are important – we will always deal with unquantifiable factors. But this should be a caution against relying exclusively on data, not an excuse for ignoring it.
The pace also feels different in Spirit-led planning than in corporate processes. In secular planning, the schedule for each step is usually set in advance. Rather than this kind of rigorous schedule, leaders in Christian organizations should be willing to pause when they feel that they have not heard from God.
The time element does not apply solely to the length of the process; it also applies to the way time is managed within meetings. Spiritually attuned leaders may come into a meeting with a plan for what needs to be accomplished, but they are willing to stop to spend time in prayer or otherwise seek God’s guidance. They know that investing an extra hour or two (or more) pays dramatic dividends if the result is sensing God’s direction more clearly. There is great power when a leader can confidently say, “This is where God is leading us.” There is even more power when the whole leadership team has this same confidence.
The issue of timing is particularly tricky in planning because some people will be ready to move forward much sooner than others. In the business arena, the hesitation is often driven by fear and is expressed in a desire to “get more data” or “do some extra analysis.” In churches, fear may still be the driver, but it may be expressed as “we just need more time to pray about this.” How can you argue with prayer? Yet at some point the leader needs to move the process forward unless he or she is convinced that God is saying “wait.”
A final distinctive of Christian planning is that God’s presence should produce hope. We should not ignore data that is negative, but we should remember that God is not constrained by the facts. We should not take indiscriminate risks, but we should not hesitate to act boldly when God calls. And when things don’t turn out as expected, we should never forget that God is with us.
This is an excerpt from Mike Bonem’s latest book, In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership: Tapping the Wisdom of the World for the Kingdom of God, copyright 2012 by Mike Bonem.
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