The results are in. And the news, though bad as it seems, is not new. Western societies are experiencing a time of cosmic shifts that are affecting change in the arenas of business, politics, the media, and how we live in community. As many faithful Christians and pastors have lamented, the church certainly is not exempt from feeling the tremors of such massive changes in our culture. For the modern day “Essenses”, the answer may appear to run and hide from the supposed dangers of postmodernism. Others in the church want to circle their holy wagons and preach apologetic, soapbox sermons to feed people doctrinal arguments for disproving and condemning the skepticism and evil in our societies.
However the Christian response should never be to completely separate oneself and ministry from the culture. There is a difference between being “in” and “of” the world (cf. John 17:14-15). While traditional seminaries do a great job of instructing ministers with proper dogma, biblical exegesis, and church history, most fail in the realm of equipping pastors with the real world organizational skills, such as conflict management, change, innovation, and learning systems. Though often ignored in theological academia, The Bible speaks volumes to these issues. For example, Jesus presents a biblical way to handle disagreements among believers in Matthew 18, and promotes the advancement of knowledge, in terms of the relational teaching of information for transformation in the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:20).
In his newest, third addition of Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st-Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (2013), Dr. Aubrey Malphurs, senior professor of leadership and pastoral ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary and founder of the Malphurs Group, advocates a more proactive approach to navigating our philosophically diverse culture and gives practical lessons for leading a church through times of change. Like the given example on reconciliation, Scripture voices the need for strategic planning. Both Peter and Paul write to churches addressing long range planning with the expectant hope of Christ’s return (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 16:5-18). Dr. Malphurs articulates the habits of Paul’s missionary journeys showing how effective leaders don’t simply drift from place to place, or program to program without considering the end goal of growth in Christ. Instead, they devise a plan, communicate it to others in the Body, and implement it, working with the gifts of members and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The perceived “unchurched” problem in the North American, twenty-first century context is really an opportunity for the sacred to redeem the secular. Churches, like people have lifecycles. In what has been termed the sigmoid curve, or “S-curve” one could plot where they or their organization is on the curve, and in turn, can plan on what to expect next. For Dr. Malphurs, “the answer to the problem of church decline is to start with new S-curves” (p. 11) through strategic planning in the efforts of church planting, church growth, and church revitalization.
Advanced Strategic Planning is divided into three sections, “Part 1: Prepare to Sail! The Preparation for Strategic Planning”; “Part 2: Set the Course! The Process of Strategic Planning”; and “Part 3: Pursue the Course! The Practice of Strategic Planning”. Dr. Malphurs explains how “the strategic planning process is a fourfold process consists of the development of a biblical mission, the development of a compelling vision, the discovery of the church’s core values, and the design of a strategy that accomplished the mission and vision (p. 105).
As a former church consultant and a team member for a Christian university’s alumni strategic planning team, I found chapter 4 “Developing a Biblical Mission: What We Are Supposed to be Doing” of particular interest. In this section, Dr. Malphurs states how a biblical mission defines functions, sets priorities, facilitates evaluation, and provides guidelines for decision making. Dr. Malphurs also distinguishes the differences between mission and purpose. While a church’s purpose declares the “why we exists”, the mission states the “what” or divine intent that God has destined this specific faith community for accomplishing and bring His will to fruition.
Classic lessons on building a ministry team, studying a community to discover the needs and service opportunities, as well as assessing ministry activity have all been updated. Also, this third edition of Advanced Strategic Planning includes a discussion on the missional church and the current emphasis on discipleship as movement. Full of relevant statistical data, helpful charts, and the long list of applicable appendixes, unique to Malphurs’ writing, such as a Leader-Manager Audit and Core Values Audit, this third revision of Advanced Strategic Planning is sure to encourage and prepare pastors for effectively serving God, growing the Kingdom, and positively impacting their communities.