Part 5 of series: Planning and Goals: Is There Room for the Holy Spirit?
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To this point I’ve outlined five attitudes and/or actions will help us be open to the Spirit’s guidance in the midst of our strategic planning and goal setting:
1. Acknowledge the sovereignty of God.
2. Listen for the “bass note” of biblical theology.
3. Respect the ways God has led in the past.
4. Recognize that God’s new wine requires new wineskins.
5. Acknowledge that God uses all we are for his purposes.
Today I’ll add another item to the list.
6. Be open to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.
Scripture teaches us that the Spirit of God dwells in each believer and also in the midst of God’s people as they gather. Though we usually associate the gifts of the Spirit with gatherings for worship and/or intentional ministry, we mustn’t limit the Spirit’s power to these settings alone. The Holy Spirit is surely able and willing to gift God’s people in the mist of strategic planning processes.
Which spiritual gifts are most relevant to strategic planning? I’d say: wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy, perhaps teaching as well. Now I realize there is a wide range of opinion about exactly what these gifts entail and how they operate. At some other time I should do a whole series on spiritual gifts. For now, let me offer my sense of what these spiritual gifts are and how they might operate in a strategic planning process.
Wisdom: The spiritual gift of wisdom provides special insight to guide us to make right choices. This gift often is given to a community through people who are acknowledged to be wise, but it can also be given through any individual in whom the Spirit dwells. In my experience, gifts of wisdom are given by the Spirit when a decision-making body faces a complicated and difficult decision. When the individual through whom the gift is given speaks, others recognize that what is being said is more than just a fine idea, but a genuine gift of God’s wisdom. I expect that this gift, above all others, is most useful in a planning process.
Knowledge: The spiritual gift of knowledge involves receiving factual information from the Spirit that is otherwise not known, though it could be discovered by ordinary means. This gift has often been distorted and almost parodied by so-called faith healers, who stand up on a stage and appear to miraculously call out diseases that God intends to heal. I believe that such a ministry can in fact be legitimate at times. Unfortunately, however, much of what one sees on Christian television is unbalanced if not deceptive. Nevertheless, God can reveal knowledge through the Spirit that can be helpful to a planning process. (Photo: The so-called “word of knowledge” has been popularized by “faith healers” such as Benny Hinn. In such a theatrical ministry it’s hard to distinguish what’s real from what’s just show.)
Prophecy: Biblically speaking, Christian prophecy is not necessarily telling the future, though it could be. Prophecy is speaking forth God’s word. Notice that I did not say “God’s Word.” The prophecy we find in Scripture, though related to Christian prophecy, is of a different order altogether. For one thing, it comes to us in God’s authoritative revelation. Therefore, we’re to take prophecy in Scripture as God’s full truth. Christian prophecy, on the contrary, should be evaluated by the community in which it is given. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:19-22). Similarly, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29). Christian prophets, when they speak forth God’s will, do not necessarily speak God’s specific words. In my experience, most instances of prophecy come in the context of preaching or teaching, though they could surely be part of a Spirit-inspired planning process.
Teaching: A gift of teaching enables someone to explain some aspect of theological or practical truth with clarity, truthfulness, and relevance. I would distinguish this gift, which comes in a moment and is used in that moment, from the God-given ability to teach, which lasts over time and is something we can improve upon through study and hard work. I can imagine a scenario in which a gift of teaching was exercised to help a planning team understand something in Scripture.
Again, I realize that my approach to spiritual gifts in general and to the specific gifts I’ve mentioned differs from other theologies of spiritual gifts. You may want to recast what I’m saying in a way that makes sense to you as you interpret biblical teaching on spiritual gifts. The main point is wish to make is this: the Holy Spirit will give specific, supernatural help in a planning process if we are open and available.