Why I don’t believe in mission strategy

Here’s the story of the first ten years of The Crowded House. (Actually this is already out of date as we’ve made some changes  in The Edge Network. It also does not include TCH networks outside of the UK.)

TCH History

Do you think this was the plan back in 2000 when we began? Do you think this was how we anticipated events unfolding when we started? Do you think I have an old piece of paper dated August 2000 with all these details sketched out? Of course not! We hoped congregations might grow and multiply; we I guess expected some congregations would not work out. But we didn’t have a detailed plan to which we worked. None of us could have dreamed things would turn out quite like this.

Mission is not straight-forward. It’s not predictable. It’s messy. It’s not susceptible to charts and diagrams. Opportunities open up that we didn’t anticipate, sometimes that we didn’t even look for. There are set-backs, disappointments, reversals. Mission can’t be planned beyond the next step.

Mission can’t be planned beyond the next step because people are unpredictable. We don’t know who will respond or how. In many industries you can match inputs and outputs. But in Christian ministry there’s never a neat correlation between inputs and outputs. You can’t say, ‘If I do these Bible studies with these people then I can guarantee that this is what they’ll be like at the end.’ Mission can’t be planned beyond the next step because people are unpredictable.

And mission can’t be planned beyond the next step because God is sovereign. It’s God who opens hearts to the gospel. We can’t know or predict ahead of time who will become Christians. It’s God’s work to grant faith and repentance. And often he surprise us.

God is sovereign in mission. Through the Holy Spirit he is always going on ahead of us – creating new opportunities, closing down ministries, putting people in our path, hardening hearts, softening hearts.

God is the great Mission Director. He is the great mission strategist.

In future posts I’m going to look at how this recgonition that God (and not us) is the great mission strategist plays out in the book of Acts before drawing some conclusions from it.

12 thoughts on “Why I don’t believe in mission strategy

  1. Thanks for that Tim. Couldn’t agree more.

    I was asked to come to my present local church by the Leaders because they wanted me to be the ‘Missions Director’. What a privilege … to give myself to helping a church become more missional and coordinate their foreign mission activity as well. So I left the Church at which I was the Senior Pastor to do this.

    It was not long before I changed my ‘title’ to mission coordinator or … actually I don’t call myself anything these days, just part of the family helping determine God’s leading as we put ourselves out there as community with the Gospel. Also, missionS became more, mission … as the church began to understand that we are God’s mission in the world – so missions elsewhere became merely an expression in another context of what God was doing in and through us back home.

    Anyway, the initial reason for chucking the title was that as I tried to play my role and plan what our community groups and the whole church should do – plan the mission – I found God had this really irritating habit of disregarding my brilliant ideas (I still think they were quite good) and taking people down another unforeseen route and blessing that (and I had not even thought of that)! And He did this without passing it through me first!! I mean I was the Missions Director and stood the chance of really losing face … this is what I was employed to do! Were people not going to wonder if I knew what I was doing?

    SO, YES, LET’S GET BACK TO FOLLOWING JESUS ON HIS MISSION, learning from our mistakes, and above all, not thinking we know how to do this … or we will stop listening to Him.

    Blessings from South Africa

  2. Tim,

    This is my first time commenting here. Thanks for posting this. IMHO getting a good understanding of this principle is huge as far as mission effectiveness goes. I was exposed to the teachings of Henry Blackaby early on in my Christian life. Bottom line up front: “God is always at work around you. Look for what God is doing and join Him in it.”

    I’ve recently started an evangelistic Bible study in my house with the hopes that the Lord will produce fruit from it, perhaps eventually forming a solid faith community out of it. I’ve abandoned the “demographic/sociological area study; pick a target group; gear up for a major Launch” approach. Instead I’m working from a principle somewhat like spiral software development. I plan to approach things like this:
    1) Look for where God is at work
    2) Make plans on how we’ll seek to join Him in His work
    3) Implement and act on our plan
    4) Assess the results
    5) Go back to step 1 asking, “Lord, is this still what we should be doing?”

