Goal Oriented vs. Process Oriented pastors

You hear these words bandied about quite often.  So-and-so is goal oriented, as ompared to so-and-so who is process oriented.  I’ve been thinking about these two concepts in connection with the Office of the Ministry.  It’s up to y’all to tell me if I’m crazy or a heretic.

The goal oriented person takes a long view, and looks toward the measurable success which will come from achieving such goals.  Goal oriented people tend to be in easily measurable fields, such as sales or maybe engineering.  You identify steps as they relate to the end goal, and achieve those steps with the end always in mind.  Fulfillment is had in achieving goals, and measuring toward that end.

The process oriented person is more concerned with what is right before them, doing it well, and not so much in looking over the horizon.  Is the purpose of a vacation to get somewhere or is it the journey itself?  You may fill in your own cliche here as you see fit.

Now which better describes the pastoral office?  I would commend to you that the pastor who is goal oriented is setting himself up for disappointment at every turn.  Here’s why:

  1. There is no common agreement on the goals. We could say the goal is to get everyone to heaven.  Or to get everyone to church.  To increase communion attendance or frequency.  To build up the faith. To forgive sins.  To grow the church.  To get more members hearing the Gospel.  There may be others.
  2. Even if you agree on the goals, how to measure them is elusive and deceptive. How do you measure building up the faith?  Doesn’t this contradict the theology of the cross and the hiddenness of the Gospel?
  3. Because these goals are not commonly agreed upon and nearly impossible to measure, the opportunity for fulfillment in ministry is nil. I know, confessional Lutherans shouldn’t talk about fulfillment.  Get over it.  Pastors are human beings, and in order for them to survive and thrive, they have to believe that what they do day in day out has worth and merit.  This isn’t pandering.  It is how God made us.  I am not Sisyphus.

In order for the Lutheran pastor to find joy and fulfillment in ministry, have have to be focused on the process, not the goal.  The process is Word and Sacrament.  The process is the daily work of preaching, teaching, administering the Sacraments, exhortation in doctrine, showing care and compassion for the flock, and the like.  It is in the actual doing of these things that the pastor finds fulfillment, not in measurable goals.

For me, this has been liberating.  I, like most pastors, often have doubts about whether anyone is listening.  Does this matter?  Is anybody out there?  The more I look at the goals, the more depressed and discouraged I become.  There may be glimpses of light and joy, but generally they do not come in the goals.  Conversely, when I focus on what God has given me to do each day, there I can find joy.  God is the one who provides the growth, not me, however that growth may be defined.

The parable of the Sower perhaps expresses this well:

“And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:3-15 ESV)

Amen.  God grant it.  Amen.

7 thoughts on “Goal Oriented vs. Process Oriented pastors

  1. Not only these things, but you can’t really control the goals. You can have the goal to increase communion membership, but you can’t control people not joining, people dying, or members leaving or moving. When we were in Pasadena, the average membership age lowered by 20 years, people died, new members came in, but the actual number stayed the same.

    You often spend a long time catechizing in order to reach those goals, and that may go quickly, it may go slowly. It may be greeted with eagerness, it may be resisted with impunity.

    It would be very hard to be a pastor who is judging the success of his ministry based on goals. The goals end up having to be superficial, or the pastor ends up having to focus on management type things, rather than Word and Sacrament. What a relief to know that our congregation’s “success” doesn’t depend on the pastor, but on the Holy Spirit, and what He considers success is “where two or three are gathered in My name.”

  2. Todd, good post as usual. I find myself agreeing with you on both counts.

    I offer these two observations:

    1. It is hard to find joy and contentment in ministering to people (process) when people do not receive your ministry. When things never change and you keep banging your head against the same brick wall year after year, the process becomes frustrating. You begin to become self-critical: what am I doing wrong? What could I be doing better? So, for example, you adjust how you do confirmation. What happens in the end? You confirm kids and they disappear…still. Sometimes focusing on the process is resigning yourself to the fact that things aren’t going to change. So you focus on the things that you can control, rather than the things you can’t.

    2. The other observation is that goals aren’t always bad. I say that because sometimes pastors hide behind “I am faithfully preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments” while they ignore some other very important aspects of congregational life. Goals sometimes motivate not only congregations but also pastors to get off their duffs and actually do something. (Those goals, bye the way, can be process oriented…i.e. I will make x # of visits this week, I will spend x # of hours studying…)

    I’m not sure if my observations are actually worth anything, but I offer them anyway. Good post!

  3. Todd,

    Finding some sense of satisfaction in the “process,” i.e. in a job well-done, is a fine, first article gift. It is built into the fabric of the created order. So I resonate with what you have written and don’t doubt it to be true. It is even true for Sisyphus. So you are neither crazy nor a heretic. But then there’s the second and third article gift, namely, the gift of hope. And i’m not just talking about sanctified optimisim, which is also a good thing, btw. This is what Sisyphus’s (sp?) of yesterday and today are really missing.

    Remember, Jesus’ entire ministry looked like a failure until Easter morning. He appeared, as I’m sure we also frequently appear, to be nothing but a faithful failure. Yet Easter morning is the “au contraire” moment for every christian—ensuring that our labor is not in vain. We don’t often see that truth now, other than some brief previews the Lord mercifully provides. But it will be revealed soon enough—just as surely as the resurrected Christ revealed Himself to his first disciples.

    You are not Sisyphus and I am not Sisyphus. We are baptized into Christ and we are ordained. That “God provides the growth” isn’t a statement of resignation. It is a confession of a lively hope for the outcome (yes, the outcome) of the work we’ve been given to do. Let’s urge each other on in this hope that we have been given.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. It reminds me of something Ken Korby once said. He said something to the effect that the vocation of Pastor mortifies the flesh more readily than any other vocation. Reason being? You have been given to preach the ultimate Answer to all the worlds deepest troubles, and yet noone seems to be listening. How true. How true.

    That’s a heavy stone to roll. 🙂

  4. i am going to photocopy your post, “Goal Oriented. . .” and give it to my DP. he’s got a lot of goals for our district, and right now, i feel like i’m the most pressured pastor about five weeks from reformation. i was unceremoniously given the task of overseeing the reformation day activities of our district, plus the privilege of conducting page 15 and preaching to boot! i really don’t mind preaching and administering the Lord’s Supper. it’s the pressure that gets me.
    i totally agree. process. what wonderful processes God has given us! the processes of grace! God’s Word, His Sacraments, holy absolution. i will never tire of these processes! i will rejoice in them with the flock God has given to my care, even if i do sometimes also get into ruts with my sermons and bible studies (i plod along, is what i do, try to take heaven by storm, all by myself. i usually end up flat on my face, but hey, at least i gave it [and God too] a good wrestle).

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