Plan Backwards To Reach Long-range Objectives


Reverse planning helps designers of all kinds achieve far-reaching projects. Start with the final aim, whether building a railroad over mountains, landing men on the moon, liberating a city from a tyrant, or planting a cluster of churches. Then ask, “What prior step must occur before that final conclusion? After that ask, “What must happen before that prior step” and so on until you have planned backwards to where you are now. Then it is safe to plan forward, projecting feasible steps.

Backward planning by believers starts with a God-given vision of what will exist in the future, based on Jesus’ Great Commission, and works back to where they are now, envisioning and describing what needs to be done along the way. Workers entering a pioneer field must envision churches multiplying like the grain in Jesus’ parables, and plan accordingly by faith, trusting God to do what He has promised to do.

Premature forward planning starts by looking at currently available resources and building on them in the most obvious way; it focuses on costs and immediate obstacles rather than on what must be in place ten years hence. Unwise church planners ask, “How can we get more money to do more of what we are already doing?” This leads to slow growth, usually in only one place, and relies more on money than on the Holy Spirit.

If you plan for a movement in which churches or cell groups multiply, take a moment now to plan backwards. Consider the mobilization actions listed below. As you read it, picture your final objective in your heart, and reason back to the present, defining for each action what must happen prior to it. Each item focuses on a different type of people. Numbering starts with 14 and works down to 1, to aid thinking in reverse. Skip steps that do not apply to your work, and be ready to modify the order as needs arise.

14 Regional congregations cooperate to enhance fellowship, edify each other,  achieve vital projects and continue multiplying.

Discern the following, along with your coworkers, before planning specific details:

  • What must exist to organize effectively in a large region?
  • Who will be prepared to take responsibility for organizing many churches?
  • What must already be in place to let closely-knit churches multiply widely?

13 Proven, mature workers prepare to serve with humility, at a regional level, to coordinate inter-church cooperation.

Local leaders oversee newer shepherding elders. They acquire this skill from “apostles” who take responsibility for each new leader’s fruitful ministry, as the Apostle Paul did for his apprentices. Otherwise, the first regional leaders, lacking maturity in such work, become grasping and demanding.

Discern, along with coworkers, before planning specific details:

  • How will pastors acquire the skill needed to become regional “servant leaders”?
  • Who will model servant leadership for them?
  • How will they model it? In what setting?
  • What must already be in place to prepare regional leaders as pastors of pastors?

12 Local congregations mature and serve the needy, including those outside of the church.

New churches, led by caring servant leaders, grow in Christ and do vital New Testament ministries. These new leaders not only shepherd their flocks but also mobilize newer shepherds for ministry, acquiring this skill on the job. In pioneer fields, workers from the outside demonstrate those skills to the first new leaders.

Discern, along with coworkers, before planning specific details:

  • How will you see that churches do all ministries required by the New Testament?
  • How will you make sure that their shepherds practice servant leadership?
  • Who will model servant leadership for them?
  • What must already be in place to let to provide pastoral training that mobilizes servant leaders for practical action?

11 Train as many new leaders as will be needed to multiply churches throughout the region.

Experienced leaders guide new ones. Leaders learn to shepherd their people with loving care and not just preach and enforce rules. Pastoral trainers do not simply pass information on to students. They train them to edify and equip their flocks for ministry. Teachers work in harmony with those who have different spiritual gifts, as God requires in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. In fields where new shepherding elders cannot neglect their flocks to go study elsewhere, trainers avoid institutional training. Youths hoping for a paid church job eagerly seek academic credentials but, lacking models of effective shepherding, fail to link what they are learning to their future ministry.

Discern, along with coworkers, before planning specific details:

  • How will you prepare both leaders and followers to value servant leadership?
  • What kind of discipleship training will lay a foundation for servant leadership?
  • What must already be in place to model basic, loving discipleship training?

10 New Christians learn through a caring, relational, discipleship training, to exalt Jesus by obeying His commands.

Disciple makers teach new believers to obey Jesus’ commands before and above all else. Jesus requires His followers to believe, repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit; then to love, break bread, pray, give, and make disciples. Lengthy indoctrination before obedience training stifles loving discipleship; students become passive hearers. Later, it would be hard to rally them for ministries other than teaching. Building on obedience, the new believers practice New Testament church body life, and serve one another with their diverse God-given gifts in the power of the Holy Spirit. They observe trainers forming loving relationships needed for such obedience. Trainers make disciples in a way that new believers can imitate at once with their family and friends.

Discern, along with coworkers, before planning specific details:

  • Who will provide this discipleship training for new believers when there are no local leaders yet?
  • What kind of churches will provide the right environment for it?
  • How will trainers learn to do it?
  • How will you merge evangelism and serious disciple making, as the apostles did?
  • What must already be in place so that disciple makers spend quality time with seekers and new believers?

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