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Gods will in the planning and the pivot

This year our collective vocabulary has grown to include the words; unprecedented, disruption and pivot. With most indications pointing to these words being embedded within the cultural vernacular, and as we approach the planning season for the new year, I wonder what it looks like to strategize in times of unprecedented disruption that requires constant pivoting? 

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps. (Prov 16:9) 

Planning is good. It brings order out of the chaos and focuses our attention. The author of the proverb doesn’t dismiss the need for planning, but rather, provides a timely reminder that God is present and performing in the action that follows. So, what does it look like to consider God’s will and desire in the planning and in the pivot? 

In the Baptist Ministry Team (BMT), I’ve observed 3 lessons from leading during COVID that could be carried into 2021 and aid in the development of an agile approach to leadership and ministry. 

1. Building flexibility into roles 

Most roles and areas of responsibility for people during COVID have been in a state of flux, as organisations pivoted what they did. In the church, Pastors became tele-evangelists or regular TED speakers, while the tech team began to resemble a media production company or online streaming service.  

In the early days of this disruption, ambiguity and adaptability were to be anticipated but after an extended period of uncertainty people need clarity around what they are expected to do and how it fits within the future direction of the church. I wonder if this lack of clarity around vision, roles and responsibility is a contributing factor in the weaning commitment that churches are experiencing with ministry leaders and volunteers. It is certainly a challenge for the Pastors I speak with, who find a complete mismatch between their Position Description (PD) and the new reality of ministry. 

So, if this hasn’t happened already, it’s time for leadership teams to consider: 

  1. Locating the PDs of staff, ministry leaders and volunteers.
  2. Opening up a conversation around what people are actually doing.
  3. Collaboratively discerning what new strengths have emerged in our teams and what are the roles needed to build the church up into the next phase of ministry and mission.
  4. Updating or creating new org charts and PD’s to reflect what people do with their time and where this fits in the future direction of the church.
  5. Develop a culture of adaptability and accountability through the language used, questions asked, and rhythms practiced. 

Point 5 is critical to building flexibility into roles. Reallocating human resources is an important short and long-term response to the COVID pandemic but should be done intentionally, with clear communication, expectations and regular opportunities for review. Regular diarised occasions where people or teams are encouraged to reflect and provide feedback to the leadership on the roles will help with making informed decisions about the health and direction of the church. 

2. Empowering agile working groups 

Agile is a bit of a buzz word, too. An agile working group is a cross-functional team that has everything and everyone necessary to move a process, project, program or product forward.  

Coming out of the Leadership Team strategic retreat in 2019, the BMT were already moving toward this approach with our 4C’s framework (Collaboration, Consultation, Communication and Community) but the value of these cross-functional working groups became increasingly evident during the COVID-19 restrictions.  

Like most organisations and churches, our office experienced the disruption of lockdown with people working from home (WFH). A challenge that presents itself with this mode of working is that planning, and activity can become siloed and fail to affect any meaningful change. And yet, the alternative is also a barrier to growth; where everyone is involved in everything. (This sounds like a tension that I experienced in local church ministry too; siloed staff teams/departments or every decision going to a congregational vote!)  

An agile working group combines the accountability and efficiency of being small with the perspective and capacity of diversity. This is true collaboration. These groups meet regularly for short meetings to work towards an outcome using the action and reflection framework laid out in the Cycle of Discovery: I see (observe), I think (reflect), I wonder (dream), I will (act).  

In planning for 2021, churches could discern what outcomes God is placing before them and empower different agile working groups to pursue this through iterative processes of action and reflection. 

3. Ways to make informed decisions

COVID has also had an influence on the method and speed of decision making. The way we measure the impact has been turned upside-down too. This can lead to ignorant decisions, decision paralysis and/or decision fatigue. So, what practices could help with making decisions in an informed way? 

  • Discerning the counsel of the Spirit in community 
  • Naming the elephant(s) in the room 
  • Asking questions instead of making assumptions 
  • Including different perspectives not opinions 
  • Stepping out regularly to look in 

The Cycle of Discovery is a useful tool that provides a framework for making decisions in an informed and iterative method. It can be used in both an inductive and deductive way: 

  • An inductive approach starts with a list of observations and moves through gaining perspectives to a decision. It then starts the cycle again by reflecting on the results. 
  • A deductive approach begins with a questions or desired outcome and then moves to gathering evidence and perspective before arriving at a decision and then reflection.  

While it may seem impossible to make plans for next week, let alone next year, this is not the case. Planning has always been possible. The challenge is (and has always been) surrendering the action and outcome that follow to the LORD. What if God is using this time of unprecedented disruption to develop practices in His church that allows us to stay in step with the Spirit and remain curious to the new thing God is doing?  

Written by Jamie Freeman, Team Leader Gen1k Mission