I believe, then, that the uncritical use of this business tool, Strategic Planning, has damaged the Church and is, in some cases, preventing the Church from fulfilling its mission in the world. This tool, developed in the business world, it is not neutral, and it cannot be transferred directly to the non-business environment of the Church. Yet, we do need to need to articulate, develop, and implement the mission we have been given. So, we need something of a fundamentally different character. Again, to their credit, the faithful who developed the plans referred to above recognize and try to express this sentiment. Most of the models we have looked at state that “Strategic Planning is first and foremost Biblical and Christ-centered.”That, of course, is simply not true. This device is not biblical it is commercial, a business tool. But, I suppose what they are trying to express is their desire to be biblical and Christ-centered in whatever it is they are going to do. The OCA plan make a strong point by observing that
The Church is not an institution. It is a sacramental mystery that unites us to Christ to transform our lives and by our witness to transform those around us. It is this inner spiritual transformation and the resulting efforts to reach out to others that are the focus of this Plan. If we follow Christ in this, then everything will follow.
That is, no doubt, why they feel compelled to qualify their work.“This Strategic Plan does not reflect traditional corporate strategic plans with numbers, statistics, membership numbers or budgets.”And yet, as these plans unfold they do adhere to common business procedures. Everything from the executive summaries, to the basic sequence of topics/questions, to the techniques used to gather input are standard business practice. They reflect little or nothing of the exegetical, theological, and historical treasures of Orthodox Tradition. We can clearly see the influence of business executives, lawyers, and financiers. But, what marks have the biblical scholars, the theologians, and the canon law experts left on these reports. So, while these ecclesial planners indicate an awareness of the factors and sources that define Christian content, there is little evidence of anything other than a passing nod acknowledging their existence. They say one thing and do another. They may have felt that this business tool was neutral, that it was the most effective or even the only option. They may have been unaware of viable alternatives. Or they just uncritically did in the Church what they do every day at their secular places of work.
So, is there a truly biblical and Christ-Centered way of implementing the Church’s mission? I believe there is, and, for lack of a better designation, I will call it Dynamic Discernment. This approach is based on the conviction that to effectively fulfill its mission in the world the Church will have to intentionally participate in God’s constantly evolving strategy which will 1) be establishedon the unchanging givens (mission, vision, values, tasks) provided by God, 2) be structuredapplying the charismatic resources and abilities given by the Holy Spirit, and 3) be directedby the continual guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament we are told that Christ is the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12.2). One of the implications of that is that his life, practice, and teaching collectively constitute the initial definition of the divine mission in the world. At the end of his earthly ministry Christ transferred everything the Church needed to continue his work to His Apostles. That included all His teaching, all of his commandments, and all of his instructions for the practice of the faith, most of which is preserved in the New Testament and the Tradition of the early Church. So, the obvious way to articulate our understanding of this divine strategy is to distill the givens (mission, vision, values, tasks) from these sources. This, of course, cannot be done using methodologies that assume that the participants establish these givens. In the Church we begin with the notion that Christ alone defines these goals and values. For that reason, we embark on our journey, not with the top-down, face-to-face,round-robin, or snow flake exercises of the business world, but with exegetical studies, theological and historical reflection designed to help us discern, not define, the givens.
This initial deposit was not a static collection of doctrines and rubrics, but rather a living, dynamic baseline for engaging the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We see this at work in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). The decisions of the council made with the help of the Holy Spirit were added to the apostolic deposit. Therefore, we have the possibility particularizing but not altering, the baseline. Anything that is added will be the Church’s Spirit guided attempt to address changes in its encounter with the world, but it will in every case conform to the original deposit. So over time this deposit “developed,” became and continues to become what we call the collective consciousness or mind of the Church. In this sense the process is a dynamic and active reality synergistically enacted by God and His people in the Church.
