Paraklesis. Planning and flexibility

Dear friends, one of the great challenges of ministry is getting the right balance between planning and flexibility!

Peter Adam | February 2021 | stjudes.org.au/peteradam


Percy and Pauline Planner have been severely rattled and exhausted by Covid 19 restrictions. Freda and Ferdie Flexibility did not find them so difficult!

If you overdose on planning, you run the following risks:

  • Getting rattled when C 19 restrictions demolish your plans.
  • Owning the plans too strongly, so that you get discouraged, angry, or grumpy when they don’t work out.
  • Listening to people who agree with your plans, and ignoring those who don’t.
  • Using people to achieve your plans.
  • Missing opportunities that God sends you, because you have not planned for them.
  • Working too hard to achieve your plans.
  • Trusting in your plans, rather than trusting in God.

If you overdose on flexibility, you run the following risks:

  • Not achieving what God wants you to do.
  • Not enabling the ministry of others or providing training for them.
  • Becoming so responsive to the personal needs of others, that you do not challenge them, grow them, or create new ministries for them to do.
  • Responding to the needy, but not caring for the faithful or challenging those who are wandering.
  • Not providing leadership in helping people to work to support God’s global gospel plan for Australia and the world.

What does the Bible teach us about planning and flexibility?

Listen to this warning about planning!

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” [James 5:13-15].

Here is a warning against lack of planning!

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. [Proverbs 6:6-8].

For a remarkable example of flexibility, read Mark 5:21-43, where Jesus across the lake to continue his teaching ministry, and large crowds gathered around him. He was flexible enough to leave them to go to heal Jairus’ daughter, and on the way, flexible enough to heal the woman subject to bleeding. 

Yet on other occasions he would stick to his plan: 

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Mark 1:35-39.

There is a kind of false security in being a strict and detailed planner: you just get on with doing what you planned to do. There is also a kind of false security in being totally flexible: you just what presents itself to you at the time.

I think we have to learn to do both. This means that Percy and Pauline Planner need to learn:

Not to follow their plans too tightly.

Recognise that their plans might not be God’s plans, and allow God to get his way.

Hold their plans with an open and humble hand, not a clenched fist.

Recognise the unimagined [or even unwelcome] opportunities God is giving them.

And Fredda and Ferdie Flexibility need to learn:

Big changes in churches and ministries require planning.

The need for a gospel strategy for their church or ministry.

Planning enables other people’s ministry.

Ministry requires preparation, training, and gathering resources.

One of the great challenges of ministry is getting the right balance between planning and flexibility!

I suspect that most people in evangelical ministry today are planners. Here is some good Biblical advice!

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans [Proverbs 16:3].

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps [Proverbs 16:9]. 

 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. [Proverbs 19:21].

And here are some of my own observations and ideas.

Often people plan some evangelism that does not appear to be productive, but then God sends unbelievers to get converted by another means.

Have time for people, as well as time for plans.

Don’t overplan, so that everyone is so busy that they have no time or energy for flexible ministry.

Don’t cling onto your plans: hold them with an open hand, trusting God to achieve them, change them, or do something else.

Don’t have a ministry with no plans.

Include flexibility in your life and ministry.

Make room in your life and ministry for plans and flexible spontaneity.

Plan time for availability to people in the congregation, to people you are serving. I always made it a policy to be available for at least an hour after each service to chat with people.

If you have a staff team, have regular planned meetings, and also available time for casual conversations.

Make room for the agendas that other people have, as well as your own agendas: in conversations, in meetings, and in life in general!

Learn to juggle planning and flexibility, and trust God that he will direct you to the good works he has prepared for you to do each day.

A common saying is: ‘Work as if everything depends on you: pray as if everything depends on God.’ This is very unhelpful. We should work trusting that God is working and we are working with God: we should pray trusting our prayers are used by God to achieve his good purposes!

I am naturally a planner, on the big scale, and also in daily duties.

Notice the evolution of one of my daily prayers: 

Please help me serve you today in all that I plan to do.

Then: Please help me serve you today in all that I plan to do, and to cope with the interruptions.

Then: Please help me serve you today in all that I plan to do, and in the unexpected opportunities you send

And finally!

Here are some wonderful words about the church written by Karl Deenick, minister at The Branch, Kings Meadow, Tasmania.

We rightly have high hopes for the church of God. But the tragedy is that often our hopes for the church are far more mundane than that. More often it seems we hope for lesser things: good music; a short service, slick leading, good creche facilities, or a great children’s program. And not only do we aspire to those lesser things, we see our failure to achieve those lesser things as an unbearable loss. We’re embarrassed by bad PowerPoint slides or dodgy music, while our failure to achieve a community of love and grace and worship and delight in God causes barely a stir.

The first step, then, in living as God’s church is to recapture God’s vision for the glory of his church. When our hearts are fired by God’s vision of the church in the New Testament our hopes are lifted up to much greater things.

You could have the worst music in the world, no kids program, a cold building with no windows and no heating, but if you had group of sinners saved by grace, indwelt by God, empowered by his grace, filled with love, constant in prayer, overflowing with generosity, labouring in the gospel, then you would have everything you could ever hope for or need. 

With warmest good wishes for your life and ministry in 2021.

Yours,

Peter Adam