Friday, February 6, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

Posted by Jack

One of the most common questions I get here at the house goes something like this: “What are your plans?”

Everywhere I go, there is someone with a deep interest in what we are doing in Springfield, and they often frame their interest in a question about our plans.

Several folks were even pushing me to write a 6 month plan, a 1 year plan, and a 5 year plan for the growth and development of our community.

I don’t fault people for this. I genuinely appreciate their interest in us, and I admire their efforts to make us articulate just what it is we are trying to do.

But the further into this thing I get, the less I am able to answer such questions.

I decided to take a moment and clarify our long term plans, but I found out that it is much harder than it used to be.

I’ll give it a try. Here goes…

We are going to live here in Springfield and look for ways to be good neighbors. There are certain exercises we take part in as attempts to follow Jesus. We hold certain values and ideas in common… and… we live each day with these in mind.

I’ve been telling people that, but some of them do not seem impressed. Some of them want me to map out the number of gospel presentations we are going to have this coming month. Some want me to plan a certain number of interactions with non-believers. Some want me to create extensive strategies for reaching the entire city.

As important as such results may be, I wonder if they are well-suited for this project. Certainly, there are ways that we want to live differently than others, and there are even objectives that we wish to accomplish. But when we phrase these things in numbers and timetables, we often do harm to our neighbors.

I’ve been comparing this unlikely project of ours to a dating relationship in hopes of illustrating what I mean.

Imagine you are on a date with the girl of your dreams (or guy of your dreams if that’s your thing). The two of you just recently met, but it was that clichéd type of love at first sight, where you both have really strong feelings for one another. Imagine the two of you are seated together in a fancy restaurant, listening to soft violin music and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes through the romantic glow of candle light. You smile at her seductively, pour her a glass of wine, and reach into the breast pocket of your tuxedo.

“My love,” you say as you read from the page in front of you, “you mean the world to me. I love you more than life itself. Now, here is a copy of my 6 month plan, my 1 year plan, and my 5 year plan for this relationship. Here is my list of objectives for dating you, here are the goals we should hold in common, and here is my strategic plan for implementing these initiatives.”

We just don’t operate that way (at least, most of us don’t). The same thing is true for friendships. We don’t make new friends, then hand them a list of goals, do we?

Here at the house, we are not so much seeking to launch a new ministry project; we are simply trying to live out our faith. We are not leading any strategic initiatives; we just want an alternative lifestyle.

The flip side of asking for plans is asking for results. Some folks ask about our plans, but others ask us what we have accomplished. Certain folks have even asked for quantitative data to document our progress. Again, this is admirable… but it gets messy.

Going back to our dating scenario, how would we react if someone asked a young woman to measure the quality of her relationship with her fiancé based on the number of conversations she had with him? Or if she were required to evaluate the success of their relationship on the basis of dinners per month, or date nights per week?

I was talking to this really shady character named Derek Hostetter, and we discussed the silliness of goals. Do we really accomplish anything healthy by setting “goals”? We either set ourselves up for phony failure or phony success. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say I set the goal of sharing the gospel message with 10 people this month (I’ll never do such a thing, but let’s just pretend). What does that accomplish? If I meet my goal of 10 people, I may get some smug satisfaction of reaching the self-imposed standard I arbitrarily set. Then I may feel successful, but only when I compare my performance to the standard I invented. If I only succeed in witnessing to 9 people, I may feel bad for not meeting that arbitrary standard, forgetting about the faithfulness I demonstrated through the interaction with the 9 people I did meet.

Whether I meet the goal of 10 people or not, my feelings of success or failure are not based on whether or not I was faithful as a disciple of Jesus; they are based on the standard I myself set forth in my “ministry plan.”

I am reminded of the old (but amazingly wise) saying, “Jesus does not call us to success; He calls us to faithfulness.” We should be focused on following Jesus, and of course, sometimes that includes some detailed planning. But we must not delude ourselves into believing that we can become a “success” by living up to the rules we invent.

And in the context of relationships, who can say what “success” is anyway? By its very definition, community involves the desires, hopes, dreams, and goals of all the members, not just the chosen few on the planning committee.

I feel like the church at large has bought into the lie that productivity is more important than closeness. I feel like we have begun to value efficiency over authenticity. We’ve allowed ourselves to become satisfied with quantitative goals instead of meaningful interaction, and we’ve convinced ourselves that “real ministry” requires detailed planning, strategizing, and goal setting. We have elevated success over faithfulness and exchanged personal integrity for selfish comparisons.

Jesus never said, “They will know you by your productivity.” But He did say, “They will know you by your love.”

Jesus never said, “Measure your status as a follower in relation to others around you.” But He did say, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Jesus never said, “Chart a course and meet me there.” But He did say, “Come follow me.”

Maybe we should be more about taking intentional steps to follow Jesus and less about measuring our progress in relation to others.

Maybe we should be more about looking forward in anticipation and less about looking back in appraisal.

Maybe we should be more about heading in the right direction and less about counting the steps.

Does that mean that we are going to drift along aimlessly with no regard for the manner in which we are walking? Or that we will never aspire to do certain concrete things? Absolutely not. We plan to be very intentional about the lives we lead.

However, any “progress reports” we might generate will be messy and complicated. Because, it’s impossible to quantify relationships. It’s even harder to put an emerging kingdom into numbers. And we’re okay with that.

Five year plan accomplished.


Joseph Bolander said...

that is one of the best five year plans i have ever heard.

derek said...

you already know about my support of your 5 yr plan, but a little more encouragement never hurts :) well-stated post.

Sharon said...

Sweet. And even sweeter is the fact that He paid the price for y'all, so when you mess up as you inevitably will, you're not-condemned. AND cooler still is that relationships you build DO have a purpose, and that purpose is to show Jesus Christ Himself, Who lived the life we couldn't, so we could be human like we were created to be.

You don't need a "quantifiable" ministry plan, because there already is one. Jesus Christ Himself bought Springfield, and calls all people there to repentance and faith in Him. And one day, EVERY knee will bow to Him, in Springfield and everywhere else. And it's not up to you to make it happen. You just have to be faithful in your sphere of influence now.

Sweetness abounding. :)