For many the term “strategy” sounds very unspiritual and not something a ministry leader should be concerned with. After all, when you read the Bible, you will not find a verse that encourages pastors to be strategists, nor will you find “strategic” listed in the qualifications of a pastor. A church needs godly, biblical, Spirit-filled leadership much, much more than a church needs strategic leadership. Spiritual leadership must trump strategic leadership.
But a church can benefit from both spiritual and strategic leadership. The latter must not overpower the former, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
When a ministry leader leads well, the ministry leader will give strategic direction (even if a different term is used). Leadership is embedded in the very definition of what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of God’s people. Shepherds lead the sheep. The apostle Paul instructed the pastors in Ephesus to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). In his letter to Titus, he called the overseer “God’s administrator” (Titus 1:7). The apostle Peter encouraged the elders to “shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely” (1 Peter 5:2). In other words, both Paul and Peter saw a tight connection between shepherding and overseeing. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
A pastor is a man who is given charge of souls. He is not merely a nice, pleasant man who visits people and has an afternoon cup of tea with them, or passes the time of day with them. He is the guardian, the custodian, the protector, the organizer, the director, and the ruler of the flock.
To organize and direct the flock well requires ministry strategy. Strategy can sound very overwhelming, so here are three ways to define and demystify strategy:
1. Strategy is how the mission is accomplished.
Mission is the what; strategy is the how. Mission is what an organization is about, and strategy is how the mission is accomplished on the broadest level. Mission is what a ministry is on the planet to accomplish, and strategy is how a group is organized to accomplish the mission. With that definition in mind, ministry leaders must provide clarity on how a church is going to accomplish the mission of making disciples.
2. Strategy is resource allocation
On strategy, Jack Welch wrote, “Strategy is simply resource allocation. When you strip away all the noise, that’s what it comes down to…you cannot be everything to everybody, no matter how deep its pockets.” Wise leaders align the investment of resources to the strategy, to how the mission is accomplished. God, who owns everything, entrusts a limited amount of resources to ministry leaders. These should be leveraged wisely against the strategy.
3. Strategy is making choices.
Renowned consultant on strategy, Michael Porter, has emphasized that strategy is about making choices, about making trade-off decisions. As an example, IKEA is known for making the trade-off decision of offering great prices over offering great service. It is not that they de-value service, but they have chosen to value “low cost” more. This strategic choice impacts organizational behavior, as any good strategy does. In their physical stores, they have chosen a self-service model over a highly staffed model with sales associates interacting with customers on every aisle. They understood the “trade-offs” and made a strategic choice that has deep implications for the company.
Church leaders make strategic choices too. And often we need to do a better job understanding the implications of our choices. Some examples:
- Churches with “on-campus” groups typically have more adults in groups than those with “off-campus” groups. Of course, “off campus” groups advocate their groups are closer because group time is not rushed. While the downside of either approach can be minimized, this is a trade-off decision.
- Churches with large choirs sometimes advocate the adult worship venue is greatly enhanced by the additional leadership. Churches without them sometimes advocate they need as many of those adults serving in the kids ministry or student ministry. While a church can do both, this is a trade-off decision and implications must be understood.
Instead of strategy being seen as this elusive, nebulous, or mystical concept, view it as simply the how of the mission. When the how is clear, leaders can align resources to the ministry strategy and more wisely make choices that are in line with the articulated strategy.