Like most organizations, the IMB stresses intentional ministry and a high level of accountability. Missionaries are expected to set goals, action plans, and work towards fulfilling them. We fill out annual ministry plans (called MAP--not sure what the letters stand for, but that is what it is called!) Every month we are to turn in monthly progress reports. I personally don't mind putting things down on paper. Knowing what one is trying to achieve and working towards ministry goals brings a sense of direction and satisfaction.
Only one problem though. Year after year, only a small percentage of what is put down on paper happens as it was envisioned. We plan, but He leads. As He leads, we follow. More often than not, He leads in directions we had not anticipated. I often think about what would happen if we just decided to stick to our plans as written in our documents, and not follow the Spirit's leading.
Most of what actually fills our days is closer to the idea of Paul and his companions experience as recorded in Acts 16:6-9...
Paul and his friends went through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia. After they arrived in Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they went on through Mysia until they came to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of someone from Macedonia who was standing there and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!"
I could write pages of examples going back years, but suffice it to say Paul and his companions might have sat down and planned to go to Phrygia, Galatia, Mysia and Bithynia, but it clearly says, "the Spirit of Jesus would not let them." How many times has the same Spirit of Jesus blocked our intentions of doing ministry in a certain way or place because He had something else in mind?
I find it interesting there is no indication of frustration and rebellion on the part of Paul and friends when their ministry goals in Asia didn't go according to plan. They just kept moving until God made it clear the what, when, and where He intended they go next. Why can't we be that way? Why so much insistence upon our own plans? Aren't His plans, His ways, and His thoughts better and higher than our own?
What usually happens when our plans don't come to fruition as envisioned is we double the effort, work harder, and plow forward insisting at all costs we be permitted into Phrygia and Bithynia. After all, Asia needs the Gospel and we know that it is just Satan that is standing in our way!
But Paul didn't blame Satan for not having been allowed to go to these places and do what he had planned. He understood it was Jesus who was calling the shots. I guess that is the difference between Paul and us today. We follow our MAP plans, Paul followed the Spirit of Jesus.
In the first two months of this year, we have already experienced multiple changes to "the plan." What we are doing today is almost 100% different than what was envisioned even a few weeks ago. One can choose to be frustrated by such dramatic and a seemingly ever-moving target, or accept it all as coming from the Spirit of Jesus. It really is a choice I have been having to make a lot these days!
How do you deal with this tension in ministry of making plans and following the Spirit's leading?