Planning matters

The 2010 PI International survey demonstrated one key finding: individuals and teams who had a written ministry plan and acted upon those plans, demonstrated positive results toward church planting (44% of our population of church planters fit into this category). Individuals and teams who did not have a plan, or had a plan but did not act upon it, were negatively correlated to activities that lead to a church plant (56% of our population fit into this category). The simple act of planning made the difference.

The “best practices” and the “best intentions” of individuals or teams were of no use unless they were put into a plan. Effectiveness was directly correlated to planning.

Scriptures highlight that planning is not a western construct. It is rooted in such biblical leadership, ranging from Nehemiah, to Solomon, to Paul. One simple tool that I have found helpful to guide me through my various initiatives and ministries has been the STROATE approach.

STROATE is an acrostic that follows this pattern:

S – Strategic Purpose

T – Tactical Goals/Objectives

R – Resources

O - Opportunities

A - Activities

T - Timetable

E –Evaluate

How does this work.?

ST are visualization aspects of planning – they ask the question “what do I want to do,” and more importantly “why it is important?” This is the vision step

ROA are the “how” can I accomplish my plan. It explores the capacity to reach ST.

A (Activities) is a bridge to the AT - it puts feet to the planning process.

Finally Evaluation. This is most often overlooked activity in planning. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 9:26 that he is not a runner who runs aimlessly, or is he a boxer just beating in the air. He evaluates his plans and activities to "make them count.” One evaluates to see if what they are doing is really productive toward their ST or are they just wasting their time. E moves us into the next cycle of ST – ROA – ATE.

Let’s unpack these various components:

Strategic Purpose

This is the unmeasurable “big picture.” Some people call this “Mission or Vision.” I don’t prefer using this terms because the terms Mission and Vision” are often used interchangeably and people become confused and stuck on the terminology. An example of Strategic Purpose isPaul was sent to reach the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). How does one measure this? It is difficult to say. Gentiles are still being reached even to this day.   Yet, at the end of Paul’s life he was able to say that the gospel was preached to the whole world (Col 1:5). 2 Tim 4:7 says he “finished his course…and now a crown is laid up for me.” Paul had a “life purpose” that was difficult to measure. It was a vision, a “big picture.” Yet at the end of his life he knew for certain he had accomplished it.

Strategic Purpose in one’s lifetime often does not shift that much—it may become sharper with time, but it will stay fairly static. Calling is often related strategic purpose.

But Strategic Purpose in the short term relates to initiatives and will have “phases.” Bobby Clinton in Making of a Leader refers to these as ministry phases. These phases can have measurable steps, or what is called tactical goals.

Tactical Goals

These relate to Strategic Purpose, except these have measurable delineations to accomplishing the Strategic Purpose. These will be measurable. Some people call these goals, others objectives. Which is why I move from these confusing terms to call them Tactical. You can take a hill (Tactical) in the strategic purpose of winning a war. You can send 1000 troops (an allocation of resources) to take that hill. The operative words to Tactical Goals   is short term and measurable toward accomplishing the Strategic Purpose. Paul went to Philippi (a real place) to share the gospel (a measurable Activity) and to plant a fellowship (something that is measurable) during his first mission trip (a tactical goal).

Now we move into the “how to” in accomplishing one’s tactical goals.

Resources

What resources are at your disposal? Working off a whiteboard with your team, spouse, friend, etc - think of what resources are available to you. Money, people, transportation, cultural habits (e.g. people stand at a corner heading to work) etc. are some of the resources that may avail you. My father-in-law wanted to engage in a social marketing campaign to get women to cook more protein rich foods for their starving families in a rural community. He realized that the women who normally did the meal planning washed their clothes by the river. He installed a tape player (a resource) at the washing site (an opportunity) that played ‘looped” info-commercials on how to cook protein rich foods (a resource that he made). In Acts 17, Paul wanted to start a Gentile church in Athens (a Tactical Goal). He drew on his knowledge of Greek mythology (a Resource) and observed idols (an Opportunity) in Athens, especially one idol dedicated “to the unknown God” (:23). He used this idol mythology to begin a conversation that led to sharing the gospel (an Opportunity/Activity).

Did Paul have all this nicely written down in a neat plan? I doubt it. But he had clear Strategic Purpose and Tactical Goals and naturally used Resources and Activities to reach them. But it does not hurt to think creatively about what Resources and Opportunities that are available to us, and then converting them into Activities that move us to putting them on a Timetable.

Opportunities

As noted above, opportunities are taken and some are made. Paul states in 2 Tim 4:2 “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.” Some scholars translate the meaning to this verse as “taking opportunities and making opportunities.” We can do both.

I used this concept when my wife and I offered a goat to our community leader during Idul Adha as a way of opening doors to share about grace given to followers of Isa. One purpose of the goat sacrifice to Muslims was that people would gain points to get to heaven. I was able to explain with clarity from the Injil that followers of Isa do need to follow this point system since they “have all the points they need” through Isa as our mediator. I would at times attend Islamic study circles called halaqa (an opportunity) where people discuss religion. These were great places to discuss my faith. I was never interested in attending the Mosque during prayer times since this was “their sacred space” and thus communicated that I was a Muslim and not a follower of the Isa. Some opportunities can be counterproductive if they are not aligned to your Strategic Purpose and Tactical Goals.

Activities

Simply put – if it is worth doing, then put it on your calendar. What are the activities that you are planning to do? Write them in your calendar, which leads us to the next phase.

Timetable

Now write the activity down and tell someone else so that you are accountable. The two by two principle from Luke 9 and 10 works well here. Do it with someone else so that it gets done. Maybe your second person may be your Timothy in a 2 Timothy 2:2 principle.

Evaluate

On a monthly basis – review your Tactical Goals. Give yourself an hour or so to evaluate this. Make it part of your prayer time, asking God to give you wisdom. Let your heart be pricked in a willingness to change – and “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9). Don’t give up if things don’t work the first time.

Also, on some special annual event, conduct a full STROATE. Something like Independence Day from your country of origin, or the day you became a believer, - some “high day” so that you are reminded to conduct an annual review.

But don’t spend years doing something over and over again without fruit. There is a balance – and Evaluation allows you to reconsider a different approach.

Spreading out your STROATE

Normally a person has more than one Strategic life purpose, and maybe one or two Strategic Purposes that are long term (aka ministry career, being a family). Then under each Strategic Purpose, one can have many Tactical steps (measurable) to reach the various Strategic Purposes.

Resources can be unique to the Tactical Goal or can be shared by several Tactical Goals. The same can be with Opportunities. Activities and timetable (most of the time) will be unique to the goals – multi-tasking can be “half tasking” and mixing motives. Guard this trap.

Finally did I mention evaluation is most often is not done? You may have to make intentional decisions to cut your loses and move on when something does not work, or seek an alternative activity to reach a Tactical goal. But in the end – change something if it does not work. Don’t run aimlessly or just beat in the air. Do what God has called you to do.

Now you're ready for the next article: five steps to create a mission statement for your team.