Chapter 3





Other chapters in this book


Planning is the process of turning vision into reality—of making things happen the way you and your ministry team desire. Planning is very much a partnership between you and God in which supernatural power can be channeled through the human efforts of a committed ministry team.

It is for this reason that planning is both proactive (making things happen) and reactive (waiting for them to happen). The key challenge in planning is to maintain the right balance between acting and reacting—between human effort and divine intervention.

Planning should concentrate more on ministry effectiveness (doing the right things) than efficiency (doing things in the "right" way). This means the planning process begins by focusing on the ministry’s basic mission (ultimate purpose), which is the very foundation of effectiveness. From here, planning must encompass the other broad components of effectiveness: goals (specific outcomes to be attained by the ministry; strategy (the broad "game plan" for achieving those goals); and tactics (successful implementation of the game plan). Action Plan 3.1 provides you with a planning framework for all three effectiveness level.

The process of planning is actually more important than the specific plans themselves. In the final analysis, planning is valuable because it facilitates ministry communication, vision-sharing, and team member interaction. It is these interpersonal processes that actually fuel ministry progress and effectiveness. Planning is the catalyst for team accomplishment.



How Solid is Your Planning Foundation?


1.  How often do you get together as team members to pray for the needs of the ministry?


2.  At a typical planning session with your team, what percentage of the time do you discuss the purpose and mission of your ministry rather than implementation activities?


3.  To what extent does planning in your ministry serve as a catalyst for teamwork?  Do you see it helping people to smoothly work together?  How do your planning efforts sometimes unintentionally constrain and hinder the team by limiting people’s enthusiasm and creativity?


4.  Do you feel your ministry team usually achieves a satisfactory balance between proactive planning and reactive planning?  How do the other members of your ministry team feel about this?


5.  Do members of your ministry team regularly spend time planning how they can work together more productively?



Foundation Work


1.  Develop three goals for forming a more solid partnership with God in planning for your ministry and ministry team.


2.  List several actions you can take at your next team meeting to better focus members on the ministry’s mission and goals (and to avoid getting completely caught up in implementation details).


3.  List several things your team will try to make happen in the next year.


4.  In what ways will waiting help you achieve the proactive planning goals listed in number 3?  Discuss how your team can “wait for success” as well as “make success.”





Planning is never a finished process. It has no clearcut beginning or end. Rather, planning continuously evolves and unfolds, shaped by events both inside and outside the ministry. One writer has compared planning to a butterfly in flight; seemingly erratic yet moving inexorably toward a destination.

This organic planning process of starts and stops and roundabout progress requires great patience and discernment. Progress rarely comes as fast the team wants or exactly in the way envisioned. Unanticipated mid-curse corrections are inevitable, and team members won’t always feel in complete control.

Experienced managers, knowing they are not masters of their destinies, learn to cope with the proactive/reactive nature of organic planning by cultivating team flexibility and openness to change. Rather than naively assuming that ministry planning can somehow be mastered and controlled, effective managers instead concentrate on the process of planning: keeping in close touch with ministry members and activities, communicating the vision, and building cooperative relationships on the team.

A recent bestseller on managing likens planning to the delicate process of steering a sailboat by rudder—the wind and sea can never be mastered but their powerful energy can be productively harnessed. Neither can ministry teams master the many forces that influence planning, but they can learn to harness these forces in reaching goals.


Assessing Planning Flexibility


1.  Is your ministry team patient in its planning?  Cite specific recent examples of such patience.


2.  Give examples of planning flexibility in your ministry—of your capacity to adjust, adapt, re-evaluate, and change.


3.  In what ways has your team been inflexible and slow to change?


4.  Is your team failing to harness its potential because of shortcomings in relationships among team members?  How is this occurring?



Planning Calisthenics


1.  List three goals your ministry is currently planning for.  For each goal, discuss how your team can display planning patience (how you can wait for things to happen in addition to making them happen).


2.  In light of the three ministry goals listed above, discuss how your team’s planning flexibility can be enhanced through the following means.


