Evaluation Part II
Planning the Work and Working the P.L.A.N
Photo by: Marvin Meyer
Much of what you and I are reading these days seems to state that student ministry is changing; today’s students aren’t the same as yesterday’s students. Few people can explain why this is but maybe you are beginning to see and feel some evidence of these changes: your “committed” students’ attendance is sporadic; parents are even more difficult to track down than your students (sometimes you wonder if your students even have parents); your leaders serve faithfully but they still do not believe the ministry is theirs to own.
How do you handle these tensions? What do you do when you are not currently satisfied with what is? How do you move from where you are to where you want to be?
It’s been said that when we come up with the right questions, we’re halfway to the right answers. All healthy organizations (including churches and student ministries) who are able to move forward seem to effectively ask and answer three important questions:
- Our mission: Who are we?
- Our vision: Where are we going?
- Our plan: How are we going to get there?
As you can note above, the first question directs its attention towards a clearly defined mission, or reason for being. The second provides a compelling and inspiring vision that pulls an organization into its future. The last question helps develop an integrated, results-focused strategic plan to help ensure the desired outcomes. It points forward in a way that everyone can understand and own.
At our church, our mission is to “risk everything in obedience to Christ in authentic contagious community.” For the pioneering, change-oriented person in our midst, this mission statement is exciting and compelling. Risk and change are actually calming for them. However, for the majority of others, the statement alone causes anxiety. It immediately raises questions like, “What do you mean by risk?” “What do you mean by everything?” “When is the right time to risk?” And, “Will you risk even if it appears to be an unwise decision?”
Moving to the second question, our church’s vision is to “see this generation transformed by the reality of the Kingdom of God.” This vision describes what we see we can become. We envision transformation and we desire it for everyone. We can see the Kingdom of God becoming more of a present-day reality. This statement is what provides momentum and energy for every one of our ministries.
Most of us are probably better at answering the “mission” question and the “vision” question than we are the “planning” question. In the December 2005 issue of this E-journal, we explored the SWOT Analysis and saw that the discovery and identification of our ministry’s “critical issues” is the first step in bringing about desired change. 1 The final two steps of the strategic management process can be summarized in an old leadership axiom, “Plan the Work” and “Work the Plan.” Strategic management is designed to help us create traction and synergy within our ministry context. It is a way to get from Point A to Point B, when none of us have been to “B” before.
A simple formula might help: Strategic Management = Planning + Implementation.
The remainder of this article will look specifically at planning, while we will address implementation more fully in a future resource.
It’s not rocket science, yet I know remarkably few ministry leaders who take the time to plan their work. Why is that? Is it because we enjoy spending our time in the wrong places and on the wrong things? Is it because we are lazy and would much rather “lead on the fly” than be intentional about our work? I don’t want to believe that! I would rather believe that it has more to do with the mystery that surrounds how our faith and our planning intersect. I would rather believe it has more to do with the confusion that surrounds what planning “is” and what planning “is not.”
What Planning Is Not:
Planning is not Prediction
People can confuse planning with prediction. Prediction is arrogant. It attempts to guarantee success. In contrast, planning remains humble. Planning does not presume to know what the future holds but rather attempts to move toward the future with intentionality and prudent stewardship of our resources. Like Job, we acknowledge that even the best-laid plans can fail. 2 “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lordthat will be established.” 3
Planning is not “Brainstorming”
“Brainstorming” sessions are great for generating multiple, creative, uncensored ideas. But without careful consideration, the ideas we generate can often lead us down a track we did not intend to travel. Instead, the “planning” step beyond brainstorming must involve the prioritization and consolidation of those ideas. Brainstorming is erratic. Planning is specific. Planning allows us to maintain a laser sharp focus on our mission and be very intentional in how we carry it out.
What Planning Is:
Planning is an Expression of Faith
“In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” 4 Many people might be tempted to use this proverb as an excuse not to plan. We might be tempted to think, “Well, if the LORD is the one who establishes our steps, then why plan in the first place?” This proverb seems to illustrate the dynamic partnership between God and humankind in the planning process. It shows that human beings plan, think about, calculate, and devise their course, but it is God who directs, stabilizes, and firms-up our steps.
