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CELL LEADER'S MANUAL

 EFFECTIVE PLANNING

Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  [Eph 5:15 - 16.]


CONTENTS/SECTIONS:

INTRODUCTION

1.         Planning, Wisdom and Guidance

2.         Planning Patterns

3.         Useful Professional Techniques

4.         Working With People

5.         Plans and Purposes

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 


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EFFECTIVE PLANNING

Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  [Eph 5:15 - 16.]

 

INTRODUCTION: Christians are expected to live wisely, making the most of every opportunity and living to fulfil the will of God.  If we are to do so, we must know how to organise ourselves, our skills, time, money and other resources, directing our efforts towards well-chosen goals, under God's guidance.  Thus, we must learn how to plan, organise, monitor and control our individual and corporate efforts so that we can make the most of every opportunity to serve Christ.  The ability to make and implement effective plans is therefore part of our stewardship as disciples of Christ.

 

1.         Planning, Wisdom and Guidance

Wisdom -- insightful practical judgement rooted in Divine guidance, careful thought and broad experience -- is the first step to effective planning.  We must, however, beware of false wisdom:

Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. [James 3: 13 - 18.]

The contrast could hardly be sharper: envy and selfish ambition, leading to disorder and every evil practice on the one hand; purity, godliness, and humility, leading to fairness, sincerity, and a harvest of "good fruit" under the guidance of God on the other.  Thus, if our plans are to be based on true wisdom, we must face the question of guidance: how can we discover what God wants us to do in specific situations, and how can we know that we are not being misled?

The answer is direct: our problem is with listening and obeying rather than with hearing and knowing.  As Jesus put it: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."  [John 10:27.]  James, emphasising God's willingness to guide, adds:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  [James 1:5 - 8.]

However, as 2 Tim 3:16 - 17 points out and implies, when God speaks, what he says teaches us the truth, rebukes our sinful errors and calls for their correction, leading to training and growth in righteousness.  Since rebuke, correction and training cut right across our natural tendencies, we have to make a definite effort to listen, submit and obey:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil which is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  [James 1:19 - 22.]

As we try to make plans, then, we must first focus on wisdom and God's guidance, which forces us to deal with envy, selfish ambition, disobedience and unbelief.  But, how does God speak to and guide us? 

There are many possibilities.  A Bible passage may throw sudden light on a situation.  Conscience prods, subtly pointing the right -- as opposed to the convenient -- way.  A friend's counsel stirs our spirits with the force of the wisdom of God [Prov 15:22].  Someone may have a dream or vision which she feels is from God, or may share a message -- a "prophecy" -- she believes God has shown her.  [Acts 2:17 - 18, 18:9 - 11, 21:8 - 11.]  Perhaps, even the things that happen day by day may "speak": have you ever had a fault suddenly unmasked by a series of "incidents"?

There is, however, a definite order to how God speaks to us.  As Isaiah notes:

 When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people enquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on the behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to   this word, they have no light of dawn.  [Isaiah 8:19, 20.]

The basic standard for evaluating guidance is whether it conforms to the written word of God.  Thus, the fundamental practical condition for discerning the best path in specific situations is to have a broad and deep familiarity with the contents of the Bible, and to have a strong base of experience in applying its teachings and examples to our lives.  [Cf. Deuteronomy 17:18 - 20, and Joshua 1:1 - 9.]

Further, since God will not contradict himself, what he shows us through our circumstances, the advice of others, dreams and so on will conform to the message and attitude of the Bible.  Paul neatly sums up the correct attitude: "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold on to what is good.  Avoid every kind of evil."  [1 Thess 5:16 - 22.]  We must have the guts to stand up for the truth of Scripture and to test all proposals or plans by its light.

 

2.         Planning Patterns

Specific plans are made in specific situations, to solve specific problems as specific groups made up from specific individuals work together towards specific goals.  Therefore, we must next consider the situation, the task, the individuals, the group they form, and the interactions among these four aspects during the planning process, which has five major steps:

1.      Ascertain as closely as possible the true facts of the situation, and  clarify the nature of the problem to be solved by the plan.  (When a problem is clearly and accurately defined, it is more than half-way to being solved.)  This analysis should yield a coherent picture of the CONTEXT, and of our STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES in the face of the OPPOR TUNITIES and THREATS posed by the environment, i.e. SWOT.  For, as Aristotle notes in his Nicomachean Ethics, strategy is the science of opportunity.

