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Hyperbole, Idealism and Strategic Planning

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:35 pm    Post subject: Hyperbole, Idealism and Strategic Planning Reply with quote

When you run into something in Scripture that you know is hyperbole – like “pluck your eye out” – you have some interpretive choices to make. One is to write it off as a figure of speech: “We know he didn’t really mean that.” Another option is to take them as literally as possible, which can be dangerous(!) but it can also be limiting. After all, there’s a principle that applies to more than an eye. The best option is to let the passage pull us into the kind of idealism that many of us had when we were new believers. An idealism that was “unrealistic” in the eyes of others, but a kind of response that was suited to being a follower of Jesus.

In leadership we find ourselves regularly running against the grain of some basic biblical precepts. For example, “Don’t plan for (worry about) tomorrow” (Matt 5:25-34). How can you manage an organization without planning? How can you manage your relationships without schedules and calendars? In James 4:13-15 we’re told that our planning can have a lot of hubris in it, so we should say, “If the Lord wills.” To be idealistic – and realistic – we should say, “If the Lord wills” as often as necessary to remind us of the principle that only God is sovereign, and our lives truly are a vapor.

One aspect of planning shows up in how we often modify it: Strategic Planning. I’ve occasionally asked friends in leadership if they have experienced what I call “strategy fatigue.” Like compassion fatigue, strategy fatigue can be a chronic condition if we’re not self-aware. Strategizing is often about managing known variables, leveraging and scaling known resources, and asserting a path forward. All of this puts us in the precarious place humans are meant to balance – of being like God but not playing God. The fatigue comes when we don’t say (or at least don’t really mean), “If the Lord wills.” James points out that we know very little about the future. Our lives are so short, the horizon for all of our planning is beyond our control – as if we had control to begin with.

If one purpose of hyperbole is to shock us, then to what end? My guess is that, on this topic, humble faith is one primary “learning objective.” Remember that we know little and control little. But that’s not enough. Trust is the focus in Matthew 5. We are free to embrace some embarrassing self-awareness especially because we indulge in the reality that God knows all and controls all.

One short story: I was in Nairobi with the leadership of a major relief organization. They had just returned from an annual planning retreat which piqued my curiosity. What did that look like? Answer: We had all of our administrative decision-makers in one part of the hotel and all of our key intercessors in another part. After 2 days apart, we came together on the third day to see if God had revealed the same priorities to both of us. When it was clear that he had, we were free to move forward. They were looking for the convergence of prayer and planning.

That seems like the kind of idealism that keeps humble faith fresh.
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