For many years I have helped congregations and denominational organizations write their future story of ministry. Generally these stories look a decade into the future to imagine what their ministry might be like. It pulls movements forward rather than pushes them forward.
In doing so, I have found altitude to be a key issue. Attitude is also a key issue, but here I am addressing altitude. We are talking about how high and not with what mood.
Three altitudes are important, and they relate to things included in or implied by the story. They are the view of the spiritual future at 30,000 feet, the view of the strategic priorities at 10,000 feet, and the view of the day-to-day journey at ground level. The future story of ministry process begins at 30,000 feet to reflect the pulling of God into the future only God knows.
The View at 30,000 Feet
It is important to imagine an altitude of 30,000 feet. From there we can see and experience the possibilities of what God might do in and through us. What is the big picture? What will characterize the congregation or denomination ten years from now if they, with faithfulness, effectiveness, and innovation, live into the call of God on them?
What is the vision, dream, or greatest imagination about the future? What seems impossible today that if it could happen would transform the ability of the congregational or denominational movement to serve in the midst of God’s kingdom?
When we reach our greatest height at 30,000 feet, what will characterize our movement? At 30,000 we really let go of any safety net and totally depend on God’s leading. Our characterization of ten years from now is truly a moment akin to that of Gideon in Judges chapter seven.
In writing a future story of ministry, it is probably most important to get the 30,000 feet perspectives clear, strong, and prophetic. It needs to focus on where the crafters of the story, and those they are serving in their role as crafters, believe God is in the process of leading their movement. It is not where the crafters want the movement to be ten years from now. God’s image is the right image. Our image is the wrong image.
The View at 10,000 Feet
The key issue at about 10,000 feet is that oxygen pumped into an airplane cabin is helpful and needed but not essential for crew and passengers to survive. A different perspective is presented at 10,000 feet. There is greater specificity that needs to be expressed than at the 30,000 feet level. The movement participants need leading-edge strategies that help them live into the future story of ministry.
Transitions and changes that lead to the fulfillment of the future story of ministry are the content needed at this altitude. These strategic transitions and changes need to exhibit an obvious alignment with the vision or dream for 10 years into the future. The 10,000 feet part undergirds the 30,000 feet imagination, and moves the dreaming into forward moving actions.
It calls on the spiritual gifts, personal skills, and life preferences of many leaders to engage in significant strategies and tactics that live into the future story of ministry. It is often good to describe these in three rounds of three years each.
The View at Ground Level
Ground level is the safest place, but also the one with the most options and opinions by passengers as to where they want to be. Stranded on the taxiway waiting for a gate to open up or a storm to pass is not the option many people would choose. They want actions that will take them from where they are to where God desires for them to be.
Ground level focuses on capacities for what is close at hand. What are the operational elements of the future story of ministry? How will governance be handled? What staff is needed? Where will the financial resources come from? What dimensions of structure will there be?
Generally the operational elements are not included in the future story of ministry. They are the implementation plan for the future story. The details. But, also the ones over which the most disagreements can occur.
Ideas, in general, sound good. When they start impacting things important to specific people, they are harder to achieve acceptance. Therefore, the strength of the 30,000 feet and 10,000 feet view will impact reality on a day-to-day basis, or the plan will fail.
At what altitude are you when you think about the future of your Christian ministry?