May 17, 2011

Young Pastors' Network Reflections: Strategic Planning

I have the privilege this year of being among 44 young United Methodist pastors being mentored by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter as a part of the Young Pastors' Network 2011. YPN is a "leadership development school" that includes six days together at key events and ongoing interaction through the use of social media. Last week we all met at Ginghamsburg Church for three intensive days of learning and mentoring. It was like drinking from Niagara; I'm continuing now to reflect on and process the things I learned.

One topic we covered that made a significant impact on my thinking was strategic planning. I was struck by the way in which Hamilton and Slaughter both developed very specific plans, though often quite different plans, to implement their respective visions. Fruitful ministry does not just happen; it is the result of planning and implementation.

After some ongoing reflection, the thing that strikes me is that I didn't have a class on strategic planning in seminary. I didn't learn how to build a comprehensive strategy that would bring cohesion to the mission and ministry of the local church. I think seminaries are attempting to compensate for this lack with courses on Christian leadership, but those classes cover a range of topics related to leadership. They do not necessarily put strategic ministry planning in the core of the basic divinity degree.

Now let me be clear. I'm not bashing seminary here. My time at Asbury Theological Seminary was a hugely important part of my ministerial training, and I look that time with fondness and appreciation for professors who made a significant investment in me both inside and outside the walls of the classroom. And every pastor has the responsibility of continued learning after graduate school in order to cultivate continuing effectiveness. 

I'm wondering, however, whether this is a place where seminaries need to find creative ways of providing students with training for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the local church.

I also wonder if this is something that even can be accomplished in the typical way we've done seminary. By virtue of their vocation, many (if not most) seminary professors have not been pastors in local churches where they've had to develop and implement a long-term plan for carrying out the mission of the church. Again, the goal here is not to be overly critical but to consider whether this is a limitation of the traditional way we've trained pastors.

So, what's the solution? Well, Hamilton and Slaughter are making a contribution by gathering young pastors together to teach them the basics of  strategic planning. Beyond that, perhaps seminaries need to look at partnering with local pastors and churches who have demonstrated that they can plan and implement effectively to take a vital role in the training of upcoming clergy. I think some schools and churches are already engaged in such partnerships, but I also think that we need to find ways to make these partnerships the norm rather than the exception.

I'd like to learn from you on this. Pastors, do you have a strategic plan for the church you serve? Where did you learn how to create such a plan? Has it been fruitful? What resources did you use? Can you recommend any helpful books?

Laypersons, do you know whether your church has such a plan? If so, what is your role in implementing the plan? Has the leadership of your church been effective in communicating the plan?

4 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

Annually, a pastor friend of mine goes off solo on a week-long canoe trip with Bible and hardbound notebook in hand, and prayerfully plans whole sermon series upto a year in advance.

(I'm not sure why the canoe trip, but he is a fitness/wilderness buff, so perhaps its spiritual)

He considers the direction from his church's board, and as far as I can tell, his plans are executed pretty much as he forcasts them, with the possible exception of those contingencies that sometimes arise which necessitates minor modifications.

For example, he recently extended a sermon series on Revelation originally planned for 10 weeks out to 13 weeks simply because he felt interest warranted it, and the content was not fitting into 10 weeks.

But, to answer your questions, I think his strategic plan is a function of discussion between him as a pastor, and his church's board. He'd like to do some things based upon his experience as Pastor, and the board has input. Sometimes the board makes specific requests. I don't believe laypersons have a direct say in his planning, but I do believe his experience with them influences his thinking.

I know his plans quite a while in advance, he communicates them to me as friend so I expect he effectively communicates the plan to his church.

Question to you: Didn't you once mention about your own homelitic style, when you preach you prefer to focus on covering entire books (over the course of a series) rather than simply covering themes since you feel this was the surest way to ensure the entire word of God gets covered (or am I mistaken?)

If so, how would strategically planning sermon series in advance fit in with this approach?

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for responding to this post and for your question. Preaching through whole books is indeed the backbone of my sermon planning. However, I do preach topical series as well. Also, I'm working through some thoughts on how to be more intentional about preaching through some short books during appropriate seasons of the church year. So, for example, I'm tossing around the idea of a series on holiness/sanctification that moves through 1 Thes during the season of Lent, a time when our thoughts are focused on becoming more deeply committed Christians.

I also reflecting these days on how to use shorter topical series in between book-length series for tasks like casting a vision for the church's mission or more evangelistically oriented preaching during times of year when the unchurched are more likely to attend (e.g. around Christmas and Easter).

So, while I do basically think whole-book preaching is important, I'm certainly open to other approaches as they support the implementation of a strategic plan.

My apologies for not responding to your other recent posts, I've had some extra things going on lately that have limited the time I'm able to give to this blog.

Thanks for reading.

ἐκκλησία said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ἐκκλησία said...

Matt, no need to apologise. Your attention is best served where the spirit leads you. I am thankful for your blog, whether or not you react to my responses.

On your point about covering shorter books, because preaching through particular books does sometimes naturally suggests certain themes, particular books can be drawn together.

A few examples may be:

a) The book of Jude can be tied to a series focusing on one of the old covenant books (since it references Exodus, Satan's rebellion, Sodom & Gomorrah, Moses' death, Cain, Balaam, Korah, Enoch and Adam;
b) 2 Peter's focus on salvation means it could nicely compliment a series on John (or 1 Timothy);
c) Revelation (as a hard book to tackle rather than a small book), could be coupled to a study on Hebrews;
d) etc.