Hope Is Not a Strategy for the New Year – Episode 126 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Churches that don't plan effectively have a plan to do nothing.

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Why Vision Without a Plan Is Just a Dream

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Possibilities. With the turning of the calendar, there’s often a renewed sense of hope and a dream of what could be. We all tend to believe this is the year things will be different.

Too often, though, leaders hold onto this hope without a plan to achieve it.

I say this a lot but… Hope is not a strategy. (P.S. I think I originally read that quote from Henry Cloud, but I’m not sure if he originated it or if he got it from somebody else.)

In churches, we love to talk about vision. But there sometimes seems to be a resistance to planning. I’m not 100% sure why, though I do think it’s sometimes a theological issue where pastors look at planning as an unspiritual approach.

I think Scripture clearly shows us that planning is a biblical concept, and we spent a good bit of time in Scripture in this episode.

Here’s just one example:

“Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”

Proverbs 21:5

Honestly, I wonder sometimes if the biggest resistance to planning is that it necessitates change after we do it. And change is hard.

In this episode, Amy and I explore some practical ways that you can approach your ministry’s vision this year, and create a plan for seeing it come to be. Specifically, we unpack:

  • Why Christians should be the best planners in the world based on what we see in Scripture, and why the old debate of “planning” vs. “relying on the Holy Spirit” is a false dichotomy, and really, just bad theology
  • 4 questions you need to answer in any effective planning process, and why we bring in an outside facilitator to help our team plan
  • The “sweet spot” number of people to involve in your planning team, plus why the larger a church grows the smaller its planning teams tend to be
  • What happens when you involve too many people in planning for the future (Hint: The extroverts get more extroverted, and the introverts get more introverted.)
u003cstrongu003eWhen you involve too many people on your planning team, the extroverts get more extroverted, and the introverts get more introverted.u003c/strongu003e It can sabotage the process. #unstuckchurch [episode 126] Click to Tweet The lack of a plan IS your plan. It's just a plan to do nothing. #unstuckchurch [episode 126] Click To Tweet

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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. With the turning of the calendar, there is often a renewed sense of hope that comes with a new year. We believe this is the year that we’ll find our dream job. This is the year that we’ll lose that extra weight and for church leaders, this is the year our church will get back to health and growth. Too often though, leaders hold onto this hope without a plan to achieve it. In today’s podcast, Tony and Amy explain why hope is not a strategy for your church and explore some practical ways that you can create a plan for greater ministry impact. Make sure before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox every single week, you’re going to get one email with our leader conversation guide, all of the resources we mentioned and access to the archive, all of our past podcast resources. You can sign up by going to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.

Amy: 00:59 Well, Tony, as we kicked off the new year, we know many leaders are thinking about just the possibilities this new year can bring. And there’s usually a renewed sense of hope when the calendar resets. But Tony, as I’ve heard you say many times, hope is not a strategy as we look at this new year. So today we’re going to kick off the podcast series about how leaders can create a plan to accomplish all that God has for them this year. And Tony, even as I say that, I know, I know that there’s some leaders out there that wince a little bit when I mentioned planning. So why is it that some leaders resist planning?

Tony: 01:33 That’s a great question, Amy. And by the way, that hope is not a strategy quote, originally I read it from Henry Cloud. And somebody, I don’t know, Henry Cloud’s pretty smart, so I don’t know if he originated that phrase or if he got stole it from somebody else. But, yeah, hope is not a strategy. And I think part of the reason why this becomes a challenge for pastors is there does seem to be some resistance to planning. And I’m not sure why. I do think, and we’ll talk about this a little bit more in our conversation today. I do think in some instances it’s, it’s almost a theological issue where pastors look at this being an unspiritual approach. You know, there’s this conflict that happens between the leading of God’s spirit and a foundation for prayer that needs to be in existence obviously, but also then what’s our responsibility to plan for the future. I think this may be part of the challenge though. And we’re going to cover a lot of scripture today. So take notes if you’re listening at home. The first verse here is from Proverbs 21:5, and it says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.” So, here and we’re going to cover a lot of other passages that really reinforce the concept of planning being a biblical approach to how we should approach our leadership. But here it ties good planning and then hard work. And honestly I’m wondering if that might be the biggest resistance to planning. It’s the fact that we’re willing to go through the planning process, but what we know when we go through the planning process, it’s going to necessitate change after we do that. And change is hard. And so I, I’m just, I’m thinking part of the big unspoken reason why we tend to resist planning is because we know it’s gonna lead to change and change is hard.

