Thursday, June 08, 2006

Thursday Thoughts...Reloaded

The church is doing some planning--lots of planning! Yard sale this weekend, special dinner at the end of the month, golf outing, car show, River City Pride coming up with all kinds of events...

I'm trying to show the church the value of planning. Ideas are great, we need them, that's how movements and programs and change get started. But then we have to sit down and plan how we can implement them and if it's affordable in terms of resources (time, money, people) and what kind of results we would get from it. We have to be sure we have those resources before we start--that's what planning is about.

Ideas are great, but not every idea can or should be implemented. There's a lot an organization theoretically CAN do, but whether it SHOULD or not is another question.

That's where the mission comes in. Companies have mission statements--churches do too. So you look at your mission statement. Does the idea, the concept, the program fit with that mission statement? If so, then you look at the resource needs and whether the resources are available.

The other point I'm trying to get across is that God has a time schedule, and our time is not God's time. We may feel a sense of urgency--God has plenty of time. It's one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn--that if God has a purpose for a church, a person, a program, it will come about--in God's time. That may be sooner than we are prepared for, or it may be later than we want it to happen, but when it does happen, it will be the right time. People get impatient, they are eager, they feel the hot breath of mortality on the back of their necks, they want to do things right NOW, johnbrownit. But "now" is not always the right time. Sometimes it's best to let concepts, plans, ideas rest for a while, to grow and come into their own when the time is right.

When we talk, we don't say everything that comes to our minds (well, most of us don't); we've learned that in polite conversation, some things are better left unsaid, or not said to certain persons. In the same way, not every idea is worth pursuing into reality. Some are too large for this particular group to handle; some don't produce enough results; some are too expensive for the organization; some require too much personnel; some require too much space; some aren't part of what a church is about. Some can be put aside for a while, to see if resources (persons, money, space) become available.

Finally, we need to be sure we follow up and complete what we have begun. It's as bad to have a plan or project that falls apart in the middle due to lack of follow-through as it is to not have it at all--perhaps worse, because you've built up expectations. It's not enough to have the resources to begin a project and hope the resources for continuing it will magically appear--you have to have them in place.

Think of it in terms of a small business (although I’m not a big fan of the church-as-business concept, it can be a useful metaphor). When someone wants to open a business, they don't just rent a storefront, buy merchandise, and start selling. At least, most people don't, especially these days! You want to be sure there's a market for what you're selling, in the place where you want to sell. If you're a florist, for example, you don't open a shop two blocks from a garden centre that also sells cut flowers. A luxury car dealership doesn't open during a recession. There’s no point in trying to sell sand by the beach (unless you’re selling to tourists, perhaps!). And so on. You probably need a loan to get started (have you priced retail real estate rentals these days?), and the bank you're borrowing from will want to see a business plan. That means you need to be able to prove to them that you have the training/experience/know-how to run this business and pay back their loan. So you locate rental space, get prices from suppliers, estimate salaries (don't forget your own!) and expenses and write up the plan (yes, that's a simplification, for your business-school types out there). In other words, you plan, not just for getting started, but for the long-term.

I would submit that doing the work of God is more vital than opening a small business. We should give the work we do for God even more careful planning and support than we would a business.

All of this is why I am cautious about new ideas, about jumping in. I want to see us go new places and do new things--and we certainly are! But we have to be aware of what we are risking as well, and balance the risk with the potential gain. We should trust the Holy Spirit, of course, and follow where we are led. But it is also true that God has made us stewards, and we cannot waste what we have been given--whether what we have been given is funding, an energetic congregation, or the good will of the community.

It is a delicate balancing act, and it's tough on the high wire! Did I mention I hate heights? As pastor, though, that's where I have to be--balancing the choices, showing the way, never too far ahead or too far behind, "leading from the side," as someone once put it.

And always, always, listening for the voice of the True Shepherd. I'm just the under-sheep-dog.

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