In addition to establishing these base points of departure, the Holy Spirit equips the believers for ministry within and outside of the Church (Eph 4.12) by giving the charism or gift to perform a particular ministry to each and every member of the body (Eph 4.7). This gifting provides everything that is needed for the Church to fulfill its mission in the world. But, it adds nothing extraneous, nothing that is not directly related to that mission. So, there is no need to import devices, techniques, and principles from the world of business and politics. The Church is not a business, not a secular corporation, not a democracy, and must be not managed as if it were. By committing themselves to a structure generated by the ministries of prophets, apostles, teachers, evangelists and pastors (Eph 4.11), the Church will have rejected an order generated by the expertise of accountants, secular advertisers, and commercial executives and will have preserved its own character. So, the next step on the journey will have to be discerning what spiritual gifts, what resources have been given in a particular setting and offering them back to God for his use.
Not only does God tell us what our mission is, and not only does he give us the motivation, resources and ability to implement that plan, he also provides constant direction as we seek to respond to an ever-changing world. There are at least three ways in which we see this dynamic effect of the Holy Spirit on Church. First, the Holy Spirit generates a missionary spirit. As described by most business experts, one of the initial stages of strategic planning is the inspiration and motivation of the participants, not only for the planning process, but the also the execution of the plan itself. But in the Church, we see that the motivation, the drive or urge toward spontaneous expansion is generated, not by some motivational technique, but as a gift given by the power and the descent of the Holy Spirit appropriated in faith and prayer. Thus motivated, the early Christians were willing to sacrifice everything and go out into all the world. They put their very lives on the line, the abandoned all material attachments (15.26), giving up everything familiar, family homes, etc. (13.3). Motivated by the Spirit they courageously faced imprisonment, beatings, and a host of other privations and boldly confronted the intellectual power of existing religions, paradigms, power structures (4.31, 21.2). That level of commitment could never have been generated even by the most talented executive, the most skilled motivational speaker.
Second, the Holy Spirit actively determined and directed the geographic movement of early Church missionaries. Note that it is the Holy Spirit who is presented as the initiator of outreach (13.1ff). They were not doing Strategic Planning. They were rather, praying together seeking the will of God and God answers them telling them who to choose for the task and then later where they should go. What we see here is that the selection of an area of missionary responsibility is not just a matter of socio-demographic research, but an explicit instruction from the Holy Spirit. It seems that every time the Church moved into a new geographic area the Spirit was there directing and confirming the advance, validating the message of the Church. You see this beginning with Jerusalem (2–7), then on to Samaria (8), Damascus (9), Caesarea (10–11), Antioch and throughout the travel of St. Paul (13–28). This indicates clearly that we should not be simply targeting areas we or our data-gathering sociologists deem needy, but rather asking the Holy Spirit to show us where we should be working.
Interestingly, the Holy Spirit also inspires the actual proclamation of the Gospel (Mt 10). Yes, we will have to have a very good idea of just what we need to communicate, and we will have to be prepared to do that to the best of our ability aided by all available resources. However, as we all know, even our best apologetic or catechetical efforts often fail to bring others to the faith. So, we learn to rely on the validating and convicting work of the Holy Spirit, who alone knows the hearts of men and women, and who alone is able to move them to faith. So, it is the Spirit who actually achieves the results. In John 16.8 Jesus teaches that it is the Spirit who opens the eyes of the world to its own sinfulness. You see this at work in the sermons recorded in Acts. They clearly reflect a dependence on this aspect of the Spirit’s work in that they call for a response (2.28), they promise forgiveness (2.28), and they warn of the coming judgment.
Dynamic Discernment, then, means discovering and acknowledging God’s own definitions as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, establishing and matching God-given resource with God-defined tasks, and allowing God to direct our path and our words toward the desired outcomes. This work can be done by small groups under the direction of local priests as well as by participants scattered across the country lead by a central agency of the national Church. Because this plan is dynamically evolving as the world changes around us, it is not limited to a specific time frame, or number of sessions. This work of discernment will only be completed when Christ returns.
“Strategic Plan for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta.” https://atlmetropolis.org/documents/2016/5/FINAL-STRATEGIC-PLAN-6-6-15.pdf.
“OCA Strategic Planning Committee Holds First Meeting.” OCA News(2009). https://oca.org/news/archived/oca-strategic-planning-committee-holds-first-meeting.