There is a massive difference between having a strategy and thinking strategically.
Since writing Simple Church with my mentor and former boss Thom Rainer, I have enjoyed countless conversations with ministry leaders about strategy and strategic thinking. While some ministry leaders view spiritual leadership in opposition to strategic leadership, I am thankful that many don’t embrace the false dichotomy. Ministry leaders can be both spiritual and strategic. It is always ironic to me that some who bash systems within a local church insist their systematic theology text book is their favorite book from seminary. Systems and strategy can be very spiritual. God created the world in a wise and orderly fashion and uses systems to sustain life (solar system, circulatory system, etc.).
I have learned though, since writing Simple Church, that there is a massive difference between having a strategy and thinking strategically. Both are important. But it is possible to implement a ministry strategy and fail to think strategically over the long haul. As I have thought about recent conversations with ministry leaders who I believe think strategically, here are nine ways I find them thinking differently. (I will post the first five today and the final four on my next blog.)
1. They Ask, ‘Can I Set The Example?’
Strategic leaders evaluate their church strategy, programming, and emphasis through the lens of “Can I do all I will ask the people I serve to do?” or “can I say Follow me as I follow Christ?” If they are going to invite people to be in a group, they want to be able to talk about their group. If they are going to ask people to serve, they want to serve first.
In churches that are overprogrammed and under-discipled, church leaders have a difficult time doing all that they ask people in the church to do. Because they are inviting the people into too many things. They promote and resource programs they don’t attend and events they don’t understand. When a church has a simple process for disciple-making, church leaders can more readily say, “Come with me,” as opposed to “This would be good for you.”
2. They Think Process Over Programs.
Church leaders who think strategically don’t view church programs in isolation from the overall discipleship process. Instead, they see how each program fits and interacts with all the others. In other words, they are more focused on the whole discipleship process than one program within.
Historians have compared the impact of John Wesley and George Whitefield and many believe that though Whitefield was known as the superior orator, it was Wesley who built a movement (Methodism). Wesley cared about more than the preaching event; he moved people to groups where faith would be nurtured and he mobilized people to care for their local communities. He thought process over programs.
3. They Care About the ‘How’ Not Only the ‘What.’
Imagine two ministry leaders who are going to invite people to sign up for a group at the end of a message. The strategic leader is the one who spends ample time and energy focused on how someone is going to sign up and how the person is going to be cared for, and not only what is being said about groups. The strategic leader asks question of the team such as, “How will people sign-up? Is it clear and simple?” What happens when the person gets to the webpage?” “Who will follow-up with each person and in what time-frame?”
4. They Think First About Tweaking Essential Programs Instead of Starting New Ones.
Needs are going to emerge. Topics that must be addressed are going to surface. The non-strategic leader thinks “new programs” for each need. Though a new program or event may be good, a strategic leader thinks first about utilizing the existing essential programs to meet the need or address the topic. Example: Instead of launching a new series of sessions on Friday nights to address the issue of anxiety, the strategic leader first thinks, “Can we use our existing programs, our existing weekend services and groups to address this important topic?” Without that discipline, over time the programming of the church becomes cluttered and nearly impossible to navigate.
5. They Believe White Space on a Person’s Calendar Is Spiritual.
The strategic leader knows that white space on a person’s calendar means people have time for conversations with neighbors, for coaching their kid’s teams, for being salt and light in the local community. The strategic leader knows that being at the church every night of the week crushes mission. An overprogrammed church hampers people from engaging in God’s mission.
6. They Look to Add Energy to Their Discipleship Process Rather Than Steal Energy From It.
Wolfgang von Goethe famously said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” Strategic leaders not only guard against focus and resources being taken from the essential, but they also look for opportunities to add energy and focus to that which is most essential. Think of Easter weekend. No church leader I know thinks, “let’s have our normal weekend services and then do Easter services on Monday this year.” That would be foolish. Easter weekend is a great example of an essential program (a weekend service) getting more energy and focus. Of course, Easter weekend does because it is the day that we celebrate our Risen Savior and nothing should get in the way of that. Strategic leaders think that way all the time, not only about Easter weekend.
7. They Build On-Ramps and Despise Cul-De-Sacs.
Building an event or a program as a cul-de-sac is to build an event/program that is an end in itself. The “win” is the event. Viewing the program/event as an on-ramp is to always ask “what is next for the people we are serving?” “How are we nudging them forward in their journey with Christ?” The win is not the event itself but the continual movement of people towards maturity in Christ.
8. They Believe Complexity and Clutter Are Poor Stewardship.
Strategic ministry leaders understand the connection between stewardship of time and resources and wise strategy. Complexity and clutter are more expensive than most leaders realize. To finance something that is not essential to a church’s discipleship process takes program dollars, staffing time (which is dollars), and promotional dollars. And time and energy that could be devoted to something more important is lost (known as opportunity costs). One of the reasons wise ministry leaders abhor complexity is because they value stewardship so much.
9. They Know That the Important First Steps Need Intentional Shepherding.
There are critical moments in a believer’s journey, in terms of their relationship with a community of believers, that need intentional care and shepherding; the first time someone expresses interest in joining a small group, the first time someone gives to the church, the moment someone declares faith in Christ, the first time someone volunteers to serve others through the ministry of the church, the first faith adventure/mission trip, etc. Strategic leaders don’t only think about those moments, but they think about how to provide care for people after those moments.
Martin Lloyd Jones said, “A pastor is a man who is given charge of souls. He is not merely a nice, pleasant man who visits people and has an afternoon cup of tea with them, or passes the time of day with them. He is the guardian, the custodian, the protector, the organizer, the director, the ruler of the flock.”
Organizer. Director. Ministry leaders can be both spiritual and strategic and the flock benefits from both.
This article originally appeared on EricGeiger.com and is reposted here by permission.