2.      State, as concretely and simply as possible, the desired outcome of implementing the plan.  This defines the OBJECTIVES, the target for our efforts.  Objectives should be so worded that they can be directly observed.  (At least, we must identify indicators of achievement that can be observed or, better yet, measured.)

3.      Examine the alternative STRATEGIES (ways the objectives can be achieved), under the constraint of LOGISTICS  (available resources and people, organisation, communication, training, time and money etc), then select the best alternative.  Bear in mind that it is logistics which breaks plans, and the consequent old soldiers' saying: "amateurs talk about strategy and tactics; professionals discuss logistics."

4.      Summarise the plan, making sure to state "who does what, where, when, why, how -- and for how long and how much."  In so doing, we should:

                                                               i.      Build on our strengths

                                                             ii.      Exploit opportunities

                                                            iii.      Counter threats

                                                           iv.      Compensate for, then correct, our weaknesses

A useful framework for developing and stating such a strategy is:

                        O         -- OBJECTIVES --     what is to be achieved by the plan

                        S          -- STRATEGY --        how the objectives will be achieved

                        L          -- LOGISTICS --        what inputs/resources it will take to do it

5.      The next stage is to IMPLEMENT the plan by delegating the authority and responsibility to execute it, all the while MONITORING  and EVALUATING its execution and results: “deliverables” at “milestones.”  If some of these results are unacceptable, or unforseen problems crop up, corrective or CONTROL action will be necessary in light of CONTINGENCIES.   And, if the plan breaks down, it may be necessary to revisit the analysis phase and redefine the framework towards new plans for the unforeseen situation.


In diagram form:  

    

 Thus, while there is a main flow from analysis to planning to implementing, the secret to successful planning lies in the monitoring and control of what happens on the ground as a plan is implemented. 

At the end, it is wise to review and evaluate the process as a whole, with an eye to possibilities for improvement.

 

3.         Useful Professional Techniques

The basic patterns above underlie all planning, but three specific professional techniques -- network analysis of projects, the systems development life cycle recommended by the Data Processing Management Association, and simple breakeven analysis -- will be helpful in specific situations.

3.1       Network Analysis

Most of the planning we do is for projects, which have a definite beginning and a definite end, and a process of implementation which breaks down into specific activities which must be performed in clear logical sequences.  Thus, activity network planning techniques, such as PERT, are useful to us.

The key to these techniques is the activity network diagram, which shows the activities and their logical order in an easily understood form.  (Professionals go on to use the diagram to guide the allocation of people, skills, time, scarce resources and money, but for our purposes the diagram alone is usually all we need.  If formal planning of resource allocation is needed in a specific case, I suggest that a good textbook be consulted and that one of the commercial PERT software packages be used.)


EXAMPLE PROJECT: To make a cup of tea.

We start at the end, "cup of tea made," and work back to the beginning by asking "What must be done before this stage (technically, 'event') is reached"?  This specifies the activities, events, and their logical order, which we represent in a network diagram:

                        END:   Cup of tea made

                        1.         Fetch cup, saucer, tea, colander

                        2.         Boil water

                        3.         Fetch milk, spoon, sugar

                        4.         Put tea in colander

                        5.         Pour boiling water through tea into colander

                        6.         Remove colander and spent tea

                        7.         Add sugar and milk to taste and stir

                        8.         Clean up

In the network diagram, Activities are represented by numbered arrows and the resulting Events by circles.  The key rule is that an Event cannot occur until all activities which flow out of it can start, that is, all Activities pointing into it have been completed.  For instance, we cannot add sugar and milk to our cup of tea until the colander is out of the way, but we can fetch the milk and sugar at any time before we stir them into the tea.

 

3.2       The Systems Development Life Cycle

"Systems" is a rather cold and mechanical word, but in reality once we organise people, procedures, activities, machines and such like to achieve a purpose, we have set up a system. 

From time to time, such systems tend to become outdated and need to be renewed or replaced.  Thus, the need for the systems development process. 

The key indicator that it is time to check whether a system needs to be upgraded or replaced is a mounting dissatisfaction with its performance among those who have to live or work with it on the ground.  If it is easy to express such unease, it may be vocalised.  More often, however, it is reduced morale, falling support or repeated failures to fulfil expectations which are the warning lamps.

