Home > Brian's Blogs, Missional Church > The Present Future: Planning to Preparation

The Present Future: Planning to Preparation

I’ve taken several weeks off from Reggie McNeal’s The Present Future, but in the next week I want to finish up the final two “new realities” for the church in the twenty-first-century. Today is new reality number five: the shift from planning to preparation.

Before I begin, since it has been so long since I’ve written on this great book, here is a review of where we’ve been:

The discussion in this chapter is very similar to the discussion of adaptive and technical challenges. Technical challenges are predictable, well-known, and its solutions are readily available. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, are new challenges that require new solutions (new ways of thinking, behaving, etc).  For a simple example of an adaptive challenge, consider the evolution of the internet in the last decade.  How many people predicted and planned for the internet as we know it today back in 1990?  Very few, and everyone else had to develop new solutions to survive in this new reality.

McNeal is basically making the case that, for the church, the near-future is an adaptive challenge. He contends that the twenty-first-century is unlike anything we have experienced in the past. Therefore, it is not sufficient to plan our way to a predictable future, we have to prepare ourselves for a future that is unknown.  As usual, McNeal addresses this issue in the form of two questions:

First, the wrong question: how do we plan for the future?  McNeal is against the traditional form of planning because it makes two faulty assumptions:

1) the future is predictable.  Traditional planning is based upon our ability to predict the future.  The problem with this is, if the prediction is off, the planning is off.

2) the future is incremental.  “Planning also tends to be incremental, pushing what we currently are doing into a world that we imagine will be the same as it is today.  Incrementalism as an anticipatory strategy is dead.”  Again, consider the internet, it has not grown incrementally but exponentially.

It is not that McNeal is against planning.  Rather, McNeal is “suggesting that there is a dimension beyond planning that is critical for us to understand.”  This new dimension is the tough question that churches must ask themselves: how do we prepare for the future?

McNeal offers so much material in his answer to this question that it is impossible to explain it all here.  However, there seems to be one underlying theme to everything that McNeal says about being a church that is prepared for the future.  The underlying theme is this: “God is the one with the vision for our lives and the church.  It is our job to discover what he has in mind, not to invent something he can get excited about.  People who don’t consider themselves to be visionaries can take comfort in this.”  In other words, “vision is discovered, not invented.”

What are the implications for this type of preparation?  Here are a few examples:

  • Pastors and church leaders do not need to create a vision for the church.  Rather, they must listen to the people in their congregation and look at what God is doing in their community.  In other words, vision becomes a bottom-up process rather than a top-down process.
  • Churches need to be open to changing their vision.  As congregations and communities change, one particular vision may only be needed for several years (McNeal suggests less than a decade).  Churches must be open to changing their vision when God changes his in a particular community.
  • Churches must still seek measurable results, but the results they seek must be appropriate to the vision God has set for the community.  In other words, the traditional bench-marks of attendance and budget are probably poor measurements for measuring success in God’s terms.
  • Churches should work toward their strengths.  If God has gifted individuals in the church a certain way (and He has) and if God has gifted church communities in certain ways (and He has), then individuals and churches must work toward their giftedness in accomplishing the vision God has given them for their community.
  • Individuals and church communities must continue to learn and grow.  The whole idea of being prepared is to always be in a mode of learning that helps individuals and churches understand where God is leading them.

I have not fully digested everything that McNeal is suggesting here, primarily because it is so contrary to what I have always been taught about management and leadership.  But I think McNeal is on to something.  He is on to something because being a Christian and being a Christian leader is not about being a good manager or a good planner.  Rather, being a Christian and being a Christian leader is about being submissive to the Holy Spirit.

A simple way of summarizing McNeal’s message in this chapter may be this: stop relying upon your own planning but rely upon the Holy Spirit and go wherever He leads.  Now that is the type of Christian and Christian leader I want to be.

  1. July 25, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Hey guys — happened upon your blog here (I’m kind of a vision junkie), and like your take on what McNeal’s saying. Think the temptation with tradiitional planning is to always compare what you’re doing with the best practices and time proven methods of others — not that we can’t learn from others, but it has a tendency to lead us to play it safe, and photo-copy someone else’s vision — when instead we’re called to follow the Spirit’s lead and discover the uniquely tailored vision and mission God has for our own church…

    Interested to hear your take on the rest of the book…


  2. July 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I just a read a leadership book that expressed the same sentiments, but in a different context. To be successful you have to let your goals be driven by the people who are going to play the biggest role in achieving.

  1. July 28, 2008 at 3:44 am

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