Are Goals and Objectives Unspiritual?
Everyone wants to know... 'what's the vision?' 'Do you have a vision for Bethany?' I hear versions of the question all the time, and several events in the past months have me thinking a great deal, not about the vision, but about the way we articulate vision in churches, and more particularly, how we measure success.
Was Jim Elliot successful when, instead of his friendship evangelism leading to conversions among the Auca Indians, he died in a pool of his own blood? Are missionaries successful who work for 20 years among a people and don't see a single convert to Christianity? And if it's possible to be successful in rural Africa without having lots of converts, is it possible to be successful in urban America while producing the same dismal statistics?
It seems that the successful community of faith will be successful only to the extent that they become the physical and visible embodiment of the resurrected Christ. Thus, the presence in a particular place, of Christ's love, power, mercy, forgiveness, hope, and healing - the invitation to follow Christ - the coming together in worship to bear witness to hope -where these things are present, there's success. The trouble, of course, is that the manifestation of these things can either bring revival and hope. or can get you killed. People can either respond massively, or not at all. So the difficulty for ministry comes when we try to presume a certain level of response.
On the other hand, a lack of response might be for no other reason than that the people involved were lazy. And thus it is that "God's Will" often becomes a vieled mantra for "I'm too passive and disengaged, too apathetic and lethargic to actually do anything, so whatever happens as a result of my half-hearted efforts, I'll call that outcome "The Will of God". And with one swoop, all critics are thus silenced.
So how do we navigate these waters? I would offer two principles:
#1 - Jesus promises that those who abide in Him will bear much fruit. Thus it becomes vital that I understand what it means to abide, and that I develop practices that will lead to abiding. It is in this environment then, that I can have confidence that I'm in the stream of God's activity, but this environment is not a place of creating autonomous goals. Rather, it's a place of prayer and waiting on God. But my posture should be one of expectation: I expect that God will bring forth fruit because I'm doing my part by drawing on the resources of His life and stepping into the stream of His activity. He's directing me - and I'm going after certain things.
#2 - The nature of the fruit isn't always clearly revealed to us. I Samuel 14:9 contains that crazy little word: perhaps. Jonathan is going after a goal, but not with the absolute certainty that the goal will be fulfilled. We should do the same - we should be able to go after a vision for ministry and pour our whole hearts into it, believing that we'll be shaped by the pursuit, and that others will be blessed by our whole-hearted obedience. What happens when we're that deeply committed to a pursuit? Perhaps we'll succeed!