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The problem I have with goals in church

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.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Sue Meyer
    June 5, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Pastor. It is this blog to which I would like to comment: “The Problem I have with Goals in the Church”
    As you talked about “goals”, the thought came to mind about a number of synodical and district (goals)/programs that have filtered down to individual churches over the years. (Things like “Hearts Ablaze”, etc.) They always made me feel uncomfortable. I did not want to have anything to do with them, but felt slightly guilty about it because after all, they came down from the “church on high”. On the other hand, I was sure I was right. Perhaps I have always misunderstood what those programs/goals were all about, but it seemed to me that the people who dreamed up, sent out, and promoted them were all saying, “Folks, the Word and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is not enough! You need to go out and DO this, you need to go out and DO that, and especially you need to SEND IN (MORE) MONEY.
    Your article was affirming to me in that way. If your 3 goals, as a pastor, show why you’ll never be a successful pastor in the eyes of the world, then my desire for and faith in the Word and the Sacraments put me in the category as unsuccessful parishoner in the eyes of the worldly churches’ world. And if the Word and Sacraments are in that category, then that is what and where I want to be.
    Another way your article affected me personally was your statement, “Just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should be doing it.” I am able to believe at times, that because I can do something – I should do it. And then I am in trouble with (trying) to do more than I am able – to my detriment. So thanks for letting me know that because I CAN, I SHOULD, is NOT the maxim to follow.
    But more than all of the above, this is also applicable to the Life Together committee. I am hoping, in the last year of my term, to summarize our (eek – goals?) (maybe ideas or directions) that we have developed these past six years. I think it will be well for us to go over everything and make sure they fall under, in some way, the Word and the Sacraments as it is expressed in your 3 goals as pastor.
    Thank you for giving me things to think about in terms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

    With great love, in Christ,

  2. June 6, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Sue. I read in another pastor’s blog post today, http://www.propreacher.com/20-things-wish-knew-becoming-pastor “11. Your success in the eyes of others will be measured by how many people you can get in a room.” Now, not everyone does this but enough do to be frustrating. No organization, no ability to get the message out. I’ve been wondering for a decade or so whether we are approaching the tipping point in American Christianity where there is little use for the church as its described in Acts. Pew Center says we’re not there yet, but we’re edging closer. http://www.pewforum.org/files/2016/04/Religion-in-Everyday-Life-FINAL.pdf All we can do is try our best to do what we’ve been given to do, knowing that our work in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58

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