Strategic Thinking for Pastors and Church Leaders

Posted on January 3, 2015 by


by The Malphurs Group

If you are struggling with the idea of strategic thinking, I understand. As someone who loves people and making a difference in their lives, I often wrestle with the need for balancing strategic thinking and the need to get into action by serving those God has called me to serve.

Strategy is ultimately a stewardship issue. Poor strategy is poor stewardship. We really don’t have a choice. Without strategy, we become chaotic and wasteful. See below for 5 areas where some of the top pastors regularly deploy strategy. Identify one or two areas where you could use a little more strategic thinking in your ministry.

strategic thinking

1) Search Committees

Search committees have a very strategic role in the life of a church. Make sure to assess the pastor’s training, giftedness, and character. Also be sure you assess missional alignment, cultural fit, strategic thinking, and viability as a turnaround pastor. (For more info on assessing whether a pastor is a turnaround fit for a revitalization context, see Aubrey Malphurs’ newly released book Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church.

strategic thinking re:vision church banner

2) Strategic Thinking in Sermon Preparation

Sermons give people a chance to hear the word of God taught and applied, but sermon prep should also integrate strategic thinking. Try asking these questions:

  • How will your next sermon series align with your church’s mission? (This assumes that your church has clearly defined its mission and the measurements/metrics to evaluate effectiveness.)
  • What topics and Bible passages address needs in your community?
  • When will you reiterate your vision (with clarity) in the next sermon series?
  • What topics or passages have you been avoiding? We are all susceptible to this. It could be because some issues/passages are “hot button”, difficult to interpret, or areas of weakness for the pastor. (Some examples might be Evangelism, Missional Communities, Discipleship, Finances, etc.)

If strategy isn’t integrated into your sermon prep, the task of  intentional strategic thinking will be much harder. Align your sermon prep (and really all church communications) with the overall strategic direction to push yourself and your church into missional impact.

3) Leadership Development

Church leaders face an onslaught of activity and responsibility. Sometimes we can begin to think: “How could I ever have time to develop leaders with all that’s going on?” I would say that as a pastor, you don’t have time to not develop leaders.

Before embarking on any leadership development journey, clarify how your development of leaders fits into the overall strategy of the church.

We recently worked with a church in North Texas that gets its leaders (primarily lay leaders, but also staff) together once a week for training. They train not only in theology, but also character, leadership skills, strategy creation, and more. They’ve immersed their leaders in leadership development and training, which has equipped them to lead with very little staff oversight. This strategic approach creates a culture of multiplication that embodies the equipping tone of Ephesians 4.

One notable area we often neglect is how to best lead various age groups and how to help people lead with innovation at each stage of their life. Those subtle nuances can provide clarity to your leaders of how their roles must change to fit their context of ministry and stage of life.

4) Missional Communities or Small Groups

It is very easy to simply add small groups to what you are doing. This is what I would call a church “WITH” small groups.

But what if you integrated small groups, missional communities, or some other type of group life into the core DNA and strategic focus of the church? This would yield a church “OF” small groups.

Group life provides an onboarding location for newcomers, a discipleship context for established members, and an engine for mission involvement in the community. A church that is “on mission” will often do more ministry outside the church building than inside. Does this describe your church’s strategic thinking? If so, why? If not, why not?

5) Community Impact

A shotgun approach to community impact neglects the need to steward the church’s human and financial resources.

Assess your community and your church first. Then identify those areas of outreach that best achieve the missional direction in which God is leading you and your church.

When you are strategically thinking about your community impact, you have to make tough decisions. (i.e. – helping everyone everywhere becomes impossible). Your ministry is too important to not allocate your time, finances, and even your strategic thinking in the most strategic areas possible.

When you look at recent events in society, you see issues like mental health, human sexuality, broken families, and struggling marriages. Use these as not only challenges, but also opportunities to make a relevant and loving impact on society. These entry points of service open doors for Gospel transformation.

Which of these five areas could use a more strategic thinking and focus in your ministry?

Acknowledge the friction, but don’t let it cripple you or lead you to avoid one or the other. The truth is you must not only do the work of ministry. You must also deploy strategic thinking in order to properly manage (or steward) the time, people, and finances that have been entrusted to you.

(For a more comprehensive approach to strategic thinking and planning, see Aubrey Malphur’s book Advanced Strategic Planning as it walks pastors and other church leaders through a thorough organizational assessment and development process).

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