The first step in the development process is to ventilate frustrations and to investigate their roots.  It is wise to set up a team to do this, one which draws its membership from those who work with the system, those who manage it, and those who consume or benefit from its products or services.  It may also be wise to include specialists and systems experts, who can serve as resource persons. 

Such a team conducts a Preliminary Investigation and produces a feasibility report with one of three recommendations: 

(1)    Take no action -- no alternative offers better performance;

(2)    Maintain the system --  relatively small changes will suffice; 

(3)    Develop a new system, in accordance with the attached analysis and recommendations.

The results of this investigation are evaluated, and appropriate action is taken.  If a new system is to be developed, a development team is set up and goes to work:

  1. General Analysis and Design: The report from the Preliminary Investigation and further technical investigations are used to generate an overall design for the new system.  This design sets the framework for the detailed work to follow, and should ensure that the elements of the new system as it is developed in detail will work together satisfactorily.  (Too often, individual components of a system work separately, but cannot work together.)  The resulting specifications should be evaluated before moving on to the next phase.
  2. Detailed Design and Implementation:  In this phase, the detailed design, testing and development and/or procuring of components is carried through, and the system, at least as a pilot test, is put together "on the ground" and tested as thoroughly as possible.  Bugs are ironed out, and the new system is evaluated by its prospective users and brought to an acceptable condition.
  3. Installation and Commissioning:  The new system is installed, workers are trained, managers are briefed, last minute bugs are ironed out, and the system is commissioned --  formally put into service.  (At this point, the design team hands over responsibility for the system to management.)

Finally, the whole process is subjected to a formal Review, and lessons for the future are drawn and documented, so that the organisation can benefit from the system development  experience.  It is wise to update this final review on a regular basis, to see if the system lives up to its claims, and to detect when it, in turn, begins to become outdated or in need of maintenance.


3.3       Breakeven Analysis

Quite often, we have to charge for materials, price tickets for a concert, or set the fee for a retreat, camp or conference.  Breakeven analysis provides a relatively simple but effective way to do this.

The key point of breakeven analysis is the observation that some costs vary more or less directly with the number of units sold, but others are relatively fixed:

                                    TOTAL COSTS          =         FIXED COSTS + VARIABLE COSTS

                                    VARIABLE COSTS    =          COST PER UNIT x VOLUME OF SALE

                                    TOTAL SALES           =          SELLING PRICE x VOLUME OF SALE

 

Thus, if we plot costs and sales versus volume of sales, as in the diagram, as long as the selling price per unit exceeds the cost per unit, at some volume of sale (the breakeven point) the income from sales will just equal the total costs, and if sales exceed this, there will be a profit.  We can therefore estimate what volume of sale will break even at a given price, or what price will break even at a given volume, or what the profit or loss will be at given selling prices and volumes.  (Often, however, the costs will not fall along a single straight line for all volumes, or may be curved, so costing must be very carefully done.)

A simple example will clarify the case.  Suppose we rented a hall which seats 1,000 for $ 500, and that the additional cost per customer is $1.00.  If we pay $100 to print tickets, and charge $ 5.00 per ticket, the breakeven point will be:

at breakeven, Total Costs (TC) =          Total Sales (TS)

Sell Price (SP) x Vol of Sale (V)         =          Fixed Costs (FC) + Var Costs (VC)

                                                           =          FC + V x Cost per Unit (UC)

so,                              V x (SP - UC)  =          FC

i.e.,                             V x ($ 5 - $ 1)  =          $ 500 + $ 100

or, breakeven volume,   V                    =          $ 600 / $ 4 = 150 customers

(Of course, it would be even easier to simply plot and read off the results from a graph.)

 

4.         Working With People

Even though there are many technical aspects, the planning-implementing process is, at its root, a human activity.  Thus, if our plans are to be successful, we must be aware of how people work together as they try to develop and effect plans.

4.1       Working With Ourselves

It has been well said that "nothing works unless we do."  The first person we each have to learn how to work with is our own self, and the key to managing our own selves -- and if we fail here, we can hardly expect to successfully manage others -- is whether we make the most of the 168 hours we all have and must spend each week.

