Use purpose-driven preparation for church growth

Dwight Eisenhower said that “in preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” | by Michael Carey

Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower dedicated years to planning D-Day, the key battle in the effort to liberate Europe from Nazi rule. Despite this meticulous preparation, the battle did not go as planned. On the eve of the attack, Allied battleships were supposed to pummel the French coastline with artillery fire to create craters so that ground troops wading ashore could take cover. Tragically, most of the guns missed their targets. When the first wave of troops stormed the beach, few craters were available. Two-thirds of the first company were killed on the beach. Nonetheless, other aspects of the planning sustained the attack, and Eisenhower was prepared to adapt. When the sun set on D-Day, the Allied foothold in France was secure.

In reflecting on his experience as a leader, Eisenhower said that “in preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Your leadership initiatives will yield endless surprises—some positive, many negative. Events will not unfold as you expect. People will disappoint. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to learn all that you can and plan as well as you can.

One of the many leadership lessons gleaned from Nehemiah’s odyssey is his commitment to quiet due diligence. He re-built Jerusalem in his head before moving the first stone. His brother Hanani helped him draw up preliminary plans while still in Persia. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah could have announced his plans with fanfare. After all, his project was sponsored by Emperor Artaxerxes. Yet for three days, Nehemiah maintained tactical silence. After resting from his long trip. Nehemiah opted to learn secretly before he spoke publicly.

Having “not told anyone what God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem,” Nehemiah set out during the night with a few men (probably members of the team that came from Persia). He kept a low profile, “there were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.” Reflecting later on his night ride through the rubble, Nehemiah recalled that “the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any other who would be doing the work” (From Nehemiah 2:11-16).

Tactical silence was critical to Nehemiah’s success. Once he spoke publicly, his opponents would scramble to sabotage his efforts. If he hesitated after speaking, the project might never get off the ground.

Has God called you to a specific form of hope-building? Has holy discontent prompted you to plant a church, revitalize a congregation, or start missional communities? Do your “due diligence.” Became an expert. Build a trusted team. Develop your battle plan. Determine if you need training, a mentor, or a personal coach.

Purpose-Driven Preparation

Several decades ago, I became the senior pastor of a congregation which wasn’t very effective in cultivating spiritual growth. Hundreds of people were drawn to meaningful worship services, but only a fraction of the congregation participated in small group discipleship or served on a ministry team. As holy discontent gripped my heart, I read dozens of books on congregational renewal. Eventually our associate pastor and I discerned God’s call to retool our complacent congregation by adapting the purpose-driven strategy popularized by Rick Warren.

After completing our research, we asked the church’s elders to read Warren’s book. In the extensive discussions that followed, a vision for congregational renewal emerged with enthusiastic support. We still didn’t “go public” with the congregation. First, we invested many hours into personal preparation, anticipating every possible issue and obstacle. Our staff and elders held extra meetings and developed a strategic timeline. These plans would change. Yet taking the time to prepare before we embarked was exceedingly wise. We knew almost every change that was made would require “killing a sacred cow,” which would stir opposition.

The description of Nehemiah’s night ride graphically illustrates the overwhelming challenge he faced. If he had underestimated the work while in Persia, no longer could he nor his team deny the brutal facts. The walls were “broken down…the gates had been destroyed by fire.” Near the Fountain Gate the piles of rubble didn’t leave his horse any room to walk. Yet God-given hope swelled Nehemiah’s heart as he made mental notes.

Understanding to be Understood

To inspire others to build hope, leaders who’ve done their due diligence look for the God-given opportunity to cast vision—speaking words that help others visualize a preferred future. Vision-casting is far more than persuasive rhetoric. Regarding our audience, it’s crucial to “seek first to understand…then be understood.” We can gain this awareness by studying historical records and interviewing long-time participants.

Tactical silence and due diligence require a healthy measure of humility. Having holy discontent about needed change doesn’t mean that you’re prepared to deliver the remedy. The initial support of early adopters won’t necessarily sustain a project that awakens opposition. As Jim Collins wrote, “You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.” So before you embark, confront not only what is wrong…confront also what will be required. Take your own version of Nehemiah’s night ride.

Pausing before you embark can be disconcerting. Lingering on the precipice tempts you to give up before you start. Nonetheless, you do well to develop an action plan before taking the plunge.

Reality-therapy will send you to your knees. Prayer is a crucial aspect of our due diligence. Ask God to accomplish what you cannot do on your own. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminded the church: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Only with divine favor can the humble build hope.

1 Richard M. Nixon, Six Crises (New York: A Cardinal Edition: Pocket Books, 1962), p. 253
2 Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).
3 Stephen R. Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 255.
4 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York, HarperCollins, 2001), 70

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