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Critical Book Review: Advanced Strategic Planning

by Suleman
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Author’s Purpose 

A renowned church decision maker in Dallas Theological Seminar, Aubrey Malphurs is a pastoral ministry lecturer and is also chief of the party of Malphurs. In the book “Advanced Strategic Planning”, Malphurs’ objective is to assist churches to revitalize and accomplish their objectives through development and implementation of strategic leadership plans. His argument is a thoughtful and logical outline to assist the church in profound reevaluation of their vision, mission and strategy.

In the book “Advanced Strategic Planning”, Malphurs ultimate concern was the aimless drift of the church especially in North America. This phenomenon are due to the Church leaders’ lack of ambition and dedication to implement well-designed plans that contribute to their goal and goals being effectively accomplished. Malphors notes that weakness in the Church’s strategic planning can be due to trois factors: weakness to recognise the need for strategic leadership, inadequate knowledge of the planning processes and an unwillingness in the commercial business climate to undertake strategic planning.

Critical Book Review: Advanced Strategic Planning

In the past, the influence of the free market forces has been stressed by companies, and strategy plans have simply remained that, plans. However, the unpredictable was waiting as corporations faced the harsh reality of fluctuating market forces that posed a deep-seated challenge to company survival. A seven-step model was built to save the Church from a similar experience in Malphur ‘s answer.

In general, Malphurs seeks to help the institution of the church not be brought down by incoherence of vision and intention. The church should grow and shape the church within clearly established core values as a strategic precaution, he suggested. Professional competence, uncompromising discipline and reverence for the fundamental values of institutions are thus a compulsory strategic safeguard for the Church in the event that chaos unexpectedly deviates from standards.

Accomplishment of Author’s Purpose

The title of the book as portraying an advanced approach to strategic planning cannot be as much referring to the complexity of the content, but to the exhaustiveness with which elementary aspects have been discussed.

Planning as a fundamental aspect of strategic management has been well articulated by Malphurs. He introduces the topic of strategic planning with an exhaustive exploration of the reception of church leadership to the process of strategic planning. He then goes forth to provide an exhaustive and very informative account of the aspects and variables that influence change and development in organizations. Next he shifts focus to the next level, which is preparation of the church leadership to incorporate creative and strategic thinking in their leadership style.

In measuring the response of church leadership to strategic planning framework and mindset, Malphurs identifies and discusses attitudes of pastoral leadership that limit their responsiveness to change. Limiting to this approach is the critical perception of the church and religion as spiritual and not physical organs. Pastoral leaders conceive their task as that of evangelism through activities such as teaching the gospel and preaching, as opposed to systematic processes of strategic management.

Strengths

The greatest achievement of Malphurs work in this book is the assertion that just like businesses, it takes more than wishful thinking and prayers to effectively guide a church in accomplishment of intended objectives, that the essence of the gospel is to give chance to humanity to partake in creation, and that is what Malphurs attempts to communicate though this book. That pastors must take responsibility of exploring the inherent abilities of creative thinking and planning in bringing to fruition their ultimate purpose of maturing their congregations into better people. According to Malphurs, that may not come forth without deliberate efforts and initiatives of the church to proactively evaluate the choices available to them in meeting common objectives for the good of all.

A very positive aspect of Malphurs argument is its practical relevance. His ideas are not simply theological rhetoric. The pragmatism with which he approaches issues that do not have clear biblical explanation is exemplification of an almost scientific management approach to the church institution. Indeed he does not simply ask for prayers to manage better, but proactive strategic management practices that illuminate a definite path the church purposes to chart.

An outstanding strength of the book is the concern the author himself has for the local church, which he likens to a ship that is drifting without direction for lack of a compass. Malphurs points out the greatest enemy of the church to be its unpreparedness and inconsistency in the face of change in events and circumstances, as well as the inevitable forces of postmodernism. Malphurs attempts to base his argument on scripture. Before making suggestions on planning and implementation of strategy, he exhaustively explores in 11 pages on scriptural principles that must guide the planning and implementation of strategy. He lays emphasis on the need for discipline for the church to be effective in its mission, as well as the need for the congregation to be submissive to its leadership for the much required guidance.