Too often, deadlines creep up on us, forcing us to rush a job at the last minute, only to have to do it over to get it right.  We are so busy doing what we feel like or reacting to the urgent demands of the moment that we never seize the initiative, so the truly important things just never seem to get done.  We'd never dream of stealing another person's money, but we habitually steal his time by being late -- and it boomerangs, since "everybody knows it won't start on time," so we all stroll in half an hour late.  No wonder so few meetings start or end on time.  Further, because so few are prepared, the agenda for the meeting gets out of control, and it drags on and on.

Try a test.  For the next week, keep a daily diary of how you spent your time, in quarter hour blocks.  Make up a list of the things which are most important to you, and compare it with your diary.  Brace yourself for the shock.

To get control over your time, go back over your list of things that are important to you.  Refine the list by imagining that you have just been told that you have one year to live and asking yourself "What should I emphasise in the time I have left"?  This will help prioritise your activities.  (The key to priorities is that the higher one prevails in a conflict, so that, for instance, one should only sacrifice family relationships if the choice is between those relationships and your relationship with God.  [See Matt 10:34 - 39, Mark 10:29 - 31, 1 Tim 5:8.] )

In actuality, most students should have forty to fifty active years ahead of them.  During those years, what do you want to accomplish?  Where should you be in five years? Ten?  Twenty?  Thirty?  How will these accomplishments weigh in the scales of eternity?  Under God, what will your life's work be?

Once your priorities and life's goals are in order, it is much easier to manage your weekly, monthly and yearly activities:

  1. At the beginning of each year (or academic year) set aside time, perhaps a one-day retreat, to review and to plan for the year ahead.  Pray, think about the past year and the year ahead, allocate blocks of time for major tasks or projects in the year ahead, and mark special dates, deadlines, anniversaries and appointments.  (One of those Year-At-A-Glance single sheet calendars is grand for this job, and will become your most important time-management tool.)
  2. At the beginning of each week, glance over your year's calendar and make up a "To Do" list for each day of the week.  Each day, during your devotions, update and pray about the list of activities for that day.
  3. On a monthly basis, update the plan for the year, paying special attention to delays: have you been less than diligent, or is it that the initial plan was unrealistic?  (Unrealistic plans simply lead to frustration, so try to be realistic, setting aside adequate time to rest and recreate, and to handle unforseen difficulties and events.)

Other resources, especially money, may also require careful management, but the key point is that you are learning how to manage yourself, you are beginning to see progress towards your life goals, and your abilities as a leader are steadily growing.

4.2       Working With Other People

There are but few tasks of significance which can be done by one person working alone.  Therefore, we need to learn how to work with other people.  Three points are particularly important: the way groups work, the principles of delegation and coordination, and the conduct of committees.

4.2.1    Group Dynamics

Plans are made and implemented by groups of people.  Out of the interaction between the members, the team they form, and the tasks they face, a definite pattern results:

  1. Coming together forces the group to work out relationships, roles, responsibilities, norms, goals, and tasks.  Each person  seeks to derive personal benefits - "What is this group doing for me?  Is it what I want?"
  2. Friction results from trying to interact, communicate, and work together.  Conflicts break out: "This is not what I really want!  What will I do?"
  3. Conflict is the key.  If correctly handled, it fuels the process of change.  If not, it will deeply wound the individual, and can shatter the group, defeating its efforts.
  4. The best approach to conflict management first admits that conflicts exist.  It sees them as neutral, even beneficial.  Even Jesus conflicted with his Father in Gethsemane!  It is also willing to forgive hurts -- it only brings up problems to correct, encourage, and heal.  It looks first for "the plank in your own eye,"  and only then will it speak to the other person.  "Judge not, that you be not judged" speaks to just this point.  Finally, it seeks to work out problems face to face -- "just between the two of you." (Matt 7:1-5, 18:15-17; I Cor. 13:3-7; Gal. 6:1-5.)
  5. Conflict resolution helps us get on with the job, as we co-operate as a team.  Of course, resolving one conflict is no guarantee against another.
  6. Finally, no group is static.  New people come in, and old ones go. Projects are completed, and groups wind up.  We must learn to adjust and come to terms with success, failure, and goodbyes.

4.2.2    Delegation and Coordination

Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, could be viewed as the first recorded management consultant.  On a visit to the Israelites in the wilderness, he saw a "typical" day's work for Moses: judging cases from dawn to dusk.  He took his son-in-law aside:

"What is this that you are doing?"

" . . . the people come to me  . . .  Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to            me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and    laws."

