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  • Writer's pictureRichard Jones

Strategic Planning and the Call of the Holy Spirit

Author: Richard Jones, President, Maritime Christian College



Over the past twenty-five years of my business and ministry career, I have been involved in strategic planning for many different organizations.  The size and type of organizations have ranged from multi-billion-dollar enterprises, early-stage information technology startups of only a few people, local charities, Christian ministries, and local churches (including my home church where I have served as an elder for twenty years).  I have also been engaged as a “startup coach” for hundreds of different technology startups during their early formation and market development stage.


Even though I have been involved in an extensive amount of strategic planning initiatives in my career, what I have learned in the past five years about strategic planning for faith-based organizations has significantly changed the way I approach it now.  I’d like to share my learnings with you so you can apply them effectively to your organization, your ministry, and your church.     


First, let’s be clear on a couple of definitions.  Corporate strategy refers to a companywide approach aligned with the organization’s vision and objectives. Its aim is to create value by considering the overall nature, ecosystem, and ambition of the company. This strategy optimizes resource utilization and allocation across the firm[1].   In essence, it’s about creating specific business strategies, implementing them, and evaluating results in line with an organization’s overall objectives[2].


Late spring and early summer is a season in the higher education world where there is generally a lot of planning and preparation going on for the next academic year that starts in September.  At Maritime Christian College, our staff is working diligently to execute on several new initiatives we have recently announced. These initiatives are a result of feedback we have sought from students, leaders of churches, and supporters of MCC over the past couple of years.  While it is exciting to see these new initiatives take root and be offered to students, it comes with a reminder that the higher education industry, and especially the Christian higher education sector, is facing unprecedented times of change, uncertainty, and opportunity.  In fact, it is often hard to discern whether a new idea is a threat to our existing model, or an opportunity to advance our mission. Sometimes it is both a threat and an opportunity!


Like all Christian higher education organizations in North America, MCC is attempting to navigate the extreme uncertainty of the past five years in the Christian higher education marketplace.  MCC’s Board and staff have spent countless hours on strategic planning efforts over that time period to chart a path forward that would allow us to fulfill our mission of equipping men and women for Christian service, while recognizing that the methods the College has used in the past for doing that equipping won’t lead us into the future. 



Here’s an example of that strategic planning in action at Maritime Christian College.  In the latest version of the Messenger, Maritime Christian College’s quarterly newsletter, I referenced a new Certificate we are launching this September, called Disciple Maker’s Path. This course is being offered to respond to feedback from MCC supporters, students, and church leaders that there is a need for an entry-level Certificate to help followers of Jesus understand the what, the how, and the why of sharing the truth of the Gospel of Jesus with others in their lives.  We call this Certificate a practical “tool kit” of disciple making essentials.  Each of the three courses in the program are of 8 weeks duration and the entire Certificate can be completed in less than one year. MCC designed this course for people who aren’t ready to commit to an undergraduate level of academic study that is found in our regular 13-week Certificate courses.  I encourage you to read more about it from our website at www.mccpei.com/disciple-makers-path.


In 2022 Maritime Christian College made a decision to develop a new Master of Arts (MA) program that focused on disciple making.  We immediately started working on developing this program and recruiting the first students, and we expect our first graduates at the end of 2024 in our Master of Arts in Disciple Making & Ministry Leadership program.  We are excited by the impact these first graduates will have on the ministries they are currently leading and the new ministries they will be leading in the future.  We are recruiting a new cohort of students to start this MA program and are offering two courses in September. 


In fact, all of the degree programs and certificates that Maritime Christian College is offering in the fall of 2024 did not exist in January 2020.  Over the past four years MCC has completely redesigned its programming to focus on the theology and practical application of disciple making.  But even this significant undertaking is not going to stay unchanged if MCC is to thrive in the future.


One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about strategic planning in the past five years comes from following the example of the leaders at an influential first century church mentioned in the Bible. I believe we need to adopt the posture of the leaders of the church in Antioch in the first century when presented with a clear calling from the Holy Spirit.


The following passage of Scripture deserves to be the default for 21st century strategic planning for churches and organizations that support churches, like MCC.  It is from the book of Acts, chapter 13:


1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 he two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (NIV)


This act of the Holy Spirit calling Barnabas and Paul (Saul) to leave Antioch was the start of what we traditionally call Paul’s first missionary journey.  It was the first of four missionary journeys recorded in Acts that Paul took.  These journeys took Paul far from his home territory in the eastern Mediterranean area – eventually all the way to Rome – and were the catalyst to spreading the Gospel in an unprecedented burst of disciple making.  I suspect Paul didn’t have a clue about the vast distances the Lord would be sending him when he and Barnabas started out on this first journey. 


