“I’ve Seen Master Plans Before.”

written by Kat Bair
10 · 17 · 22

I had been working at a large church for several years when they announced a multi-phase $40 million capital campaign to completely transform the layout of the campus and provide needed improvements. The church’s leadership held a vision meeting to show off the beautifully rendered and illustrated “master plan.” 

My admin was sitting next to me in the meeting. She had held her job for 18 years through dozens of staff changes and culture shifts around her. After we returned to our office, I asked her what she thought of the plan. She took a long, thoughtful pause and then said,

“I’ve seen master plans before.” 

The Problem with a Master Plan

Decades of wisdom were tied up in those five words. Decades of plans that fell through, promises not kept, hiccups that became delays that became cancellations, decades of corralling energy, and raising money for results that inevitably fell short. 

It feels worth mentioning that this one did too. That meeting was in February 2020. Needless to say, the world the master plan was created for evaporated within a month of its proposal. My admin’s wisdom continued to hold. This was not the first master plan and wouldn’t be the last. Every long-term plan the church had ever announced had been derailed by something – usually not something with quite the dramatic flair of a global pandemic – but derailed nonetheless. 

The same is true in organizations, congregations, and corporations across the world. Five-year plans are off track within a few months, ten-year visions get shelved within two years, and even if we do accomplish some of what we set out to do, it’s usually off-schedule, over-budget, and somehow markedly different from whatever we originally planned. 

And that feels like a disappointment. Because it wasn’t the plan because we had PowerPoint and Gantt charts and timelines, and this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. We imagine ourselves at the beginning of our projects as Abraham, who God gave a vision of descendants as numerous as the stars, or of the ancient Israelites building the temple. 

But have you ever read the story of the building of the temple? The first 6 chapters of the book of Ezra detail the Israelites, having returned from exile and rebuilding the temple… over 23 years. This 23-year period includes false starts, distractions, funding issues, and a fifteen-year gap in the middle. From a Gantt chart perspective, it was a disaster, and targets were getting missed all over the place. 

We should never aim to be off-schedule, over budget, or miss the mark, but maybe it’s time we stop acting like we’re surprised when we do. 

The Art of Changing your Mind, often.

One of the tools that Ministry Incubators frequently offers clients is consulting and sequencing in the scrum process. Scrum, part of the Agile framework developed by Jeff Sutherland, is a work planning methodology that emerges from the software development world. It is focused on rapid iteration and strategic adjustment and has baked in its ethos the idea that plans will change often, and those changes should be embraced as part of the process, not a derivation from it. 

Projects like capital campaigns need large-scale vision but also day-to-day flexibility without shame or a sense of failure. Scrum sprints, the key unit of an agile framework, provide a short burst of focus (Ministry Incubators typically uses a two-week format) on the next logical step of the larger project. Instead of being bogged down by six-month timelines, teams can be flexible, fast-moving, and address problems as they come up. There is also the satisfaction of a sense of progress, of things, no matter how small, actually getting done, which can be an engine of more and more progress. 

There are times when God provides a vision of where we are headed, be it in the form of a promise to Abraham or a Spirit-given hope of a transformed community, but the day by day tends to feel a bit more like we’re wandering in the wilderness. All of that is ok. Being off schedule, off track, and a bit lost puts us firmly in the tradition of God’s people. But being able to embrace changing direction, learning from our mistakes, and taking the next faithful step, allows us to continue on our journey with more joy, less shame, and a greater sense of being in line with where the Spirit is leading us. 

Talk to a Ministry Incubators team member today to talk about how we utilize scrum to help churches and organizations or learn more about the process here. Remember that God is with you and that if God was fine with waiting 23 years for God’s temple to be built, God is ok with us being off-schedule too. 

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Kat Bair

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