"What you are doing is not good.  You and the people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone . . . You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.  But select capable men from all the people -- men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain -- and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.  That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you . . . you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."  [Exodus 18:13 - 23.]

Like us, Moses had to learn how to delegate and coordinate.  There is too much work for any one leader, so a wise leader gives out general guidelines, breaks up the overall task into manageable units, appoints and coordinates capable subordinates, and serves as the consultant for difficult cases (thus making new policy) .  This reduces the workload, promotes rational decision-making, builds up future leaders, and improves the overall quality of results in both the short and the long term.

Three key principles can be laid down:

  1. Large tasks must be divided and delegated, so that each sub-task is the responsibility of one competent and faithful person, reporting to one immediate supervisor.
  2. Supervisors guide, coordinate, train and/or select subordinates, and are consulted on difficult cases.  They must monitor and evaluate results, coordinating and correcting as necessary, but in as winsome a spirit as possible. 
  3. Since each generation must pass off the scene, the development and selection of future leaders must always be borne in mind as performance is monitored and evaluated.  (On campus, this happens in two to four years; in the wider community, usually in twenty to fifty.)

4.2.3    Committees

The Committee is the standard tool developed over the centuries for organising, delegating, coordinating, monitoring and controlling activities towards goals.  As such, it is appropriate for us to take a brief look at how they are organised and work.

Committees come in two main flavours: Standing Committees, which form part of the permanent leadership structure of an organisation, and Select Committees, specially set up to carry through a specific project or handle an emergency. 

The inner structure of a committee usually comprises a Chairman, a Deputy, a Secretary, a Treasurer and, as appropriate, specialist officers, experts or advisors; sometimes, there are representatives from the general body of the organisation:

  1. The Chairman coordinates the work of the committee, chairs meetings, and has overall responsibility for achieving results, deriving his authority from these roles and responsibilities.
  2. The Deputy Chairman acts in the absence of the Chairman, may have specific assigned duties, and generally supports the Chairman.
  3. The Secretary is responsible for keeping records, reports, files, and membership rolls, handles correspondence,  and is often required to communicate notification about meetings to the general membership.
  4. The Treasurer is responsible for finances, and is one of the signatories to bank accounts for the body.
  5. Specialist officers, experts, advisors and representatives are added to the basic executive structure to handle special tasks, advise, or represent important interests. 

The major tool for coordinating and monitoring work in a committee is the business meeting.  Such a meeting follows an Agenda, which lists activities in the order they are to be dealt with.  As a rule, the first item of business is the reading, correction and adoption of the minutes of the last meeting, followed by reports, then unfinished and new business.  Allocation of tasks, notices and adjournment round off the meeting.  (The reading of minutes ties the meeting to previous ones, the giving of reports allows easy monitoring of progress and an easy transition into deliberations on old and new business, and the review of allocation of tasks ensures that officers are clear about what they have to do.)

More could be said, but it would fill a book.  It is recommended that Committee Manuals and general handbooks, such as Robert's Rules of Order  (The Modern Edition) be consulted for more details about formal procedure.

 

5.         Plans and Purposes

A gun is a useful, powerful tool.  It is also very, very dangerous.  That is why only a fool points a gun at something he does not intend to shoot if necessary.

It is the same with planning.  If our plans are not aimed at the right purposes, they will be useless, or worse than useless.  In particular:

                       Unless the Lord builds the house,

Its builders labour in vain.

                      Unless the Lord watches over the city,

                      The watchmen stand guard in vain. 

                      [Psalm 127:1.]

If we fail to work with God, our plans will be futile.  Unless we seek to fulfill his purposes, our plans will ultimately fail.  Those purposes are outlined in the Bible, which tells us that "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."  [Eph 4:10.] 

As we plan and work, then, let us seek to fill the world, and the Caribbean especially, with the glory of Christ [Eph 1:22, 23].

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the word "planning"?  What, then, is your concept of planning?
  2. You have proposed a particular course of action.  A fellow committee member challenges you: "But, did the Lord tell you we should do it that way?" How would you respond?
  3. Information is the basis for making wise decisions.  How can you gather important information about issues, venues, costs, resource people, etc.?
  4. Plan a one day retreat for your cell group, using the techniques above.  Discuss the plan with another leader, and see how it could be improved.
  5. What are your goals in life?  How do they fit in under the Lordship of Jesus? How will you go about achieving them?