Amy: 03:39 Don’t you think too that some pastors or people I should say are just more natural planners than others?

Tony: 03:45 Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. And, Amy, you’ve talked a lot about too as you’ve worked with pastors and staff teams in the staffing and structure reviews that are part of The Unstuck Process, there’s just, there’s definitely some people, and again, this, a lot of this has to do with the willingness to embrace change and manage change. Some when it comes to that, some pastor, some leaders are much more dynamic. I mean, it’s kind of that, “let’s go” personality. Some, some pastors are much more predictable and so they’re, I mean, their motto is let’s go make a plan. And so I can understand why the pastors with that dynamic, “let’s go” personality. Sometimes they just don’t want to slow down to develop a plan and then work the plan. And this can be where some tensions then exist particularly between senior pastors and executive pastors because not always, but more commonly the senior pastors are, the more the “let’s go” people and the executive pastors tend to be the “let’s go make a plan” people. And the reality is we need both. And so I think that’s one of the personality characteristics that can either reinforce this desire to plan or create a barrier. Amy, any other additional thoughts you have though when it comes to the personality and wiring of senior pastors?

Amy: 05:13 I just see a lot of senior pastors who are very vision oriented. Like they can see where they want to go, but honestly it’s not their gift set to figure out how to get there. And so I like how you talked about senior pastor and executive pastor. You know, executive pastors often have a lot of vision as well, but they also have got that wiring to go, “What are the steps that are going to take us there? So it, you know, it goes back to even we’re going to get into this, I’m sure just the team aspect of planning, but just having a vision won’t get you there, right? That’s right. That’s right. Well this may seem obvious, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Just why is it important to have a plan?

Tony: 05:49 Yeah. So let’s begin with the foundation. I think any good plan is going to answer these three questions and we talk about these three questions a lot, Amy, but it’s why do we exist? Where are we going and how are we going to get there? And so that’s going to be the foundation for any plan. But the end result is if you get clarity around all three of those key questions, it’s going to provide your team focus and it’s going to help you align your team and all of your resources around that plan. And believe me, your team wants that. In fact, we’ve done some initial research with some pilot churches and then some additional assessments with our new Unstuck Teams process that’s rolling out just in the coming days actually, and this is one of the challenges we see is far as team health and performance is just this lack of focus and alignment within the organization. And that impacts both performance, but it also impacts the health of the team. Because when you don’t have that, it creates a lack of communication in the organization, lack of trust. And it just creates, just challenge within the organization. But let me just reinforce this. The lack of a plan is a plan. And let me, let me give you an example of this. Several years ago we were, I was driving with some friends. We were driving from I guess it was Las Vegas down to Phoenix and about a hundred miles outside of Phoenix is, was this town called nothing Arizona. Yeah,tThis is no lie. And there’s a sign, there’s a sign in the town. And the sign reads like this. In fact, I will try. I took a picture of this and so I will try to find the picture, and we can include this with the show notes, but the sign reads this, “The staunch citizens of nothing are full of hope, faith and believe in the work ethic. And through the years, these dedicated people had faith in nothing, hoped for nothing and worked at nothing for nothing.” And uh, you know what that vision for nothing, it really worked because nothing Arizona was founded in 1977. It had at its height a population of four people, including a gas station and a convenience store. And today it’s an abandoned community. And so their vision for nothing or a lack of a vision, as well as actually a vision, their plan or lack of a plan was a plan. And so the bottom line is you get what you plan for and in this case it was nothing. And unfortunately, I mean, we can laugh about nothing Arizona, but unfortunately we run into too many churches that are hoping for a better future. And hoping to have an impact in people’s lives, but they don’t have a plan for that.

