Are you doing too many good things? In my experience helping churches think through gospel revitalization, this is one of the most prevalent problems. Yes, you read that right, too many good things. Good activities are often the enemy of strategic activity. There are countless good things that a church can be doing at any given time but there are only a few things that are most strategic at any given time.
In Galatians 2:14, the apostle Paul says of Peter and others, “I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” The phrase refers to walking in a straight line with the truth of the gospel and not veering off of the gospel path. Paul had much to say about the importance of the Christian’s “walk” (Eph 4:1, 17; Col 1:10; 2:6; Rom 13:13). Every legitimate church community has ways in which it is walking in line with the gospel and ways in which it is walking out of line with the gospel. It is the shepherd’s responsibility to lead the church community to walk in line with the gospel by embracing strategic priorities.
Strategic Gospel Priorities
A strategy is an action-plan or method used in an attempt to obtain a specific goal or result. The origin of the word is the Greek strategia; it was used of military planning, maneuvers, and operations. A military commander with troops in the battlefield has countless possible ways he could proceed but victory involves choosing the most strategic course of action at a particular point of time. What if the commander sent all of the troops individually and independently and told them to do anything that they thought was good and helpful? The results would be disastrous. The military commander has to cultivate a strategic and unified plan of action. In military conflict, failing to identify what is strategic will often mean defeat and potentially death.
Mere busyness is not a strategy. Strategic planning is strategic because it refuses to be sidetracked or distracted by focusing on a primary goal. Strategies always have a big-picture mentality but incorporates tactics down to small details to achieve an agreed upon goal. Implementing a strategy involves working together and builds a community willing to sacrifice for the larger goal. In the church, our goal is the glory of God in Christ and the advance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The strategic plan in pursuing that goal involves considering people, geography, resources, inhibitors, assets, and so on. In other words, a strategy in one setting would not look exactly the same in another place and time and the same is true for tactics.
Do More by Doing Less
One factor in determining strategy is that you can only do so many things at a particular time with focused excellence. This reality means that deciding on which good things you will not focus as a congregation is every bit as important as deciding the things you will make a focused congregational priority. A pastor must not become a victim of good things. Some pastors act as if they cannot say “no” to an idea if it is something good or leads to something good, but this thinking is misguided and will inevitably lead to unfocused busyness that fails to shape cruciform community and a cohesive congregational identity.
In most church situations you will do more by doing less. That is, once the strategy to walk more faithfully in line with the gospel at a given time in the life of a church is clear, those priorities should focus and reshape everything you do congregationally. All that you do should be consistently evaluated for how it is strategically leading toward the goal. The trauma of changing the focus of a congregation by removing ministries and tactics in which the church has previously engaged is lessened by clear vision and strategic focus, and it replaces the former with a new way to serve and contribute. The purpose of shrinking the number of things a congregation does is to expand that focus and excellence of what it chooses to pursue as a community of faith.
Christians, Not Church Consumers
One of the benefits of this approach is that many good things that were previously formal activities of the church will now become informal ways in which people live as Christians in their community. Many of these activities will have more evangelistic fruit and power if they take place in homes and the community. Pastors should encourage this and highlight Christians who creatively engage in informal ministry. The congregational activities of the church should reflect gospel priorities that become a catalyst for informal ministry. A church that does every good thing as a formal function of the church is cultivating a church consumer mentality, which can work against church members living distinctively as Christians in their lives.
When something is recognized as a formal activity of the church, the pastors have a responsibility to oversee and more tightly control what is going on in that ministry. Sometimes this serves to smother what could be accomplished if church members simply ran with the ministry idea on their own, fleshing it out according to the dictates of their gospel-informed conscience. Pastoral leaders must attempt to ensure strategic congregational priorities are actions in which all Christians should be involved. Thus, the strategic congregational priorities serve to shape cruciform congregational energy and identity. Likewise, we encourage good things that are not necessarily something the entire congregation must embrace to take place informally in the lives of Christians.
Questions to Stimulate your Thinking:
- In what ways is our congregation walking out of line with the gospel?
- What are the cultural and congregational inhibitors to walking in line with the gospel in these areas?
- What are the untapped cultural and congregational resources that will help us walk in line with the gospel in these areas?
- In our location, at this particular time, what are the things we want every member of this congregation to be committed to and to work toward?
- How do our ministries and activities align when the strategic priorities?
- Is our language, how we talk about things we do and value, working toward creating the culture we say we want or is it creating a barriers?
- What needs to be removed? And how will it be replaced?
- In what ways can we cheerlead informal ministry that takes place in homes and communities?