Though I have been in pastoral ministry for over 10 years, I have been the lead pastor of a church for only 6 months. While I felt well-prepared for approaching this responsibility in areas such as preaching and teaching, leadership in general was an area I felt I needed personal growth. It is not that I did not have leadership experience. I did. It is not that felt completely unprepared for leadership. I did not. But, the area of leadership was the area I had received the least formal education, and was the area I, therefore, had the strongest passion for personal growth.
Over the past 6 months I have read, or am reading, at least half a dozen books on leadership – some secular and some specific to Christian ministry. Of all those books, Advanced Strategic Planning by Aubrey Malphurs (Founder of The Malphurs Group) would be one of the top two. I was familiar with Malphurs work already, having recently read Look Before You Lead. So, when I got the opportunity to read and review Advanced Strategic Planning, I was quick to agree.
This book certainly did not disappoint. In fact, if I were going to have one go-to book for strategic leadership, it would probably be this one. It is a single-volume repository that addresses all your needs for strategic planning. It addresses the reasons for strategic planning, both theological and practical. It walks you step-by-step through the “how” of strategic planning. It also gives you the tools you need for strategic planning, including 14 appendices that can be easily modified for use in your local ministry setting.
Malphurs divides the book into three parts: “The Preparation for Strategic Planning”, “The Process of Strategic Planning” and “The Practice of Strategic Planning.” Part one is designed to get all of the necessary leaders prepared and ready for doing strategic planning. Part two lays out the specifics for how to do strategic planning. (I found this part to be most helpful, particularly Chapters 5 and 6, “Developing a Compelling Vision” and “Discovering Core Values” respectively.) Part three addresses the implementation and ongoing evaluation of the strategic plan.
There were several strengths of the book that are worth noting. One strength is simply the need for this book. As noted above, I received precious little leadership training and development as part of my seminary education. In a recent blog post, Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, said one of the common themes he has heard from local church pastors over the past two years is the need for additional leadership training. These pastors said: “I feel prepared to study the Bible and theology; but I am still ill-prepared to deal with leadership issues, money, and strategies.” This book can certainly help meet that need. Another strength of the book is its comprehensive approach. While it will not tell you everything you need to know about addressing financial concerns within the church, for example, it addresses this topic well and points the reader to additional resources. Another great strength of the book is the excellent balance between theology and practice – both the why and the how. It will certainly address the question most pastors want to know: “How do I do this?” Malphurs also takes much effort to demonstrate the theological principles that under-gird his practical steps. Perhaps the most encouraging strength of the book is the continuous encouragement to bathe one’s leadership of God’s people in prayer. One final strength I will note is that this book is up-to-date. It addresses the issue of strategic planning in the midst of our rapidly – almost constantly – changing culture (prompting Malphurs to advocate establishing a strategic planning process, rather than a simple strategic plan). This is evident both in the specific treatment of our changing culture in the introduction, as well as in the nature of recommended practices that include current technologies such as online giving and the importance of church websites.
If there is anything I would critique about the book it would be the overabundance of numeric lists throughout the book (i.e. nine characteristics of this, seven important factors for that, etc.). I seemed to get “lost in the lists” at times as I was reading through the book as a whole. I will acknowledge that those lists will certainly be helpful checklists in the future as I am referencing the book when actually doing strategic planning. So, this critique has more to do with the “feel” or “flow” of the book at an initial reading, than with its usefulness as a resource.
Overall, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read this book. I will certainly use this resource over and over again in my ministry. I will recommend it to other pastors and seminary professors I know. I will also recommend it to the seminary students I have the opportunity to mentor from time to time. For those who are looking for a ministry position, especially a first ministry position, I would strongly encourage first reading Malphurs’ Look Before You Lead, noted above. It will provide a great tool for self-evaluation and for evaluating the place God may be calling you to serve. Then, Advanced Strategic Planning, will provide a great resource for moving ahead prayerfully, strategically, and effectively.
(FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for writing this unbiased review.)