Tony: 09:01 And as a result of that, they’re not having the kingdom impact that the church could be having. So here’s the challenge. Without a plan, you get one of two results. Either people stay busy doing what they’ve always done because they’re not sure of what the next steps need to look like. Or you leave people guessing what they should do next. And the challenge in both cases, without a plan, is that the loudest person in the room will fill that void. And whoever the loudest person is, and unfortunately, sometimes the loudest person isn’t the strongest leader. They don’t believe in the ultimate mission of what the church is trying to accomplish. Some cases are not even Christ followers, they’re just, they’re just loud. Uh, but they start pulling the church in the direction of their voice. And that too was why it’s critical that every church has a foundational plan and move forward in the future.

Amy: 10:02 You know, Tony, one of the objections we hear every once in a while is just this argument that when we plan, it doesn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to work. And in some ways that makes us less flexible. If we have a plan, we can’t, you know, respond in the moment. So in light of that, tell us your thoughts behind the biblical aspect of planning.

Tony: 10:22 Yeah. So you’re right, Amy. I’ve have heard this before. In some cases with directly with people in the churches that I’m working with personally. So I don’t know what that says about my spiritual leadership in the process, but, there you go. I personally think planning is one of the most spiritual disciplines we can engage though as Christ followers because we’re seeking God’s wisdom and direction for our lives and in this case, the ministry of our churches. So we’re trying to discern God’s will. And personally, I don’t know how to plan without the Holy Spirit involved. And so when I hear people talk about, it’s either planning or we’re going to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think that’s a false dichotomy at the, at the best. And at the worst, I think it’s bad theology.

Tony: 11:15 Because planning and being responsive to the Holy Spirit’s direction aren’t two different things. We can choose to ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but as Christ followers, the Holy Spirit lives inside us and it’s with us in every area of our lives. And for pastors that would include your leadership and more specifically, the Holy Spirit gives us knowledge of what will happen in the future. And a good passage to look to related to that principle can be found in John 16. So Christians really, we should be the best planners ever because we have God’s wisdom in us helping us discern what does the future offer to us, and then helping us plan next steps. So, personally I think trying to separate the Holy Spirit’s direction and planning, it’s really more of an argument for people that they make when they’re too lazy to plan or they’re unwilling to do the hard work that follows as we mentioned previously. Now you ask for a biblical basis. So beyond the, the scripture that we talked about already, let me, let me highlight this passage. It’s as a strategic planner it’s obviously one of my favorite passages from scripture. And this is actually Jesus talking and he gives two examples of planning. And this is from Luke 28. “But don’t begin until you count the cost for who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see is there enough money to finish it? Otherwise you might complete only the foundation before running out of money. And then everyone would laugh at you and they would say there’s that person who started building and couldn’t afford to finish it.” And the first example here is about planning for something in the future. So kind of taking new ground and what Jesus is suggesting is when you sense that there’s new ground to take, you need to pause and you need a plan.

Tony: 13:15 You need to identify where are we going and how are we going to get there. The second one though I think is also important. The second story, Jesus shares is beginning in verse 31, “What King would go to war against another King without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him. And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms a peace while the enemy is still far away.” And here, it’s an example of a challenge that we might face. And in that instance as well, if we’re facing a challenge in our ministry as an example in our leadership, we need to pause, we need to discern why are we facing this challenge? We need to chart our course our future course and figure out how are we going to take those next steps. So in both instances where we’re trying to take new ground or trying to overcome a challenge, Jesus is suggesting we need to pause and we need to plan.

Amy: 14:22 We need to take time away from the regular routine of the weekend and week out and do that. Sso in this first episode on planning, Tony, let’s talk through what good planning looks like. Specifically who’s involved and then how does a planning process actually work?