But notice this point from Acts 13:  the Holy Spirit called them and they were sent on their way by the Spirit.  Paul and Barnabas were faithful and obedient to the calling they received from the Lord, even when they couldn’t clearly see the road ahead and the incredible journeys that lay ahead of them (especially for Paul). 


I mentioned at the start of this article that MCC is busy preparing for the fall 2024 semester.  At the same time, our Board and staff are also looking past this fall to discern the direction of the Holy Spirit for the next season of helping make disciples.  The Spirit seems to be bringing new opportunities to our door that we have previously not been aware of.  We are praying about these opportunities for expanding MCC’s higher education programs into new areas with students we have never been able to effectively engage.


Like Barnabas and Paul in Antioch, we are trying to go where the Spirit is leading us. 


That desire to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit takes me to something that I have been sharing with MCC’s Board of Directors for several years about our strategic planning process.  It is from an excellent article by John Pellowe, CEO Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, titled “Characteristics of a Faithful Strategy”[3] (emphasis mine):


1.  It invites God into the Process
  • The ministry belongs to God

  • As leaders, we are stewarding the ministry on God’s behalf

  • Our stewardship needs to reflect the ways of the owner


2.  It uses both Godly wisdom & human wisdom
  • Human wisdom comes from the gifts & abilities God gave us (it is not worldly wisdom)

  • Human wisdom is good but it is not enough

  • Godly wisdom is discerned through biblical theological reflection


3.  It is alive to the Spirit
  • It is the Spirit who keeps the church fresh, relevant, and ever-renewing

  • The message is always the same, but the methods can and do change

  • Ministries must be responsive to new opportunities as they arise

  • The strategic plan is not the master of your ministry but is a servant to it


4.  It leaves room for God
  • Our plans need to be big enough for God to contribute what only he can contribute

  • A bold strategy that isn't a sure thing might just be what God wants to support!

  • This discussion is about risk, vision, boldness, and courage


5. It models God’s character
  • We are committed to sound Biblical doctrine and obedience to it

  • Our adherence to doctrine should also model God’s character traits like love, grace, and compassion

 

Here is a quote from John Pellowe’s article that I feel is very appropriate for organizations like MCC that are operating in an environment of extreme uncertainty in this third decade of the 21st century: 

 

“Ministries with faithful strategies will not only have good strategic planning in place but they will also have a strategy that pleases God and attracts staff and volunteers who want to serve in a ministry which is thoroughly Christian in word and deed.”


Another excellent resource on strategic planning and being open to following the lead of the Holy Spirit is from a book that Maritime Christian College uses in one of our courses.  It is a book called The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, by Gary Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley Kilmer:


Prayerful strategic planning is a process of faith that is filled, led, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, where we as ministry leaders seek together to hear God’s voice and discern His will regarding the future in a way that enables us to pursue kingdom outcomes with organizational passion (unity of vision) and Christ-like excellence (obediently offering our very best).[4]


Here is the major learning I’ve gotten in the past five years of working on strategic planning at Maritime Christian College:  when you truly set your heart on prayer and fasting to discern what the Holy Spirit wants to tell you, you need to be prepared to go where he calls you. It is almost certain to be challenging and to require a leap of faith for your leaders to commit to the journey.  Based on my experience, the Holy Spirit may be calling you to start out in a direction you don’t even want to go! 


It is perfectly fine to use man-made strategic planning tools to help guide discussion among the leaders of your organization.  I have used many different methods and tools to help develop and implement strategy.  At Maritime Christian College we are currently using the “Objectives & Key Results” framework for our planning and execution.  But none of these approaches should be used in a “silo” separate from the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It starts with prayer and fasting to seek the Holy Spirit’s calling, and then taking the next step of faith once you and your leaders have discerned that calling.


I will close with an encouragement to those of us leading Christian organizations.  Let’s commit to think and act strategically just like the early church leaders in Antioch, who were worshipping, praying, and fasting and who courageously answered the call to make disciples of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.



[1] https://www.wallstreetmojo.com/corporate-strategy/ article by Prakhar Gajendrakar, March  20, 2024

[3] Faithful Strategy: Working God’s Way, John Pellowe, Canadian Centre for Christian Charities, 2022

[4] The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes, Gary Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, Wesley K. Wilmer, 2015, p. 65-67




Photo Credits:

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash



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