When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:37-38
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 1 Corinthians 15:51
I am no visionary. I am the first to admit it. I am envious of those who are visionaries. I’m pretty quick to admit that as well. I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.” I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen. So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed. And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.
I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity. You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men. When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan. If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently once God’s transformational activity begins.
That is why I love the metaphor of “planting” a church. There may be some predictable activity associated with planting a seed, but as for the transformation of the seedling into the sprout and then into the flourishing plant, it is all still more mystery to us than science. And there is nothing about the appearance of the seed that would give you any clue at all as to the ultimate appearance of the plant. God is unpredictable that way. And “planting” a church works that same way. Ask anyone who has been truly successful at planting them…he/she will share story after story of how God moved in totally unexpected ways to bring about results which were not on anyone’s radar screen. Ultimately, the church ends up looking very little like the original dream.
And so, the church growth testimonies which stir our hearts are not so much the ones which were totally predicted by their leaders; rather, they are the stories about huge, God-sized, unexpected things happening and a church which simply followed God’s activity. And while we applaud the visionary and the clearly-articulated and well-implemented ministry vision, what moves us is the unmistakable transforming work of the Spirit.
Please don’t hear me saying strategic planning and vision-casting are wrong, even in the slightest. I believe they are critical. But the real work, the truest tack for God’s people, is learning to rightly discern the work of the Spirit among us and then mobilizing to join in that direction. After all, in the end, the clearest evidence of God’s work among us is that none of us envisioned the transformation He would bring about. His ways…His thoughts…don’t look anything like ours.