Tony: 14:38 Yeah. So as I mentioned earlier in our conversation, initially, we’re trying to get these three foundational elements addressed. Why do we exist, in our case as a church? Where are we going as a church? And how are we going to get there? And this really will provide focus and alignment. But beyond that, then once you, once those three questions are identified, what you try to do and any healthy plan is prioritize next steps and then make sure everybody knows who will do what by when. And Amy, you know, very well through The Unstuck Process, part of how we get to that, those next steps in a planning process is helping teams really focus on just the next 90 days. What are the three priority initiatives that we’re going to focus on in the next 90 days? Who’s going to champion that initiative? What are we going to try to accomplish? And by when will it be accomplished? And what we find is, and in any healthy plan, it’s not enough just to answer those foundational questions. You also have to figure out how are we going to work the plan. So not only what is the plan, but how are we going to work the plan? And with that, we have learned that it’s best not for a leader to do planning on his or her own instead to accomplish this with a team—to plan with many advisors. And again, this comes straight from scripture, this guidance. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans go wrong for a lack of advice. So many advisors bring success.” And so when we engage planning processes with churches, the first thing we want to make sure they do is build a team, but not too big of a team.

Tony: 16:27 And the magic number we’ve identified is 12. When we engage a planning process with the church, we encourage them to find a combination of staff and lay leaders in their church that are future minded, that are strategic in their thinking, that really own the core ministries of the church. We encourage them to come together for the planning process that we facilitate. And we’ve learned if you get more than 12 people in a room, it gets really challenging for everybody to participate. Not everybody’s able to ask their questions or provide input, but more importantly, it gets really challenging to create consensus around direction for the future. And I had a conversation, it’s been about a year ago with a large church—a couple thousand people—they on two occasions had misfires in their planning process because in both instances they invited more than a hundred people to be a part of these planning conversations. And they got absolutely nowhere. And so the reason why they were reaching out to us is because they had not been able to establish their plan and work their plan because there were too many voices involved in making the plan. The other thing I would highlight here though, Amy, is this need advice and planning. Personally I’ve learned through the years that it’s very challenging for me to both facilitate a planning process and then as the leader also engage in a planning process. And so because of that we’ve even paid for outside facilitators to come in and guide us in our planning processes so that I can fully engage in the process myself.

Amy: 18:17 Just a couple of comments. One, don’t you find Tony, when the group gets too large that the extroverts get more extroverted and the introverts get more introverted, isn’t that true?

Tony: 18:29 That is very true. Yeah. Because the introverts are waiting for permission to talk.

Amy: 18:34 Right, right. One question on this, maybe I’ve seen some differences when we’ve got a smaller church or we’ve got a larger church that we’re working with. Do you have any thoughts on the size of the planning team based on the church’s size?

Tony: 18:47 Yeah. The funny thing is the larger church gets typically the smaller the planning team gets and a lot of the times I think that’s because in larger churches their senior teams have developed and there are these, these higher capacity senior leaders on the team that have responsibilities for the larger chunks of ministry in the church. So that’s been my experience. Amy, yours as well?

Amy: 19:15 Yeah, it has. The other nuance that I was just thinking through pastors might be thinking of is when you’ve got a group of 12 and you’re talking about planning, how do the actual decisions get made in a situation like that? How do you actually decide, as do you decide as a team, Tony, does the senior pastor still make those calls? What do you experience?

Tony: 19:33 Yeah. So the best planning process is going to exist where the people in the room have the authority, they’re empowered to develop the plan to create the plan—a couple of nuances to that though. When I’m facilitating a plan and the senior pastor is also a part of the process, which is always the case, although everybody has a voice, when I’m facilitating, I’m recognizing the senior pastor has a unique voice in that process. The other thing is I really do believe there should be kind of a shared leadership responsibility between the senior pastor and the staff and then the elders or the lay leadership board of the church and the board really ought to have the strongest voice in confirming mission and vision for where the church is going in the future. And the staff really ought to be in power then to define strategy and how do we execute that strategy on a day to day basis. Now both should be speaking into the other’s responsibilities, but ultimately because we want both to really own their responsibility and leadership for the church. When we’re going through a planning process and all of the elders and all of the board aren’t present in those planning conversations, I just want to make sure if we’re adjusting mission or vision, that there’s time for the elders and the board to be able to pray through that and talk about it and actually confirm it before the church moves forward.