  3. Again my first time here. I lurk here a lot. I spoke to you one lunch at Cliff a few years ago: Methodist Minister, about your age, slightly haggard, earring and I think I wound you up about eccesiology (which is not something I’m big on by the way!)- apologies.

    I really like this post and the way you are presenting this- it is making me think a lot and inducing ‘creative tension’ in me- thanks.

    Brings to mind something I learned fron Bono- I think he asked someone to pray for him to be blessed and the pastor concerned said ‘No—join in with what God is doing- it is already blessed’.

  4. Graham,

    I love that line, “No—join in with what God is doing- it is already blessed”.

    Think I might use it if ya don’t mind ;-)

  5. As people are equally unpredictable in all elements of human life, and God is sovereign over all human endeavours just as much as He is over mission; do you want to abolish planning altogether?

  6. you said “Mission can’t be planned beyond the next step because people are unpredictable” and “And mission can’t be planned beyond the next step because God is sovereign”.

    There is no doubt that you had plans, but they just didn’t turn out like you had imagined, hoped or prayed for. (maybe they were better than what you had hoped for.) That doesn’t mean that mission cannot be planned but rather IMHO, you should say “mission cannot be PREDICTED beyond the next step because people are unpredictable and God is sovereign.” We should still make plans and set goals and let God guide us.

    I’ve often found that I set plans and make goals and as I’m moving toward that goal, God guides me toward exactly what He has for me. The Apostle Paul had goals–go to this place or be supported by some church on the way to another place. Was His goal to go to Spain ungodly? Of course not. Why do I bring this up?…

    I’ve seen many people come to the same point where you seem to be and there have been, usually, two outcomes in their life: (1) they stop making plans altogether and call anyone who makes plans ungodly and working in the flesh, and they usually end up separating themselves from “that kind” of person and lose valuable friendships/relationships, or (2)they learn to find a new balance between making plans and being lead by God in how they work and learn not to hold too closely to their plans in favor of what God wants to do.

    I would encourage you to see the correlation between making goals/having a plan and God’s soveriengty/man’s unpredictability in the Book of Acts because they are intertwined so that you don’t become the first type of person I described above. Blessings brother

  7. Hi Tim,

    Our time in Brazil surely taught us that God is the best strategist for missions. But plans make people feel secure, that they are “doing” something. Proverbs reminds us that “man plans but God gives the outcome”. It has to be said that some church leaderships do not appreciate God changing their agenda. And the issues of field/home control of what goes on in overseas missions (which William Carey and Hudson Taylor both experienced) are still problematic today. It’s pretty scary to trust God’s direction, especially when it involves living through apparent disasters, but the New Testament becomes more real as one lives through the ups and downs of unplanned events. In fact it can be exhilarating, so much so that returning to “normal” church life in Britain has seemed almost boring. I am struggling to believe that there is any dependence on the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit in event driven evangelism planned and efficiently executed, the new invitation evangelism to ‘do courses’, and the new emphasis on needing to have the Bible explained by an intermediary because it is ‘such a difficult book to get into’. But then, as Tozer wrote,

    “The essence of true religion is spontaneity, the sovereign movings of the Holy Spirit upon and in the free spirit of redeemed men. This has through the years of human history been the hall mark of spiritual excellency, the evidence of reality in a world of unreality.
    When religion loses its sovereign character and becomes mere form, this spontaneity is lost also, and in its place come precedent, propriety, system – and the file-card mentality.
    Back of the file-card mentality is the belief that spirituality can be organized. Then is introduced into religion those ideas which never belong there – numbers, statistics, the law of averages, and other such natural and human things. And creeping death always follows.”

    I hope your contribution will awaken many to the joy of being surprised by God’s strategies.

  8. Pingback: Mission planning in Acts « Tim Chester

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  10. Appreciate this reminder, thanks. Every once in awhile when someone asks what our church plant plan, timeline and strategy is, I have to stifle laughter before I outline “what we’re aiming for.”

  11. Pingback: Wycliffe: How Teachable Behaviors can get you to a goal with very little Strategic Planning.

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