“To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” That’s a nice, catchy cliche, huh? Here’s another: “It’s good to plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.” Here’s the best one: “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”
I “planned” for our staff at FUMC, Monroe to go on a planning retreat yesterday. We did. The Holy Spirit, however, decided to throw me a curveball. Oh, we went on the retreat, but the Holy Spirit started pitching very early in the morning.
The first pitch came during my devotional time. As part of my devotional routine each day, I include a reading from Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. The very first sentence of yesterday’s devotional was “You will not find my peace by engaging in excessive planning: attempting to control what will happen to you in the future.”
I think I struck out on one pitch. The rest of my morning was off balance. I knew that we should go away from the office, away from the phone calls, away from the distractions, and reflect on ministry. Isn’t that what church staffs are supposed to do? Yet, I heard the Holy Spirit saying very early in the morning that we can rely too much on our own plans, as if our planning is what makes all the difference.
I had “planned” a very specific course of action for the day away. I had an idea of what I wanted to accomplish in our time together. I really wanted to come away from the time with a “plan” for ministry for the year 2014. What would be a theme? What would be some ideas for sermon series? What studies would we plan? That was the “plan.” But, God had other plans. The day became a day of reflection for us. We brainstormed. We talked. We named our strengths. We named our weaknesses. We identified some potential opportunities. We acknowledged some threats. We ate. We laughed. And, at the end of the day, we had one idea.
One idea. All day away, and we came up with one idea. It’s not what I was planning to accomplish, but maybe it was all we needed to accomplish. Maybe that’s the one idea God wanted us to discover yesterday. It’s not helpful that I still have sermon planning and study planning to do, but at least we have one idea (no, I’m not going to tell you what the idea is–our staff knows, we’ll roll it out soon enough) as we move into the new year.
My plans are just that–my plans. I’m quite sure the man in Luke 12 wasn’t planning on dying when he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. That’s what we do way too often. We make our plans and then ask God to bless them. All the while God’s got other plans. I wonder if that’s why too many congregations struggle. Rather than looking for what God is doing and going to join Him in doing it, we decide what we want to do, and then ask God to come go along with us, and we sure would appreciate His blessing along the way. But, whether He chooses to bless it or not, we’re often so obstinate that we continue to do it anyway.
So many congregations plan the same ministries year in and year out. If we just work a little harder this year. If we just do a better job of communicating to the congregation and community. If we could just get people more committed. If we had more workers. If, if, if…and we never realize, it’s not the lack of hard work (the church has plenty of hard workers), it’s not the lack of communication (okay, sometimes it is), it’s not a lack of commitment. Our failure comes in refusing to listen to the Holy Spirit. Our failure comes in taking our plans and laying them out and failing to hear where God is actually leading us. Perhaps we don’t hear because we don’t even ask.
I know this probably sounds a bit self-righteous, but I think I got one right yesterday (even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes). I woke up with one plan, and God totally changed that plan. For some reason, I think He confirmed it for me this morning. For years, I have read Our Daily Bread as part of my morning devotional. Would you like to know what the title of this morning’s devotion was? God Had Other Plans! There is a sentence at the end of the devotion that sums up the whole planning and doing process: “Write your plans in pencil and remember that God has the eraser.” That is keenly akin to what Dwight Eisenhower said, ““In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Planning, for those is congregational leadership, is indispensable, even if the plans end up being totally useless. It’s all in God’s hands anyway.
Until next time, keep looking up…