Amy: 21:13 Right. But the senior pastor in that team should be calling the plays, right?

Tony: 21:17 Absolutely. Right.

Amy: 21:18 Alright. So as we close, what exactly do you think planning benefits ministry leaders and churches as a whole?

Tony: 21:24 Yeah, so like I said earlier at the foundation, the big win is that it’s going to provide focus and alignment for the team. And this is, this really is an area that creates the biggest challenge when it comes to communication on the team or lack of trust or a low morale you need that focus and alignment. But then it also clarify some other key questions that really drive job satisfaction on the team to what’s my job? What’s the win? Why are we doing this? Who’s responsible for what? These are all questions that every one of us is always asking when in a team environment because we’re wanting to know how does, how does this vision, how does this strategy, how do these next steps not only help us as an organization have a greater impact, as a ministry have a greater impact? But we’re all always asking the question, how does this impact me too? And so when we have solid plans that are clear, that are helping the organization stay focused, they also answer all of those key questions that drive health within the organization for every one of our team members too. So the bottom line though here Amy is in addition to clarifying all those key questions, what we’ve learned, when good plans exist in churches, churches have a greater kingdom impact and there’s more life change happening in churches. In fact, we just looked at last, last year 124 churches that The Unstuck Group served. That meaning we were actually on the ground facilitating conversations, coaching, providing some consulting with them in those 124 churches last year. We’re estimating based on our calculations that there were over 6,000 baptisms in those churches. So that’s, for me, that’s what drives me—is like, it’s, this is not just about having plans and visions and strategies and priorities and who does what. Ultimately this is about life change. This is about people following Jesus. And other organizations, they might have better bottom line wins, but I doubt it because, I really, I personally know what Jesus can do in someone’s life. He’s transformed my life. And so when I see the 6,000 people getting baptized in last year, that’s what really motivates me and that’s why I’m so passionate to, for churches that are listening, leaders that are listening to make sure you have a plan to have a greater kingdom impact.

Amy: 24:08 I love hearing about the benefits and those outcomes because I do think it’s hard for senior pastors to actually take time from their calendar. You know, in the whirlwind of doing ministry all the time to set aside days to plan. But I was just with a church, um, these past few days. And this is what I hear all the time. They’ve just, they’re smiling at the end of the couple of days. And like, we’ve needed to have these conversations for so long. We just never got all of us in the same room with someone to walk us through these conversations. And you could just see the satisfaction that they’ve actually been able to make some decisions, bring the unity in alignment with where they’re going next. So, any final thoughts, Tony, before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony: 24:49 Yeah. Amy, as I mentioned earlier, even for The Unstuck Group though, we have a team full of qualified facilitators, consultants to help other churches, other organizations through a planning process, we find in many cases it’s very difficult for the senior pastor because of their wiring, because of their other priorities and leadership to be able to pull away and facilitate these types of conversations. So with that in mind, I just want to remind you, we do this. This is what we do to help churches. We help churches walk through their annual planning retreats. We help them identify priorities for the next 12 months. We help them structure around their growth engines as a church because when churches get healthy, we want those churches to grow. So, I just want to encourage you, if this is, you see this as a need for your ministry, your church, please reach out to us and we’d love to talk to you about what that might look like. And just this reminder, kind of back to back from where we started this conversation. Hope is not a strategy. I’m hoping that you’ll make this the year that you actually develop a strategy to get unstuck and have a greater kingdom impact.

Sean: 26:06 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, at The Unstuck Group, we work everyday with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, we’d love to talk to you. You can start a conversation by visiting us theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, we would love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode in our series on planning. Until then, have a great week.

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