July 27, 2015
I've always been a little uncomfortable with approaches to church that draw directly from the so-called corporate world. The idea that gospel witness offers an easy parallel with marketing is downright creepy, frankly. And I'm increasingly suspicious of the conventional wisdom that we won't accomplish anything if we don't have "measurable goals" to work towards.
In this time of tremendous cultural change for the church, expecting that we are going to shape the future by our ability to envision "outcomes" seems the height of arrogance, and also a sadly impoverished approach to our call to be faithful. A part of the legacy of mid-twentieth century church success (as measured by market share) is limited imagination. The scope of what most of us can imagine church to be is simply too small for the era we inhabit.
In our ministry here in Los Angeles, we are experimenting with other ways to envision our part in shaping the future. We refer to our approach as "ten steps."
We have identified several areas of our church and community life where the Spirit seems to be on the move. In each of those areas, we have worked out ten steps that we will take to strengthen relationships, train leaders, reach out the community, offer space, plan creative liturgies, offer opportunities for spiritual growth and Christian formation, and so on.
We hope and trust that our small steps will indicate to the Holy Spirit that we are ready to move with her, offering ourselves, and the life of our congregations to her larger project. We do not presume to know exactly what our part will be in that project. We assume that we will be called in directions we have not yet thought of. We assume that others who we have not yet met will also be called to play their part. We know that we do not know where this all is going, and that we may never perceive the fullness of what God is up to in our community.
As you undertake strategic planning for your congregation, I would urge caution with "outcomes." None of the best and most faithful and grace-filled developments in my congregation or community could have been envisioned by the people who offered up their little congregation's resources to "things made new." Had we only been on the lookout for progress towards the goals that we could imagine and measure, we would have missed all the best stuff, all the wild and extravagant offerings of the Spirit, most of the adventures to which we have been called.
Try ten steps. Do some looking around, and some discernment about where the Spirit is hovering. Think of ten concrete ways that you might offer your congregation and its resources to the project. Start doing those things. And see what happens. Watch. Look for the resurrection of the dead. Don't limit the possibilities to outcomes that you can readily imagine. That vision will by definition be way too small.
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