Why Ministries Need to Rethink a Common Mantra
By Dale Sellers
There is a popular phrase often attributed to iconic management consultant Peter Drucker (1909-2005) that says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
After careful research, I discovered that there is actually no evidence that Drucker ever made this statement. In fact, there is no evidence that any leadership guru ever said it. It appears many different statements from several leaders were merged together over a period of years, and “culture eats strategy for breakfast” burst onto the scene.
With its arrival came the notion that strategy is really not that important in leading an organization. But nothing could be further from the truth.
It has been my privilege to serve in the ministry for over 36 years. Decades of up close and personal observation have yielded some basic conclusions as to why so many churches and ministries in America are so opposed to developing strategy.
Two Misconceptions about Strategy
Here are two misconceptions about strategy that often lead churches to discount it.
Misconception #1: “Strategy quenches the Holy Spirit’s spontaneity”
I grew up in a church that handed out a bulletin every Sunday with a service order script for the Holy Spirit to follow. So I understand that you can actually become “over-structured” in planning. However, as I moved on to a more “Spirit-led” church, the pendulum swung in the completely opposite direction of just casually going with the Holy Spirit. The implication was that a truly Spirit-led service/ministry had no structure because God is a spontaneous God.
Think about that for a moment. The thought that God is spontaneous is implying that God suddenly thought of something that He had never thought of before. Wrong! Everything about His nature is founded in a purpose and plan. Therefore, we need to develop this balance in our approach to ministry.
Misconception #2: “Developing a strategy is using secular business practices”
Somewhere along the line, our church leaders have adopted the mantra of separation of church and state as a scriptural mandate. Many spiritual leaders believe that it is somehow compromising to use solid business principles in the strategic development of the church.
The actual underlying concept of separation of church and state was developed to keep the government from interfering with the church. It does not mean we cannot use proven leadership principles to help our ministry grow. Solid strategic practices are not secular or spiritual.
Other Reasons Churches Avoid Creating a Strategy
Misconceptions aren’t the only reason churches avoid strategy. Here are three other reasons:
Strategic thinking requires honest evaluation of our current condition and effectiveness.
It has been my observation that we fall short at this point more often than not. It is much easier to blame outside forces for our lack of impact and growth than to take an honest inventory of our effectiveness in reaching our lost neighbors.
For example, when our team at The Unstuck Group helps churches assess their staffing and structure, we have church leaders complete the Leading from Your Strengths assessment to get a clearer picture of the strengths on the team. Most churches have gaps in key strengths that God has given leaders to better lead the church. By better understanding where those gaps exist, a church staff can make strategic decisions about future hires and how to structure the current team.
The truth sets us free according to Jesus (John 8:32). Yet many of our ministries spend a considerable amount of energy avoiding the truth. Taking an honest look can often be the catalyst of developing new and effective ways of reaching our community.
A strategic plan to impact a community will often “rock the boat” of our current comfort.
A thorough study of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament will reveal that He never offered His followers a life of comfort and ease for following Him. In fact, His command was take up your cross and follow Him daily. The daily cross-bearing isn’t comfortable. However, it is fulfilling!
I actually had a church board member say to me, “I would rather this church shut down than change what we are doing!” Eventually, the church dissolved and gave its assets to another ministry. The leadership was so ingrained in the comfort of what God had done in the past that they could not entertain the thought of Him doing something new in the future.
A written strategic plan brings accountability. Research has proven people remember things written down at a greater capacity compared to remembering what they heard. I can side-step being held accountable when I avoid putting a plan down in writing. This also means that I will probably never accomplish what is possible!
Writing down the strategy does not necessarily mean I have figured out everything. But it does put a methodical process in place that moves me toward actually accomplishing the goal. Habakkuk 2:2 tells us, “‘Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run.’” (MSG)
Putting the plan on paper is a great way to bring clarity and unity to your team.
A Different Approach to Strategy
Maybe some observant leader actually developed this mantra, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And it may be that your current ministry or organization is experiencing an infective approach to using a strategy.
If so, here is a radical idea: Develop a strategy to change the culture.
I promise it will not happen quickly or without some pain. However, I do promise it is a necessary step in fulfilling your God-given calling and purpose.