Planning for the long-run. It’s a lecture I remember from a college economics class. To some, the topic was painfully boring, but the geek within me found the session intriguing. Before you think this post is about economics, let me assure you it is not.
The long-run financial plan is a strategy that initially seems to be fruitless, accompanied by significant costs, but it holds the promise of sustainability for an organization in the future.
For example, let’s say a business offers its employees an incentive to match their investment into their retirement plan. The cost initially can seem to be a burden to a company’s owners with each new hire. However, if the hiring process is healthy, this incentive will aid in retaining good employees. Over time, employees who have a substantial amount of savings in their retirement will hesitate to jump ship under challenging seasons because they have a secured retirement plan. Now, there are no guarantees. No matter how much one is compensated, a paycheck will not sustain them through a toxic work environment, but for the most part, this strategy aids in keeping good employees.
In the context of God’s kingdom on earth, the plan God has employed to make His salvation known is also a long-run plan. The process through which God’s plan is manifest is in healthy relationships. The gospel is best communicated, received, and sustained in the context of relationships. As I think back on my life, the most significant, life-giving decisions I’ve made happened because of relationships with those who were committed to seeing me grow in the long run. I had friends who sacrificed their time, energy, and finances without regard for their personal costs. They were in a relationship with me for the long run. They truly believed in this strategy of making disciples, which Jesus gave to the Church. They believed I would become an effective minister of the gospel and disciple-maker. They looked beyond the immediate benefit of a good testimony story, an emotional experience, or personal promotion. Instead, they expressed God’s love unconditionally so I could witness the transforming love of Jesus.
Their friendship was motivated by the hope that I would experience the life they knew I needed in Jesus.
The ironic thing about a long-run strategy is that it often feels or works contradictory to the short-run goals we have. If the short-term goal of a company is to amass great cash flow within a year, the quality of goods will tend to diminish to increase profit margins. Also, customer service will spiral downward as preferential treatment is given to valued consumers above nominal clients. As the short-run goal is achieved, the long-run sustainability of a company can become jeopardized. However, if the long-run plan of customer satisfaction and taking in a loss to improve the quality of a product and employees is implemented, often a company will see long-term success.
In Christian circles, the short-run game plan involves the rapid growth of an organization or the creation of a large following. With resources dumped into marketing, facilities, and aesthetic appeal, churches can easily lose sight of the long-run goal. And what is that goal? According to Jesus, that goal is the perpetual work of making disciples. How long does it take to make an effective disciple who can make disciples? From my experience, it takes at least two to three years. The only exception to this is if someone has a significant amount of time to dedicate to discipleship.
Disciple-making isn’t a rapid church growth strategy. It is a long-run kingdom-building strategy. Disciple makers rarely function with an end date in mind. They make disciples who make disciples who then make more disciples. The growth is sustainable and strongpoint, but it takes time. With so many re-branding ideas on discipleship, it’s easy to use the term “discipleship” and not know what it means. According to Matthew 28:18-20, disciple-making involves teaching disciples to observe all things Jesus commanded. This passage implies that a disciple-maker’s job is to allow others to observe how they follow Jesus’ commands. For me to disciple someone, it means opening my life up so they can see the way I follow Jesus in my home, my job, my finances, my devotion, my church community, and in many other facets of life. This plan doesn’t necessarily imply a structured teaching format but rather an organic life lived together. This relationship dynamic of teaching is the long-run plan God put into place to transform communities.