A.  Anticipating implementation problems before they occur.


B.  Focusing on how others outside the ministry will benefit from your team’s pursuit of goals.


C.  Emphasizing effectiveness (mission consciousness) over efficiency (ease of implementation).


3.  Are there ways in which relationships between two or more members of the team can be strengthened, better coordinated, or more creatively managed?


4.  Set three goals for enhancing planning flexibility through strengthening how team members interact with one another.





Who should be a part of the planning process? A simple rule of thumb applies: those directly affected by ministry plans should be involved in the planning. Many managers see planning in a more limited way, preferring to involve as few people as possible to expedite time efficiency and minimize conflict. The resulting "top down" planning approach does proceed efficiently, but rarely effectively. Over time, the myopic top-down, or unilateral, planning will sadly discover that lack of team participation inevitable leads to lack of commitment.

Top-down, or unilateral, planning places too much emphasis on developing plans and not enough on implementing them. Yet planning success rests more with how plans are implemented than with how they are conceived. Plans "hatched" in isolation stand little chance of being enthusiastically and thoughtfully implemented.

Bilateral (or two-way) planning, involving continuous dialogue between ministry leaders and team members, is much more likely to succeed because it nurtures a fertile planning climate; listening, learning, compromising, clarifying, encouraging, and challenging. When team members work together in formulating plans, they will also work together in implementing them. Both the "content" and process dimensions of planning can thus be satisfied.

Just as there are different roles on the ministry team, there are different roles for team members to play in the planning process. Certain members will be information providers, others will be information processors, still others will share and disseminate information. Some will provide technical expertise in planning, others will use interpersonal and persuasive skills, while other will "troubleshoot" implementation activities.

Ministry leaders should do everything possible to make team members feel uniquely useful in planning for ministry success. In this way, they will feel they "own" the ministry plan and are personally accountable for its success.


Unilateral or Bilateral?


Have the members of your ministry team state how much they agree with each of the following statements, where 2 = strongly agree; 1 = agree; 0 = disagree.


1.  Each member of my ministry team has ample opportunity to be involved in planning.


2.  Our leader sometimes exerts too much influence on ministry planning.


3.  My own contributions to the ministry’s plans are valuable and worthwhile.


4.  Team members don’t participate enough in ministry planning.


5.  Team members sensitively listen to one another in our planning efforts.


6.  Ministry activities are not always well thought through; we sometimes go off “half-cocked.”


7.  Ministry planning efforts are generally very challenging and help the team overcome the status quo.


8.  Ministry planning efforts often leave me discouraged and frustrated.


9.  Each member of the ministry team has a distinctive, unique role to play in the planning process.


10.  When we plan, we tend to focus more on implementation than on mission and goals.


Score each team member’s inventory by deriving a total for the even-numbered items (poor planning practices) and a separate total for the odd-numbered (beneficial planning practices).  Subtract the two totals to get the final score.  Scores in the 5-or-under range indicate lack of bilateral planning.  The team leader would be well-advised to address the matter at a team meeting.  Action Plan 3.3 can be beneficial.



Maximizing Team Planning


The team leader should respond to the following questions as a guide to stimulating better two-way planning:


1.  Which team members tend to remain quiet at ministry planning sessions?


2.  What will you do at the next team meeting to encourage those listed in step 1 to participate more?


3.  What can you do to slow down future team meetings and so create an atmosphere of more opportunity for discussion and participation?


4.  List several ways in which team members have recently benefited you and enhanced ministry effectiveness.


5.  How can you make it easier for team members to benefit you and the ministry?





Since planning invariably introduces change into the ministry (new directions and goals, revised work procedures, different performance standards, new precedents), a working climate conducive to change is essential. The more team members are concerned with ministry effectiveness (mission, goals, strategy), the more they will perceive change as an opportunity for promoting ministry success.

People concerned primarily with ministry efficiency (procedures, rules, budgets) are often change resistant, creating a less fertile climate for planning. Efficiency-oriented people are apt to accommodate the status quo in planning, creating a difficult climate for achievement.


Planning Fertility


At a meeting, have members reach a consensus on which of the following characterize your ministry’s planning environment.  Place a check by each item that characterizes the ministry’s planning approach.


