Wednesday, March 16

Why are we still trying to do missions by objectives?

Jim Plueddemann has adapted an interesting article calling into question the practice of doing missions by objectives. He writes...
Dear Missionary:

Tom Peters, famous for the book "In Search of Excellence", writes...

"Plans? Goals? Yes, I admit that I plan and set goals. After I’ve accomplished something, I declare it to have been my goal all along. One must keep up appearances: In our society “having goals” and “making plans” are two of the most important pretenses. Unfortunately, they are dangerous pretenses -- which repeatedly cause us to delay immersion in the real world of happy surprises, unhappy detours, and unexpected byways."

If secular managers are rejecting the old management-by-objectives movement, why are we still trying to do missions-by-objectives?

People with a passion for measurable objectives have a passion to control the details of the future. They have little tolerance for ambiguity, for the unfolding serendipitous opportunities the Lord may bring. Missionaries who are forced to write measurable objectives are tempted to “think small” so that they will be quite sure they will be able to be accomplished. Here are some problems with trying to control the future by precisely predicting outcomes.
  • Measurable objectives are often not outcomes but activities. An example of a measurable objective might be to hand out 100 tracts per day. Such an activity is measurable, but we don’t know the outcome. Do the tracts make people angry, cause a litter problem, or actually are used by the Spirit to bring conviction of sin. Measurable objectives are often pseudo-aims and are merely a to-do-list activity and not real goals.
  • Measurable objectives often reflect bad theology. Eternal outcomes for our ministry are in the hands of the Lord Jesus. For example, it reflects bad theology for us to set a measurable objective of saving ten people per week. When we say that our goal is to plant one church per year, we may get trapped into thinking about a mere building and forget about the inner qualities and true nature of the church. The church is a body of the people of God, whether meeting in a building or under a tree. Healthy churches are measured by the inner quality of faith rather than by the external quantity of numbers or buildings. It is heretical to attempt replace God so as to precisely predict and control inner spiritual qualities.
  • Measurable objectives grow out of anti-Christian philosophy. Dangerous philosophies are often below the level of our awareness. The Western world is strongly influenced by logical positivism which argues that all meaning must be verifiable by empirical data. Behaviorism claims that observable behavior is all that matters. The secular world tells us that what we can see and count is the only reality. But Paul commands us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4: 18).
  • Measurable objectives stifle vision. If we know our support might be cut because we don’t meet predetermined objectives, we will aim at goals that are easy to attain. We will set goals that will make us look good at the end of the year rather than goals that grow from faith in a God of hope. Such goal-setting is a dreary guilt-producing exercise. People often produce measurable objectives out of fear and a desire to look good, or at least not look too bad in front of others.
  • Measurable goals encourage us to control and manipulate people. If all our energies are focused on a predetermined quantifiable goal, we tend to use people as mere objects to help us accomplish our goals. Leadership style becomes controlling when the task requires us to treat people as objects. Measurable objectives require leaders to control people and coerce them into accomplishing our goals.
So what is the alternative? Should we wander around "in faith" hoping God will open doors and do dramatic things oblivious to anything we might plan?

Jim suggests faith goals that help us focus on the eternal...
While measurable objectives are often mere activities, heretical, and discouraging, faith goals help us to focus on the eternal. Faith goals are visionary and can become a driving force for our ministry...We set faith goals by spending time on our knees in prayer.
  • Begin with yourself. Spend time in prayer asking the Lord to give you a fresh vision of Himself. Ask the God of hope to rekindle hopes and dreams, and faith goals for ministry. Picture with eyes of faith how your ministry might develop if the Lord would wonderfully bless your efforts.
  • Dialogue with national church leaders and other missionaries. Be ready to enlarge your faith goals as you listen to the vision of co-workers. Share your faith goals with the team.
  • Continue wider discussions in your district or country. What is the Lord showing you as a family? Be willing for many faith goals. Don’t make this a mechanical exercise, but an exercise of the family of God catching a fresh vision of his glory and our task.
What do you think? How do you deal with vision and goals in ministry?


WTJeff said...


Thank you for posting this. I've come out of the business world to this ministry and often find myself governed by measurable goals. I think our American culture tends to take us in this direction. The idea that we should describe our goals as qualities is so simple and yet profound.

I'm going to include this link on our website so our workers may benefit from this as well.


Jeff Parsons
Amarillo, TX

Strider said...

This is an excelent post Guy. In our region we used to write down our goals for each new year. We never processed them or did anything with them because the reality was that our ethos of doing 'whatever it takes' to be obedient to God was what drove us. For many the setting of goals seemed necessary to keep them from stagnation but I believe the organizational ethos of being on Mission with God is what should- and in our region does- drive us.
No small visions.

GuyMuse said...

Jeff and Strider,

Good points both of you. We all seem to go through the motions of setting goals, but we too have noticed how little they tend to motivate us. I find it much more exciting being "on mission with God" taking the surprises as they come our way and adapting to deal with what God is doing in our midst.

Anonymous said...

Hacer 12 discípulos como Jesús será una buena meta. La pura verdad es si podríamos hacer tres discípulos verídicos será bastante trabajo por el año 2011 y veremos resultados más bíblicos como los que encontramos en el libro del Hechos. Quizás la única verídica y bíblica meta debe hacer discípulos de Jesucristo de los quienes antes no conocían a Él. Los demás es actividad y moción en vana.

GuyMuse said...


I will respond back to you in English due to most readers not knowing Spanish...

We are very distracted about a lot of things that really do not matter. Being busy with a lot of stuff going on is seen as more valuable than doing well a few things. I agree that if our only goal for 2011 was to truly pour ourselves into 3 people, it would yield greater dividends than all the other stuff we put down on paper.

I recall hearing from a mutual national friend their strategy...

1) four months of praying and fasting

2) four months of abundant Gospel sowing (intentional evangelism)

That was it.

At the end of the year they had grown from 29 believers to 110 disciples, and started five new house churches in the process!