Mark D. Roberts

Can we make plans and formulate goals and still leave room for the Holy Spirit?
Should churches and other Christian organizations have formalized processes for clarifying vision and setting goals?
Can the Spirit of God speak to us in the midst of a goal-setting process? If so, how?
What can we do to let God guide our strategic planning processes?
I’ve been wrestling with these questions recently because I’m in the middle of a strategic planning and goal setting process with the organization in which I serve. Laity Lodge, where I am Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence, is part of the H.E. Butt Foundation, a Christian ministry that includes a wide variety of ministries. In additional to Laity Lodge, an adult retreat center, the Foundation sponsors Laity Lodge Youth Camp, the Foundation Free Camps, Laity Lodge Family Camp, The High Calling of our Daily Work, and the Leadership Forum. The Foundation, including leaders from all our ministries, is working to define with greater clarity our plans and goals for the next five years.
Recently, I was asked to present some theological reflections at one of our strategic planning meetings. I thought I’d share some of my ideas on the questions with which I began this post. My basic question was: Is there room for the Holy Spirit in a planning and goal-setting process? When I finished those reflections, I thought it might be worth putting them up on my website. So here they are.
Before I share my reflections, I must confess from the outset that I’m rather skittish about strategic planning and goal setting in Christian organizations. I haven’t always been allergic to big goals, however. In fact, I was making goals for my life when most of my friends were busy watching Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. When I was in seventh grade, for example, I ran for class treasurer. I wasn’t particularly interested in managing our measly resources, but I did see school politics as a way of enriching my resumé so that I might someday be able to get a scholarship to college. While most kids ran for positions in student government because they wanted to enhance their popularity, I was executing my six-year plan to get into and afford a good college. (For the record, I lost the election for seventh-grade treasurer.)
My hesitation about goal setting comes from two different experiences. On the one hand, I have watched churches and Christian organizations get sidetracked by their goals. Sometimes they set goals that seem all too human and not very godly (like “grow to 1,000 members by 2006”). At other times churches can be so constricted by their established goals that their unable to value the new things God is doing among them.
On the other hand, I have seen how God’s plans for my life have overturned my own. My youthful plans for getting a scholarship to college did work out, after all. But, since then, God has been surprising me with his unexpected agenda for my life. While in grad school in New England, I planned to remain there as a professor, never imagining that I would be a pastor in California. While serving on the staff of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, I never planned to become the senior pastor of a suburban church, and had zero interest in going to Orange County. And the last time I made plans for my life, they included remaining as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Orange County at least until 2014, if not until my retirement somewhere around 2028.
irvine presbyterian administration buildingYou can see why I’m not immediately enthusiastic about long-range planning. But, I must add that I have seen careful planning and goal-setting as a context in which the Holy Spirit has been active. There were times in my tenure at Irvine Presbyterian Church when planning was essential to God’s guidance of our church, especially when it came to major building projects or developments in our worship and outreach ministries. (Photo: The Administration Building of Irvine Presbyterian Church under construction in 2004, representing three years of planning.)
So, if we allow that the Spirit of God can guide us through strategic planning and goal setting, when we surely want to know how we can allow this to happen. What can we do to foster an environment in which our goals are truly God’s goals for us? How can we pay attention to the Holy Spirit as we go about the business of strategic planning?
Beginning with my next post, I will suggest nine things that can help us attend to the Holy Spirit in the midst of our planning.

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