Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Strategy is necessary but let’s not start pinning our hopes on one particular strategy or making laws about the ‘right’ strategy. Ok, let’s define our terms. Perhaps it’s best to see two levels or types of ‘strategy’:

  1. God’s strategy – this is how God says he’s going to save a people for himself – by sending his Son to die a foolish, weak death on a cross and to have that foolish, weak message of Christ crucified preached in weakness and trembling (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). This is the big plan. To take a military analogy it’s like a general saying this is going to be land invasion, we’re going to use conventional weaponry, our main objective is to take the capital and we’re going to abide by the Geneva Convention.  As gospel workers we have non-negotiable basic marching orders: “Preach the Word”, “Proclaim Christ”, “Pray in the Spirit”, “Renounce deceitful methods”.
  2. Our strategy – this is where we try to work out answers to questions like “How do we best advance God’s kingdom agenda in our context?”, “How do we keep the main thing the main thing?”, “Is where I am now the best place for me to be serving Christ?”  It’s the military equivalent of working out supply lines, campaigns and the specific tactics of particular battles. It’s what the Bible calls wisdom and it can mean doing completely opposite things depending on the circumstances (e.g. Proverbs 26:4-5).  Our strategies and vision flow from a clear view of God’s strategy and vision but the practicalities will be different. In one context we might plant a new church, in another we might labour to strengthen a dying one.

My fear is that we sometimes get these confused. On the one hand we can treat God’s strategy as flexible and revisable – perhaps change the message or divert the church’s energies into politics or miracles or marketing. On the other hand we can treat our human strategies and tactics as law. We search the book of Acts for the ten steps to church growth or the perfect form of church governance or arguments for city-based evangelism. But we get a narrative not laws. (Is even Jesus’ 3 years with the 12 disciples meant to be a model for mentoring and discipleship or a sign of restored Israel?) Or perhaps we jump on the latest strategy for church planting or small groups coming out of the US forgetting that their context is not our context. It might work in Seattle but flop in Nairobi.

We’re free – gloriously free to focus on the gospel and do things differently.

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There are a couple of extremes we can go to on the whole issue of strategy in gospel ministry:

  1. Prayer and the Word alone – This is the extreme to which I’m tempted to go. Strategy sounds worldly. Let’s just stick to preaching Christ and depend on God. This is the ‘spiritual’, ‘orthodox’ sounding option.
  2. Strategy alone – No one aims for this but you can gradually slip there. We start to act as if strategy has the power to change people. Our church or organisation ends up being driven primarily by business plans rather than God’s plan, by Stephen Covey rather than Jesus Christ. It’s business strategy lightly dressed as Christianity.

I’d still want to say that option 1 is preferable to option 2 but I was challenged recently by an article by Ray Evans to see that there is a place – a very important one – for strategy. He showed me something I hadn’t seen before in Acts 6.

“Here is a classic combination — growth and grumbling (v.1)! An issue of complexity has led to a potentially disastrous situation. It’s what the apostles do about it that’s so helpful. First, they set priorities for themselves and the church (vv.2,4). You’ll notice that word and deed both have to be carried out by the church. They invent a solution and initiate a plan. This is not ‘steamrollered’ through but they gain the ownership of the whole church (v.3). A team is identified, and then publicly empowered for the task (vv.5,6). The result is… more growth — both in quantity and ‘quality’ (v.7).

“Notice also what they did not do: no sermons about contentment, or calls for special prayer for members to be less difficult! Some difficulties need an ‘Acts 6 approach’, where elders ‘manage’ change by identifying problems, develop plans to deal with issues, gain ownership by the church and empower people and teams to take on major responsibilities.”

What I’d seen from Acts 6 before is that the ministry of prayer and the word must take priority. That was what the apostles were commissioned for: to preach Christ, forgiveness and repentance, to wrestle in prayer for eternal things. That’s what changes lives forever. What I hadn’t seen before is that for word and prayer to remain the main thing in ministries and in the church, there must be strategic action. Without strategy, even with all the best intentions, prayer and the ministry of the word will get squeezed out. There are 100 things a church or organisation can do and many of them it should do but how do you keep the main thing the main thing? How does a pastor focus his time on the main thing? Strategy.

Sammy reminded us of the need of a prayer strategy at Raising the Bar – exactly when and where and how am I going to pray, when and where is the church going to pray together? A pastor at the same conference was sharing how he sometimes needs to leave the house and hide somewhere no-one can find him for a few hours to prevent being constantly disturbed in his sermon preparation. That’s strategy. How are we to ensure that there is faithful administration, bills get paid, genuine communication takes place, people are cared for, and there is still time for hours with the Lord, hours of discipleship. hours of sermon preparation? Strategy.

Strategy is not the means of gospel growth – the Word of God is (Acts 6:7) – but in a supportive role, keeping the main thing the main thing, strategy is vital.

P.S. I’m not good at this – we need to help each other!

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