Weaknesses

Malphurs indeed provides an exhaustive explanation of why and how strategic planning may revitalize churches experiencing the low cycle, but apparently he portrays the notion that only strategic planning can be the remedy. He indeed over emphasizes the role of strategic planning in effective management of the church institution, apparently oblivious of the traditional understanding of the church as a flock or family. This overemphasis on the church as an institution may very easily be perceived as unbiblical, and hence not a valuable option in church leadership

Malphurs in his argument enunciates the notion that challenges of a decline or stagnation in the productivity of the church organization can only be experienced by the larger and the wealthier parishes. The relevance of his prescription to smaller churches with minimal resources is not exemplified sufficiently in this book.

Malphurs as a matter of necessity takes fault in pastors who take their responsibilities as a part-time job. He reiterates that the prevailing trend of ministries experiencing stagnation is a consequence of leadership that conceives ministry as a part time job. Essentially what that implies is that churches that are led by pastors who have other vocations such as professors and doctors, are bound to fail, and that is not ultimate.

Special Features

In development of his argument, Malphurs begins by clarification of a general trend which organizations exhibit from inception, to maturity and finally stagnate or collapse. He demonstrates this pattern by use of what he refers to as the “bell curve” or “sigmoid curve”. He argues that most institutions in the early stages of development experience accelerated growth in organization and accomplishment of objectives, but down the road, routine practice and lack of proactive evaluation of the present and future cause churches to be caught by surprise by unexpected eventualities, and that’s the point they begin to drift into stagnation[1]. The “sigmoid curve” is, according to Malphurs, a demonstration of the real life scenario that ensues in the life cycle of every institution which on onset begin with exuberance but with time they burn out and begin to dysfunction.

Malphurs also provides an exceptional insight into other aspects that may adversely affect the church if not checked, such as conflict in ideology or perspective within the board room and unhealthy politicking within the congregation.  Churches need not be caught by surprise when unexpected eventualities arise. In the chapter on contingency measures, Malphurs reiterates that churches need to have prior preparation on how to handle both good and unfortunate outcomes. He affirms that strategic leadership is to plan with an open mind on future expectations and challenges.  The church leadership ought to put in place clear procedures to guide the church incase sudden change is inevitable.

Target Audience

The objective of this book is to provide a step by step process that churches can initiate when they face stagnation and their mission and purpose is in disarray. Churches in this phase ought to make deliberate strategic initiatives to restructure and reinvent.

As Mulphurs effectively exemplifies in his hypothesis, the ultimate objective of an organization is to communicate a distinct vision that addresses a challenge or need that is the concern of a given people[2]. He effectively borrows on his vast experience and knowledge as a professor, consultant and pastor to demystify the numerous traps and pitfalls that challenge the church, and provides a guide in form of a process that can be employed to revitalize the church back into effective ministry.

The task of rebuilding and revitalizing a congregation, according to Malphurs, is not in entirety a jurisdiction exclusive to the church leadership, but a collaborative and engaging venture between the congregation and its leadership. The approach is not that of a specific solution to the challenges facing the church in mid life crisis, but a multifaceted approach that incorporates diversity in creativity, innovation, persistence and adherence to missionary purpose.

Conclusion

Malphurs’s argument is however based on a tragic assumption that the church leadership will more often than not have the corporation and empathy of the congregation it leads.  A strategic initiative is therefore largely depended on the unity of purpose of the church in its entirety. The important question then is to ask, does the church leadership and the congregation share common values, a sense of purpose and commitment to accomplishment of church objectives?

However, the book is far and wide a very effective guide for church leadership. It emphasizes the importance of pastoral leadership to remain focused on the vision and purpose of their mission, and to reflect on the challenges facing the church institution in a formal, objective and consultative framework.

But then, the spiritual formation of the church institution cannot be brushed aside with over emphasis on scientific, or so to say, measurable variables of management. Traditionally the church institution was led, not managed. Essentially, the church is founded on the principle of submission to a higher spiritual entity. The institution can hence be better managed not just by astute management principles alone, but by devotion to the core foundation of the church, which is devotion through prayer and practice of what is right.

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