1.  Openness to change and willingness to break with tradition.


2.  Mutual encouragement.


3.  Learning from one another.


4.  Constructive disagreement or criticism.


5.  Open-minded listening.


6.  Objective analysis free of emotional bias.


7.  Challenging one another toward heightened performance.


8.  Willingness to engage in beneficial compromise.


9.  Willingness to forgive mistakes and bear patiently with one another.


10.  Expressed mutual appreciation and positive reinforcement.


11.  Perceiving change as a positive opportunity.


12.  Cooperative spirit while implementing planning changes.



Improving the Planning Environment


1.  Have team members discuss, as constructively as possible, why certain items in Situation Review 3.4 were not checked.


2.  How would ministry performance be enhanced if the team could improve on the unchecked items in Situation Review 3.4?


3.  As a team, re-evaluate each characteristic of your planning environment in light of its importance to ministry success.  Rank each of the twelve items from most important to your ministry (ranked one) to least important (ranked twelve).  Place rankings beside each item.


Rank   Planning Environment Characteristic


1.  Openness to change and willingness to break with tradition.

2.  Mutual encouragement.

3.  Learning from one another.

4.  Constructive disagreement or criticism.

5.  Open-minded listening.

6.  Objective analysis free of emotional bias.

7.  Challenging one another toward heightened performance.

8.  Willingness to engage in beneficial compromise.

9.  Willingness to forgive mistakes and bear patiently with one another.

10.  Expressed mutual appreciation and positive reinforcement.

11.  Perceiving change as a positive opportunity.

12.  Cooperative spirit while implementing planning changes.



Many managers stay so busy “putting out brushfires” (resolving unexpected problems) that they can find little time for planning.  Ironically, brushfire management is caused by this very lack of planning!  In the absence of planning, managers frequently end up as victims of circumstances and control is largely lost.


Preventive maintenance is the key to avoiding brushfires.  Most managerial problems can be prevented, or largely neutralized, with planning.  On a formal basis, preventive maintenance takes the form of well-thought-out policies, procedures, rules and other “standing plans” which managers use for daily direction.  These formal plans help insure that team members all play by the same rules, thereby reducing opportunity for administrative confusion, miscommunication, and sloppy coordination.


On a more informal (spontaneous behavior) basis, preventive maintenance is bolstered by interpersonal rapport between team members.  People who communicate with one another, appreciate one another, and understand one another can work together smoothly as a team.  They experience fewer of the disruptive interpersonal problems and tensions that fuel most brushfires.  The following Situation Review and Action Plan will help the ministry manager prevent brushfires through rapport-building (an issue that is further discussed in a subsequent chapter).



Brushfire Potential


1.  Indicate how frequently you and your team members encounter the following problems in your ministry (2 = frequently; 1 = occasionally; 0 = rarely).


1.  Uncoordinated follow-through (“the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing”).


2.  Decisions made in a “vacuum” (some team members are informed of important decisions, while others remain in the dark).


3.  Team meetings deal primarily with the status quo and seldom inquire about possible future events.


4.  Team members are confused or poorly informed about “standard operating procedures” and don’t know how to take action.


5.  Team members interact frequently with one another while performing their work.


6.  Team members are kept well informed about one another’s job pursuits and activities.


7.  Members of different teams in the organization regularly interact and “cross-pollinate.”


8.  Team members put the goals of their particular ministry ahead of the goals of the overall organization.


Add up your responses to statements 5-7 (factors that prevent brushfires) and subtract the total for statements 1-4 and 8 (factors that fuel brushfires).  If the final score is above 5, the potential for brushfires developing in your ministry may be high.  A team meeting to discuss options for preventive maintenance would probably be very worthwhile.



Managing Brushfires


As a team discuss how your ministry could take advantage of the following opportunities for improved communication and rapport:


1.  Keeping team members and the overall organization better informed of team activities and pursuits.


2.  Reaching important decisions in less of a vacuum, with greater team member participation.


3.  Increasing your team contingency planning (“what-if” plans that will automatically go into effect in the event of unexpected future events).


