Do We Need Goals in Ministry?

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“In our Conference, if we did not reach the baptism goal, they threatened us with our jobs… That’s why when we were asked to set a goal for baptisms, we always went low, so it would be easy to reach… Once we reached the goal, we stopped reporting and saved the rest for the report of the following year…” “One of my colleagues would go to the cemetery and look for the names of the dead, on the tombstones, to report as baptisms.” “One of the pastors baptized his mother-in-law every time she came home for the holidays.” 

These are horror stories told in Adventist pastoral circles and they all have to do with goals and the fear some pastors minister with, of course, none of these happened in North America. These stories disgust me, and I feel very bad knowing that many of my colleagues suffered and some still suffer this type of abuse from some church leaders. I think this is madness, which hurts our missional movement.

It is interesting to note that here in North America similar things, perhaps not as extreme, have also happened resulting in pastors who, resenting the way goals have been arbitrarily used against them in the past, now resistthe idea of setting goals, which can be measured by numbers. This has also resulted in church members who have never experienced the joy of bringing a friend or relative to Jesus through baptism, churches which have not baptized and discipled a person in years, and frustrated pastors feeling it is nearly impossible to baptize and make disciples in our North American context.

At times I get the impression that talking about numbers in some parts of our Division is almost anathema, as if each of one of those numbers did not represent a person who has been saved, a member who has become a disciple, or a new congregation that has been planted. I have heard some speak against baptisms and in favor of discipleship, as if there was antagonism between the two, perhaps not realizing that in order to make disciples, there is a process which includes, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 19-20 - NIV). It is very interesting that Jesus said it in that order and not the other way around. There is no discipleship without the public acceptance of Jesus as personal Savior, just as there is no growth without birth.

Personally, it is my belief that the imposition of goals and the use of threats and scare tactics is insane, and that must be rejected; just as it is also devastatingly insane, for churches, faith organizations, and mission leaders to let years go by without setting goals to pray and work for, with the blessing of God. This way of thinking, if not corrected soon, can lead many of our churches to the cemetery.

Why is it necessary to set goals?

A goal is a desired result, conceived by a person or organization, to be reached in a certain period of time. Some goals are annual, others are quinquennial, the achievement of some may even take a lifetime. Yet the important thing is that we have them, pray for them, plan to reach them, and work smart and hard to achieve them. It is essential to set goals because:

1. They help us to stay focused on our priorities:A goal that is kept front and center of the leadership and the members of the church, or organization, can help provide a sense of direction and keep the team from being distracted by things and issues which do not contribute to the fulfillment of the goal. An important questionfor each church to ask when establishing goals is: “Why does this church exist?” Goals set, must be directly related to the reason for the church’s existence.

2. They help us maximize our time and resources:the allocation of resources becomes clearer when defined and measurable goals are in place. This helps the church to know where to invest time and resources. There are churches and organizations which suffer because they do not have clear goals. Not knowing what to do may result in investing valuable time, and our best human and financial resources, on things which may not be priorities. This may cause confusion, exhaustion, a feeling of defeat, frustration, and members leaving the church.

3. They help us measure progress:I have heard some people say, "If you value something, you will measure it.” If we do not measure the progress of our work in relation to our goals, we will never know how effective we are. When there are no growth goals, the leaders and members of the church or organization will not be able to know the exact situation they are in, if they are growing, stagnated, or dying. The progress evaluation can motivate the team to identify what is not working and to correct the areas where improvement is needed in order to advance and meet the goals and objectives.

4. They help to motivate us and keep us united:Although the motivation to help save others should always be present, there are times when, as leaders and members of a faith community, we forget the missional reason why Jesus instituted the church. Reviewing the great commission and establishing goals that help us reach our communities with actions and a transforming message can be very refreshing and motivating. At the same time, the desire to work together to achieve a great goal can galvanize and unite a church extraordinarily. For this to happen, the vision must be shared, and the goals must be established in consensus, not by imposition or fear, our church in North America does not work like that. Goals must be individual before they are collective.

My dear colleague in ministry, where do you want to see your church or district next year, or in the next five years? What can you do to achieve that? Do not wait or expect for someone to come and set a goal for your church or district. Meet with your leaders, church members, and work on a plan with them, agree on priorities and goals for this year, and the next, and for the future. Your church will appreciate the process, you will be able to see a difference, and your ministry, with the blessing of God, will have greater possibilities to experience growth.

What if…?

What would happen in North America if every Adventist pastor would meet with his/her entire church, or district, and set goals, and objectives together for the year, and for the quinquennium? If together we would make the following decisions: “During 2019 we would like to baptize ___ children, friends and family members; make ___ disciples, equip ___ leaders, and establish ___ small groups in our church.

What would happen if each church in North America with more than 150-200 members would agree together with their pastorand Conference leaders, to plant a church during 2019, and more churches during the quinquennium? What would happen if we all, as leaders and churches, prayed and asked God to give us great things to do for Him and for His church in our communities? What would become of our churches, if instead of small goals we would set great goals which are only possible with the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit, and the united hard work of the pastors, leaders, and church members? What if…?

But these things will never happen unless someone dreams them, shares them, proclaims them, and, with a united church, works hard to implement them under the blessing of God.

Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Director of the Ministerial Association and leads Evangelism, Church Planting, Mission to the Cities, and Adventist/Global Mission for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.