By Josue Murillo
Vice-President for Ministerial
I still remember the day, early in my ministry, when I was driving back home after the Winter Pastor's Meetings. I was full of excitement after being inspired and challenged. I looked to the passenger's seat and saw the tall pile of documents I had received from every Conference department, and it suddenly hit me.
My Conference leadership spent lots of precious hours and resources planning and preparing initiatives to be applied at each district, and even though they were masterfully crafted, none of them could be applied in any of my churches!
After sharing my concern with more seasoned colleagues later in the year, I realized it was a shared sentiment.
As I find myself serving in my current position, my heart is at peace to report at the Gulf States Conference; instead of pushing the vision of the administration, we are fully committed to supporting the vision of the local church.
I must clarify I'm not writing this to criticize any approach nor to politicize ours. I consider our Strategic Planning process more efficient for our setting and effective for the pastors and members we serve.
Planning is not only necessary but biblical. Jesus said in Luke 14:28-30, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish."
Elder Danese emphasizes the following statement by Ellen White as one of the most convincing and practical reasons why we are fully committed to the Strategic Planning process we have intentionally developed and applied at the Gulf States Conference, "It is essential to labor with order, following an organized plan and a definite object. No one can properly instruct another unless he sees to it that the work to be done shall be taken hold of systematically and in order, so that it may be done at the proper time.
Well-defined plans should be freely presented to all whom they may concern, and it should be ascertained that they are understood. Then require of all those who are at the head of the various departments to cooperate in the execution of these plans. If this sure and radical method is properly adopted and followed up with interest and good will, it will avoid much work being done without any definite object, much useless friction. (Evangelism, p.94 Manuscript 24, 1887)
We pursue to apply this "sure and radical method" by praying, focusing, planning, communicating, and executing strategic plans.
Now, let me describe our Strategic Planning Sessions process.
From October 3-5 and 16-19, we met in groups of five or six pastors at a time. Two groups every day. Each shepherd presented a brief report on their district's progress and accomplishments regarding the current year's Strategic Plan and the areas of growth they had personally experienced.
Then, we moved into the Strategic Plan for the following year, focusing on personal areas of development, evangelistic approaches, ministry emphasis, and the specific mission outcomes they expect to see in every church in 2024.
After each pastor's presentation, we leave time for prayer, questions, affirmation, and suggestions.
This is my third Strategic Planning Sessions in Gulf States Conference. The outcome we seek is not growth in "numbers" but growing healthy churches.
If you only focus on "numbers," you will get only "numbers." Instead, we focus on growing healthy churches where people can meet Jesus Christ and experience transformation through His unlimited power and grace.
Our pastors know we are called not to dream our dreams but to dare to dream God's dreams for our people. Our Strategic Planning sessions allow each servant to share, learn, and grow in an environment of camaraderie where creativity and boldness are encouraged.
To provide the proper support and keep accountability, our Administration team proceeds to visit and communicate with our pastors regarding their progress through 2024.
The tension between planning and trusting is real, but it's something we need to embrace. Yes, let the Spirit of God move and work in us, through us, and our churches as we allow the same Holy Spirit to move in, inspire, and work through each Strategic Plan. As the writer of Proverbs 16:3 says, "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."
I'm so thankful to see what the Lord is doing, and I'm eager to witness what He will continue doing through each pastor, local leader, and church member involved in ministry in our Conference.