4.  Increasing “cross-pollination” with other ministries in the organization.


5.  Helping team members better appreciate one another’s work problems and accomplishments.


6.  Reducing the lack of communication about operating procedures, policies, and methodology in the ministry.





Control is the most overlooked, least appreciated phase of management, yet it serves as the steering wheel of the organization. Control provides follow-up to insure that plans are more than good intentions. Not only does control facilitate plan accomplishment, it generates momentum to lift ministries out of the status quo. Lack of follow-through has side-tracked far more ministries than faulty planning.

Follow through is a process of checking performance, comparing against expectations, and correcting off-target results. Planning is the basis for all three of these. Goals formulated in the planning process become the target of control; ministry effectiveness measures provide control expectations; the bilateral planning process facilitates performance evaluation.

The ideal of bureaucratic managers is to create an organization that runs itself. A technique known as "management by exception" (MBE) is advocated by control-oriented managers who feel managers should actively involve themselves in an operation only when something is wrong (off target). When things are going according to plan, the MBE manager is advised to put it on "automatic pilot" and let subordinates run the show.

Management by exception does enable managers to save time, but this relates more to ministry efficiency than effectiveness. Managers who isolate themselves from team activities until something is amiss risk dampening team morale by accentuating the negative and ignoring the positive. Who wants to be perceived by subordinates as a "cloud" continually "raining on someone’s parade"? Teams are built more by positive reinforcement and active interaction than by negative reinforcement and isolation?



Planning for Control


 For each of the programs in your ministry, answer the following questions:


1.      What is the major goal of this program?


2.      How will you begin to measure your progress toward attaining this goal?


3.      What is the deadline for attaining the goal?


4.      Break the goal down into subgoals and set an approximate completion deadline for each.


5.      What are the primary costs (financial and nonfinancial) of this program?


6.      What are the program’s potential benefits to your ministry at the present?


7.      Based on your perception of the program’s costs and benefits, how high a priority should this program receive in your ministry?


8.    Based on the program’s priority in the overall ministry, how much resource support (budget, staffing, time allocation) should it receive?





Over-control is a common organizational disease, characterized by excessive rules, procedures, committees, and routine paperwork—in short, "paralysis by analysis." Bureaucracy results: an inflexible, hard-to-change form of organization wedded to the status quo. In bureaucracies, means (such as standard operating procedures and job descriptions) become an end in themselves, causing many team members to lose sight of their mission. Instead of striving to achieve goals, bureaucratic employees tend to focus on enforcing rules, processing paperwork, and maintaining precedent.

Control gets out of hand when team members are rewarded primarily for achieving short-run performance quotas (e.g., hours worked, meetings attended, budgets cut), rather than for progress made towards the long-term ministry mission (e.g., creative breakthroughs, team members trained and developed). Controls must serve people, not vice versa!


Red Tape Audit


Have team members state how much they agree (2 = strongly agree; 1 = agree; 0 = disagree) with the following statements:


1.  We have too many meetings around here.


2.  I get frustrated by all the paperwork that goes with my job.


3.  Change is very hard to bring about in this ministry.


4.  There is too much low-priority, routine work in my job.


5.  We have to do everything “by the book” in this organization.


6.  Too many of the people I work with have an “8:00 to 5:00” mentality—put in your hours and go home.


7.  Tradition and precedent (“we’ve always done it that way”) are very important in this ministry.


8.  “That can’t be done,” and “That will never work,” are heard a lot around here.



Bureaucracy Busters


Go over the statements in Situation Review 3.7 with your team.  Where most of the team strongly agrees (2) or agrees (1) with a statement, answer the following questions.


1.  Why do you feel this way?  Is your agreement with the statement based more on facts or feelings?


2.  What brought about this aspect of bureaucracy in the ministry?


3.  What can be done immediately to make things less bureaucratic?


4.  What can be done over the long-run to lessen bureaucracy in this area?


5.  In what strategic ways would the ministry benefit by less bureaucratic structure?

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)


Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)


The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.  (Proverbs 12:15)


Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:28)


Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  (Matthew 7:24-27)