The word of wisdom for us is to remember that we need to rely on God and His wisdom in both the planning and execution processes but we are not released from the responsibility of planning. Ed Dayton, founder of MARC (MissionAdvanceResearchCenter– a division of World Vision), frequently used to say, “All planning is an expression of our faith.” Ed understood that God is interested in knowing what kind of faith we have and he displayed his faith through planning. His plans became the portrait of what he believed God wanted to accomplish. Planning became a natural expression of his faith; when results were reached, Ed knew that it was the Lord who had established his steps.
But what happens if our plans do not “succeed?” Does that mean we were not rightly aligned with God? Does it mean our faith was insufficient or lacking? Or that God simply did not like our plans in the first place? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I am often confused by the way God works. The plans I think are great often fail. The plans I think will fail sometimes succeed. There is a mystery here that I do not pretend to fully understand. However, I find great comfort in a word that shows up throughout the Scriptures that embodies this mysterious interaction between God’s purposes and ours. It is the word “perhaps.” Perhaps Moses could make atonement for Israel’s sin. 5 Perhaps the Lord would work on behalf of Jonathon. 6 Perhaps our labor over certain projects or in certain people has been wasted. 7 Perhaps not. Will your planning efforts be successful? Perhaps. Will they fall short? Perhaps. In either scenario, planning remains an expression of faith because we do not know what the outcome will be.
Planning is an Invitation for Participationand Service
One of the greatest benefits of planning is that it invites others to help. When we plan, we provide the opportunity for our team to get involved in the future of our ministry. We intentionally welcome others’ ideas and influence. The Apostle Paul writes, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” 8 Planning our ministries can become the mechanism by which we identify what gifts are needed, who possesses them, and how we all can contribute to “building up the body of Christ.”
Approximately every six months I try to assess our ministry by asking our leadership team three questions:
- What is working well?
- What is not working well but still can be improved?
- What needs to be gotten rid of altogether?
These three questions help our team in many ways. First, they allow us to see what we can celebrate together. Second, they allow us to see what gifts are missing and what kinds of people we might need to pursue for leadershipin the future. God clearly gifts his people for works of service. Our planning can serve as an entry point for their contributions.
Planning is Adaptive Learning
A friend of mine once proudly declared, “I take a rigid stance of total flexibility.” Our planning efforts should model the same paradox of rigid flexibility. Some plans need to be rigid and inflexible in order to achieve the desired outcome. However, when the unforeseen or the unplanned arises (and we know it usually does), our plans also need to have enough flexibility and bend to ensure things (or people) do not snap and break.
Plans serve us best when they remain adaptable and flexible to change because they allow us to learn and adapt. In other words, planning gives us something to deviate from. If we do not have a plan, we will not know how to adjust to uncertain events when they arise. But with a plan, we place ourselves in a situation to choose the best course of action determined by our mission. Then we can choose to proceed either with rigid resolve or flexible innovation as we adapt and learn.
How to P.L.A.N the Work 9
Now that we better understand what planning is and what planning is not, let’s explore how to more specifically “P.L.A.N the Work.” By “P.L.A.N” I mean creating:
- Lasting Results
- Action Strategies &
- Next Steps
By answering these questions in succession, I have found that my student ministry stays more focused on its mission, more informed about what to do next, and more accountable to see those plans through.
Priorities (What we want to accomplish)
- What are the most important things we need to do in our key ministry areas to move our mission forward?
- What are things we need to do and complete in the coming year?
Lasting Results (Setting the targets for performance)
- What will be the results that will help us know we have accomplished our priorities?
- How will we set these targets so that they become an exercise in faith as well as effective leadership?
Action strategies (Setting the stage for execution)
- How will we go about accomplishing what we want to see happen?
- What are the appropriate strategies, or best practices, that we might employ?
Next Steps (Making our “to do” lists)
- Who will do the work?
- When will it be accomplished?
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “is all this planning worth the work?” After all, planning takes time, energy, and resources that we may or may not have access to. So is the pay-off worth the effort? Here is what you and others can expect when you use an intentional, ordered, team planning process:
- A higher level of communication around common priorities and strategies.
- A higher level of understanding of what needs to be done and how it will be done.
- A stronger and more effective leadership team as you work on significant tasks together.
- A gaining of traction and momentum as things begin to happen.
If we are persistent enough to make it this far in “planning the work,” then there are the challenges of “working the plan.” In the August 2006 issue of this FYI E-Journal, we will explore how to implement and execute the plans we create. Until then, Proverbs 19:23-24 reminds us, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” 10 My hope is that you are able to gather all your wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in order to better determine who you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. May your rooms be filled with riches as you plan your work and work your plan.