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The problem I have with goals in church

May 31, 2016 2 comments

Should a Church Set Goals? 

5 reasons, despite the resistance, to set goals rather than merely to make plans.

Here is a link to a real article in Leadership Journal, an otherwise reasonable source for quite a bit that is good in church leadership.

The article is almost a example too goof for my main beef.  “Our church didn’t have goals and then we did, and viola! ministry success.  Insert any Drucker-esque management technique in the slot for goals and you have a book.  The principle is that goals create a dilemma for the organization it wouldn’t face otherwise.  The author uses JFK’s speechas the example.  “Kennedy’s goal presented the nation with a seemingly impossible dilemma, a dilemma that sparked the innovation, sacrifice, collaboration and unwavering commitment to see the goal become a reality.”  Nobody can argue with that, right?  But then he likens it to the feeding of the five thousand.  Read it for yourself.  I’m not making this up.

Jesus gave the disciples a goal to feed the five thousand like JFK gave the USA the goal to go to the moon.

So here’s my beef, not only this is a terrible interpretation of Scripture, Jesus had no intention of the disciples actually feeding the five thousand, He planned it to manifest his glory, but the actual event as John tells it in John 6, the people who follow Jesus are following Him for all the wrong reasons (v 14) and the whole incident actually leads many people to leave Jesus, (v 66).  I don’t think the author means to do what he does, but he does it.

Here’s the perennial rub in congregations.  Churches need to be successful organizations in order to be about the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, equipping the saints to be about the work of the kingdom.  There is no other Divinely mandated purpose to churches but we still need to keep the lights on.  You can flesh that out to something like Art V in the Augsburg Confession,  or even Witness, Mercy, and Life Together, but it’s still a narrow focus on the Gospel.  Paying the janitor is not the Gospel.  So congregations are composed of all sorts of people who are more or less oriented around that Domincally mandated purpose, the less so, the more the congregation does other stuff than what it’s supposed to be doing.  In the Navy, we called this “mission creep“.  Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should be doing it.  Fellowship is a dangerous area in this regard.  Done right, fellowship adds people to the household of God in that place.  Done wrong, it turns a church into a country club.

But maybe the author is right.  Maybe goals are simply a function of the congregation as a matter of its existence in the kingdom of the left hand.  People are such that we need goals “to motivate change and action.”  However, I find it very difficult to encourage a congregation to adopt a goal to, say, feed five thousand people, knowing that the Lord provided the means to do it and the people got the wrong idea about the kingdom of God anyway.

A church is not a generic non-profit that can have any number of do-good purposes.  It is a place where God’s Word forgives, renews, and inspires to action.  I don’t know how the author would read the opening of Acts 6 where the apostles choose 7 deacons to supervise the distribution of bread that they might focus on the teaching of the Word.  How does an organization keep from setting arbitrary goals, from setting goals that actually take away the focus from where it should be?

Maybe all of this just shows why I’ll never be a successful pastor in the eyes of the world, or the editors of Leadership Journal.  But maybe the main thing is supposed to be the main thing.  So my goals, as I think about them, are:

  1. Preach the Word, in season and out, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and
  2. Lift up the gifts of God of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, and thereby,
  3. Equip the saints for service in the kingdom of God that they might be salt and light for the world.

Or maybe, we should set a goal to grow attendance by 10 percent.

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