Malphurs, Aubrey. Advanced Strategic Planning: A new model for Church and Ministry Leaders ISBN-13:978-0801014550
In the latest edition of Malphurs's book Advanced Strategic Planning, the author remains consistently committed to the goal of helping ministers develop the most effective and successful ministries possible. Strategic planning refers to the large and diverse checklist of activities relevant during the development of a new ministry or during major structural or thematic changes to existing ones. Without a strategy or a roadmap, notes Malphurs, many churches are doomed to failure. The author walks the reader through the process of strategic planning from the pre-planning and visionary stages through to the pragmatic and logistical issues like fundraising and financial management, through the necessity for ongoing assessment. Although the book would be strengthened with additional sections on risk and crisis management, Malphurs does a good job with the material.
The strengths of the Malphurs book is that it draws from evidence-based practice in business, applying empirical research to church planning and development. This allows readers to feel connected to a wide range of literature on the subject, which can be referred to in conjunction with the Malphurs book or once the book has been finished and digested.
Malphurs writes for a general audience, but certainly one with a strong focus on business leadership and development. The tone of the book remains consistent and objective throughout. Malphurs does not talk down to his readers, but nor does he allow excessive jargon to creep into the discourse. Understanding that by definition, ministers planning for their ministries are Christian, Malphurs also avoids unnecessary tangents into scripture. The author simply weaves Biblical tenets organically and naturally throughout, presuming the audience has a firm foundation in the gospel.
Likewise, Malphurs does not discuss tangential issues such as leadership unless totally necessary. For example, in an early section, the author talks about the turnaround pastor and how this model of leadership most closely blends with the strategic planning outline presented in the book. Obviously, no amount of strategic planning will turn a mediocre or unmotivated leader into a leading minister. Leadership issues are important and need to be cultivated separately. Malphurs remains focused on his subject matter, but still does provide a survey checklist for aspiring or existing leaders to help them see where their strengths and weaknesses might lie. The instrument is included appropriately in the appendix material.
Another strength of Advanced Strategic Planning is that it is naturally future-minded and therefore solution-focused. Malphurs does not dwell on what problems organizations have unless doing so would be warranted for making a point. With a future-oriented focus, Malphurs wants readers to concentrate on their vision, mission, and goals and transmute those into ministry development. Malphurs uses the metaphor of ship navigation to show that strategic planning is a process, and not a one-time event. In this sense, the author is realistic and wants his readers to succeed through time-honored practical principles rather than wishful thinking. The essence of the ship navigation metaphor can be distilled into the four concepts described on page 30, which the author calls the "compass" showing how the captain can steer the ship. These four concepts include the development of the mission, the development of the vision, the discovery of core values, and the design of the strategy.
Malphurs defines terms like mission, vision, values, and strategy in ways applicable to the church. One cannot have a strategy or a mission without a vision, and one cannot have a vision without awareness of core values. The author rightfully urges readers to spend a considerable amount of time working out the mission, vision, and values of the church before embarking on the long and arduous journey of actually planning and executing the plan.
Keeping to his practical bent, Malphur shows that strategic planning is a process involving not only a strong point leader but also a team. The second...
The teamwork emphasis is critical, from both a Biblical and a business point-of-view. Malphur provides a section on the Biblical underpinnings for planning, with references to both Old and New Testaments. Grounding strategic planning in scripture allows the more reluctant and skeptical reader to better understand and value strategic planning as a cornerstone of church and ministry success. The bulk of the book is comprised by the second part, which is a thorough overview of the process of strategic planning and includes activities. These activities will prove helpful by grounding the theory in practice.
Although part of the book is written in a formal tone, Malphur does not allow the text to become bogged down or overly academic. Quite the contrary, the author includes personal anecdotes, writes in first person, and creates a bond with readers based on their common interest in promoting the word of Christ. Sticking with the central metaphor of ship navigation, the author avoids some of the common rhetorical pitfalls of pastoral leadership books, including excessive rambling and overuse of stories. Finally, one of the most attractive aspects of the Malphur text is the inclusion of survey instruments, questions, inventories, and other methods by which to get the reader engaged and thinking about the work ahead. Without these tools, the material would remain stuck in the abstract.
Advanced Strategic Planning has a lot to offer the leader interested in solidifying a workable plan, developing a mission and vision statement, gathering a team, and putting together a comprehensive financial plan. However, the book lingers mainly on vision, and less on practical implementation of the plan. Malphur discusses implementation in one chapter only. While the information provided is inspiring and helpful, it offers little more than platitudes like, "the ideal time to implement your strategic thinking is now if it was not implemented yesterday!" (p. 283). Instead of being a coach at this stage, the author would do better to outline specific ways pastors and leaders can implement what they have already planned so extensively. To use the author's seafaring metaphor, it is as if the captain has taken the reader to shore but failed to put down the gangplank.
The section on implementation could be bolstered by offering specific tips and ideas about the resources available to pastors. It would also be stronger if Malphur suggested how leaders can overcome weaknesses ranging from procrastination to communication issues. Understandably, the author wants to remain focused on the core theme of strategic planning, but a good plan is useless if it is not put into action. Readers need to know how to take the first baby steps, how to anticipate shortcomings and failures, how to mitigate setbacks or frustrations through prayer, how to work with allies in the Christian community, how to specifically raise money and not just plan to raise money, and even some of the smaller details such as the physical design and layout of the church. More information could be given also on areas such as which pastors and services in the community are sympathetic with the organization's mission and values, and directing the leader to forge alliances.
Another major weakness of the Malphur book is his cursory treatment of financial management. For one, the author presumes that the reader will balk at the very notion of financial management. Many pastors reading this book will have come from a business background, or else they would not be reading a book on advanced strategic planning. Furthermore, many pastors reading this book will want a comprehensive financial planning strategy instead of being told to simply hire an expert, which is what Malphur suggests. The author acknowledges that the leader takes ultimate responsibility for the financial performance of the organization, but this does not mean that the leader should delegate all responsibility in this area to someone outside the organization or even within it. Effective strategic planning requires an understanding of how to make the church feasible and soluble, to become a valuable entity in the community. Finally, Malphur does not discuss issues related to ethics in his discussion of church planning. Ethical issues abound, ranging from obvious white collar crime issues like the embezzlement of funds to less obvious ones like the use of deception or the spread of misinformation. Using the church in unethical ways becomes a major pitfall for some leaders, and it would be better if Malphur would address these issues instead of pretending they did not exist.
Advanced Strategic Planning is a helpful guide for leaders wishing to make their vision for a congregation into a reality. As such, it combines business strategy with a Christian worldview. Grounded in both business research and scripture, the book is well-researched, organized, and easy to read. The tone is neither academic nor too lighthearted. The approach can be described as populist Christian, as all readers can relate to the material in some way. Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the indispensible phases of the planning process, showing…
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