Before Pursuing Strategic Ministry Planning Or Visioning
By Mark Tidsworth, Pinnacle Leadership Associates
There was a time in church life when change was incremental and church paradigms were stable (20th century). Churches, like other organizations, engaged in strategic ministry planning, resulting in 5, 10, or even 15 year plans. Often this kind of planning process was helpful, given the stability of Christendom and church culture in North America. Typical processes led to major initiatives along with some level of spiritual invigoration. This worked well when the paradigm itself was viable, needing improved quality and increased effort or commitment. I’ve lost track of how many visioning and planning processes we Pinnacle people facilitated along the way.
Now, as we move into the Postmodern Era (2000+), it’s clear that approach to furthering congregational ministry is quickly aging out. Too much has changed and continues changing. Planning approaches which evolved during the Modern Era include way too many assumptions about church paradigms. When change becomes discontinuous and exponentially faster, the paradigms themselves break down. If we use traditional planning approaches, the result is a great plan for being church pre-2000.
Instead, it’s time for new approaches for this new Postmodern Era in which we find ourselves. Rather than strategic ministry planning, we find ourselves engaging congregations around adaptive capacity. Like no other time in our collective living histories, the Church finds itself in a context more like our first century spiritual kin. When we pause to reflect, we realize Jesus did not give much detail regarding instructions for forming and developing the Church….love one another (John 13) and go make disciples (Matthew 28). After this high level calling, Jesus entrusted them to the Holy Spirit, believing they would create the Church with passion and relevance while moving ahead.
This is the culture we need in congregations now…a culture of adaptation, highly sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. So, how does a church culture become adaptive? Many factors shape the culture of any one congregation, yet a very simple and powerful place to start building adaptive capacity is through awareness raising. When asked what will help one’s church become more faithful and effective, most disciples give answers describing how to do what they are already doing, yet with greater effort or better quality. We are so immersed in our worldviews and cultural paradigms that we don’t perceive alternatives to what we are currently doing. Learning together about changes in our contexts, along with stories and examples of others who are responding well to these changes, leads to hopeful discovery. Perhaps business guru from the 1990s Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) was correct….those organizations who can learn the fastest (adapt) will be those who survive and thrive in the post-2000 context.
So rather than engage in worn-out, outdated processes, may we remember our spiritual kin from the early days of this Christian Movement. May we actively learn and discern the current reality of our context here in North America, shaping ourselves to be good news in culturally relevant and meaningful ways. Let’s not ask this world, who is hungry for Jesus Christ, to wait for us to adapt any longer.
Reprinted from the Pinnacle Leadership Associates Blog with permission.