Strategy and the church

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The new strategic planning initiative aims to help Anglicans embrace “the future with confidence and faith.”

To many of us, strategy may have strong associations with the powers of this world; the word comes from the Greek strategos, or general, and is of course vital in the domains of war, politics and business. It may come as no surprise, then, that along with the enthusiasm surrounding the development of the church’s next plan, some notes of caution are also being sounded.

Neither National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald or strategic planning working group chair Judith Moses think strategic planning is inappropriate for a church.

“Especially in times of resource challenges, I think it can be useful, perhaps even necessary,” MacDonald says. “It keeps us from wasting resources, I think, and it can oftentimes motivate us in very helpful ways.”

After all, Jesus himself had a plan, MacDonald says—and he implemented it.

“I am not aware of any reasonably solid organization that does not do strategic planning,” Moses says. “You will not get there if you don’t plan to get there; if you don’t know where you’re going, you will not arrive there. It’s as simple as that.”

But the church needs to make sure, MacDonald says, that its planning is grounded in the principles it stands for. The danger, he says, is that strategic principles might unconsciously come to replace the values, ideals and goals of the church, so that secular values like survival and efficiency come to be seen as the church’s aspiration.

“In business culture, the broader society, efficiency is an unquestioned implicit assumption of what is important,” he says. “And love is not a particularly efficient thing, I think. Anyone who has loved has known what inefficiency is all about.

“I like efficiency—I’m a part of this broader culture—but I often see that efficiency is not the greatest motivation for Christian behaviour.

“I think what Jesus would say to us is, ‘Be careful, make sure that what is most important to you is what is enshrined in the plan, and other values don’t seep in and corrode that.’”

Moses says she agrees that this is a risk of the strategic planning process. A good plan for the church, she says, will incorporate theological principles. And prayer, she adds, will be just as important to the church as strategy as it discerns a course for itself.

“We certainly need both,” she says.

One way of distinguishing the roles of prayer and strategy in the church, working group member Ian Alexander says, is to see each as responding to different questions.

“I think where prayerful discernment comes in is at the level of why and what we’re doing,” he says. “And where strategic planning can be as beneficial to a church… as it is to a business, is in [asking] how are we going to do it…. How are we going to know whether we’re making progress or whether we’re actually getting further away from our goal?

“I would make the distinction between the inspired why and what and the fairly strategic how.”

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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