“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”

Dwight. D. Eisnehower

“Winging it” is not an acceptable ministry strategy. Show me a leader who doesn’t spend time planning and I’ll show you an ineffective leader. Planning is one of the most effective uses of a time for leaders because it sharpens their focus on what is really important, helps them to creatively solve problems, and forces them to consider how to do good works and serve others.

Unfortunately, some Christians think that planning is a waste of time at best or ungodly at worst. An emphasis on planning can seem to be a denial of God’s sovereignty or an inhibition to movements of the Spirit. Probably the most compelling evidence against planning is the presence of control freaks in ministry. You know, those who freak out if anything deviates from the plan. Unwilling to adapt on the fly, they make life miserable for everyone around them because they refuse to dismount the dead horse, the failed plan. Being a control freak, however, is an attitude problem, not a planning problem.

Instead of striving for control, wise leaders know they must always ALWAYS submit their plans to the Lord’s plan. Before every planning session, I try to pray this prayer: “Lord, I am submitting my plans to your plan today.” Wise leaders also account for the unexpected. Life happens. Stuff comes up. God moves us in a different direction. Wise leaders know they must have back up plans and enough space in their schedules to be flexible. Therefore, planning is not all bad. In fact, the Bible is actually in favor of planning:

“Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22)

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5)

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

What Kinds of Plans Do Leaders Need to Make?

Planning is really just attempting to live out Paul’s admonition to make the most of our time for God’s glory. Therefore, wise leaders make plans for their ministries. What kinds of plans do we need to make as ministry leaders? There are three kinds: quarterly, weekly, and daily.

1. Quarterly Planning (aka Strategic Planning)

Quarterly Plans (aka Strategic Plans) are the highest-level plans you’d have for your Area, Group, or Team. The purpose of the Quarterly Plan is to reflect on your ministry’s core values and priorities and ask yourself, “What do we want to work on over the next 12 weeks?” For example, you may seek to improve the systems of your ministry, or work on crafting the culture of your Group. Your Quarterly Plan is to think strategically about your ministry and how you will make more and better disciples who make disciples of Jesus.

You don’t need a lot of sophisticated tools for Quarterly Plans. A piece of paper and a pen or a Word Doc will do. Sometimes having a white board to brainstorm ideas is helpful as well. The point of the Quarterly Plan is to think about how to make progress on important projects. Here’s an example of my Quarterly Plan:

How do go about making a Quarterly Plan? It can be helpful to set aside a couple of hours to pray and reflect on the following questions:

  • What are the biggest wins for the ministry the past quarter?
  • What were the biggest problems we encountered this past quarter? 
  • How are our priorities and projects coming along? 
  • What are our core values as a ministry? Are these being expressed?
  • Look Ahead: Next 3 (or so) Months
    • What are the major projects/deadlines for things?
    • Big events?
    • Reflection time?

Caveat: You don’t need to work in 12-week quarters. You could break up your year really any way you want. For some of you, it may work better to plan by “semesters,” following the school calendar(Jan-June; July-Aug; Sept-Dec). Or it may work better to work in 8 week sets. Or you may need to come up with whatever cycle best works for your situation.

2. Weekly Planning

Weekly Planning is BY FAR the most effective way to plan I have found. If you haven’t really developed a habit of planning, start with weekly planning. Weekly planning is so effective because it forces you to really reckon with the time you have in your week. Without a plan, leaders can too often try to accomplish more than is humanly possible, cramming their weeks so full with no real accounting of how they use their time. Weekly Planning also ensures that your highest priorities can put on the schedule first. Here’s my method for weekly planning.

If you have a Quarterly Plan, you’ll then translate your Quarterly Plan down to the Weekly Planning, thinking about how to make progress on your high-level goals. For example, let’s say that one of your priorities on your Quarterly Plan is develop three new leaders in the next 12 weeks. To make such a priority a reality, you would then have to plan in time every week to work on developing leaders. Weekly Planning would help make the Quarterly Plans a reality.

3. Daily Planning

Daily Planning is the habit of giving every minute of the day a job. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have sat down at my desk to “do some work,” only to putz around on email for 40 minutes. Without clarity of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it, we can often struggle to make meaningful progress on important things. One of the best methods for planning your day is called time blocking.

I can imagine that one of the objections to daily planning is that it sounds like you’ll turn into an inflexible robot. But being inflexible is, again, an attitude problem, not a planning problem. The plain reality is that your day is going to be controlled by something. You will either be a slave to your calendar, or to chaos.

Of course, we cannot plan out all the randomness of life. But what I love about time block daily planning is that it forces me to be accountable for my choices. Too often, we try to have it all. We try to work WAYYY too much and have an amazing career. We often try to burn the candle at both ends, overcommitting ourselves. So what time blocking does is create forced accountability. If I say “YES” to this meeting, when I have time to write and research blocked in, when am I going to make up for it?

Redeem the Time

Effective leaders plan. They seek to “redeem the time” that God has given them. Of course, as the Dwight D. Eisenhower quote above alludes to, things (usually) don’t go exactly according to plan. That’s ok. That’s life. But it’s better to head into the unpredictability and complexity of life with a plan than no plan at all. Even better is to always submit our plans to God bigger plan. He will guide us and direct us to accomplish His plan, and he may even use our plans to do it.

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