PLANNING & Avoiding Missteps When Picking a Program by Preference, Popularity or Scripture

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/9/15.

In a previous post I suggested a SWOT analysis is a simple tool for picking programs that is better than the typical trial-and-error way most ministries pick tactics.

Let me explain what this exercise was designed to drive home. And that is that we often pick strategies because of a preference for that strategy, because a strategy is popular or because someone has tried to tie the strategy to a specific scripture.

Therefore, I made up a short three answer question to stir discussion.  As you remember, Baumhart (quoted in the section on ethics in The Church Leader’s MBA) found that business leaders gave similar answers when asked how they made their ethical decisions.  Here is what Baumhart found (1968, pp. 11-12):

Baumhart asked: “What does ethical mean to you?”  The answers he received were:

1)  What my feelings tell me is right.  50%

2)  In accordance with my religious beliefs. 25%

3)  Based on the Golden Rule. 18%

Here is the rationale given by Baumhart why these are ineffective ways to choose ethical behavior:

1) Baumhart explained that feelings were an inconsistent guide to the right choice.

2) Baumhart also emphasized that great injustices (slavery, bigotry, murder, infanticide, etc.) have been done in the name of religion. Thus, religious beliefs are sometimes not suitable guides to right choices.

3) Finally, the Golden Rule is not a good guide to right choices because it is often used in a negative form (“do not hurt others if you do not want them to hurt you”).

My earlier posting on ethics was designed to get you to see that all three (3) of the answers are helpful to a degree, but not “definitive” when picking a strategy.  Let me explain by analyzing each of the responses.

How do you choose programs for your ministry? (Possible answers are below.)

1)  What my feelings tell me are right.

As we saw with ethics, your feelings are an inconsistent guide to making choices.  How many of us have been excited and passionate about a strategy because we primarily “feel good” about it?  Often when I ask pastors why they choose a strategy, they will say “I just felt it would work for us.”  Now, there is definitely a possibility that this is a leading of the Holy Spirit bearing testimony upon our heart (e.g. Rom. 8:14-16).  But feelings can also be misleading, as a Judge for Israel (Samson) found out when he spied a beautiful, yet forbidden, Philistine woman (Judges 14) and cried out in covetousness, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife” (Judges 14:2).

2)  In accordance with what my local friends in the ministry think is best.

Often we think that because our ministry friends think a strategy is right, then it is good for us.  But because friends do not know your unique situation like you do, their advice can be unconstructive.

3)  Based upon a Scriptural passage.

There are many good Scriptural principles for strategic tactics (for instance caring for the needy which might result in a clothing shelf).  But Scriptural principles alone can be insufficient to determine if a strategy is right for your church.

Still, most people just choose a strategy based upon their preference, its popularity and/or Scripture and try it out to see if it works. The leaders recruit volunteers, get them enthused about the idea, get them involved and then the leader watches to see if the idea succeeds.  If it doesn’t, the leader ends the program and moves on.

But I have found that many good volunteers are hurt in this process. They have been inspired and stirred to action to do this new tactic, and then when it is ended because it was not suitable in the first place, they can feel duped and discarded.

Thus, use this discussion to start thinking about the process of strategy selection. But please don’t stop there!  Hours of volunteer time and treasures are at stake.  Also use management tools to discover if a strategy matches up with your SWOT.

A helpful tool is a Quantitative Strategic Planning Matrix (QSPM).  It’s a long name for a helpful comparison tool.  A QSPM can save your volunteers many hours of wasted time, by helping your church concentrate on those strategies that have the greatest change of building upon your strengths, opportunities while minimizing your weaknesses and threats.

Baumhart, R. (1968). An honest profit: What businessmen say about ethics in business. New York: Holt, Reinhart and Wilson.