I have a good friend who is teaching me a great deal about strategic planning. For some years I have known that a mission like ACT 3 should have a strategy but I have always found the concept difficult to relate to spiritual and missional planning. I think the reasons are becoming more and more clear to me because of my friend's patient help.

A strategy is nothing other than a human plan. The word seems to have had its origins in the military where leaders developed a large scale plan for military operations in advance of a battle. The idea was to put their army in the most advantageous position so that they could win once they actually began the fight. I have been to the battlefield at Gettysburg more times than I can now count. (I think it is something like ten or more.) Every time I take the time to look out over the open fields and see the various high spots and remember how generals made strategy for how they would engage in a battle during those first days in July of 1863. I remember that they had to change their plans once the battle commenced. But, and this is my point, they always came back to pursuing the fight according to a definite strategy that had one clear goal in mind.

I see the Apostle Paul doing the same thing in the Book of Acts. Paul has a clear vision, to get the gospel to the outermost regions of the Roman Empire (Spain) and to plant a Christian colony, or a church congregation, in every major city. If you study his missionary journeys you soon see that each trip took him further and further from Israel. He seems to have been following Matthew 28: 18-20 very carefully. And he pursued this plan to the end of his days. Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to have redirected his actions but he kept following his plan. He even revised his plan as the Spirit moved him here and there, opening and closing doors. But he planned to get to the uttermost place and followed his plan to reach this vision all the way.

And Paul had a definite plan for each city that he entered as well. He would go first to the synagogue and gather people. He would teach them that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. Jews were dispersed throughout the world. Rarely would there be a city without a Jewish population. Even in a small place like Philippi, where there was no synagogue, there was a little gathering of people for prayer. Paul went there to preach. Some synagogues were receptive and some were hostile. But Paul pressed on in his plan. His vision was to reach Gentiles but he did not begin there, at least not in most cities.

Blue Ocean My aforementioned friend, who is teaching me about vision and strategy, introduced me to a fine business book recently: Blue Ocean Strategy. The book has helped me think more strategically about my mission. Blue Ocean Strategy sheds light on how businesses can develop new strategies. A "blue ocean" is a new opportunity for growth and development that does not contest with other businesses (companies) for a shrinking profit pool. Blue ocean thinking makes strategic moves that will open powerful new opportunities. A "red ocean" is a market that is already taken and in which you must compete with others in a way that sheds more blood in the process. "Blue ocean" thinking can be used by missions as well as businesses since the principles are clearly transferable. It calls for upending traditional approaches so that a leader and their mission can sail the uncharted waters of blue oceans. This is why I have always puzzled over pastors and leaders who see new missions as some kind of threat. They think the ocean is limited to what they can see and what they see is a finite number of people thus they fear that a new mission will take away from their own mission. This "red ocean" thinking will kill you spiritually.

Should we have a vision in our mission? And should that vision lead us to actually strategize in order to reach our vision/goal(s)? The Scripture says, "In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps" (Proverbs 16:9). We also read in Proverbs 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your plans." I think we plan to fail if we have no strategy. To not plan is to tempt providence in a certain sense. To plan and not trust the Lord for the outcome is to become vainly centered in our own importance. By his grace we must plan and we must trust. "The Lord works our everything to its proper end" (Proverbs 16:4a).