Thoughts on the PCA’s Proposed Strategic Plan

Martin Hedman is a graduate of Westminster Seminary California and he’s a PCA church planter in the LA metro. He’s also had significant training as an “industrial engineer.” These, he says, are the “efficiency experts.” As a pastor, church planter, and a former efficiency expert, he has some interesting criticisms of the proposed PCA Strategic Plan. Wes White has a resource post with a list of links on the Strategic Plan.

I recall this lot of efficiency experts from my undergraduate study in Prof. Miewald’s civil government courses. He hated this stop-watch carrying army. When it came to local government, he much preferred the political machine in Chicago to the “good government” types, who he said actually made government work less efficiently.

One of the things that surprised me when I began studying for the ministry in the mid-80s was the degree to which the church growth movement had appropriated and baptized the same stuff that Bob Miewald hated. I recall a class, which we don’t teach in the same way now, where it was argued that God had managed his time in redemptive history and now we should manage our time as pastors, where we were taught to reply to letters not by writing a new letter (that would be inefficient) but, instead, we should reply on the back of the letter sent to us. The unspoken sub-text was that this technique had the added benefit of showing the correspondent how busy and important we were. If I recall correctly, in one such course, a young up and coming church planter, Rick Warren, came and spoke about project near the Saddleback area in Orange County.

I didn’t have access then to some of the categories for analysis that I have now. Today, I would say that rather than trying to baptize techniques learned from secular sources, we should simply recognize them as such and commend them as useful if we think they are. We have a great lot of teaching in Holy Scripture about wisdom, and much of it has to do with this very sort of thing. We need not make something grand of it. Pastors should guard their time but they should also recognize that they are not CEOs or “ranchers” but “pastors.” If we’re going to invoke biblical teaching regarding these things then we should choose the right, biblical metaphors. Pastors are shepherds. They aren’t high-flying “successful” types with no time for “the little people” (as Abraham Kuyper affectionately called them). A pastor is, as they say, “all about” Christ’s little ones. He leaves his flock to find the one straying lamb! How efficient is that?

The thing that bothered me about the course in pastoral administration, but the thing on which I did not put my finger for many years, was the hierarchy of values underlying the course. We were to be “efficient” so that we could be “successful” and it was clear that success = buildings, bodies, and budgets. To get there, as I learned, we needed to be a little bit ruthless. Later this ruthlessness would come to known as being “purpose driven.” I read in the church growth literature that a “successful”  congregation needed to have a “vision” and they needed to make sure that the leadership was “on board” and that anyone who questioned “the vision” was excluded from leadership and possibly from the congregation. We were to set the vision before the congregation in dramatic fashion, perhaps in an unexpected and dramatic turn toward the end of a sermon in which it would be announced, dramatically, that “there are going to some changes around here and we’ll be laying out this vision for you in the coming weeks. You won’t want to miss this series.” The appropriation of these ideas of “success,” “efficiency,” “vision,” and “leadership” need to be subjected to radical, biblical, and confessional scrutiny.

How “efficient” were the apostles? How much did they care about such things? How “efficient” is prayer? How “efficient” is preaching the gospel? How “powerful” or “efficient” are the sacraments or church discipline? Luther used to talk about the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Paul, he said, was a theologian of the cross. A theologian of the cross trusts God’s Word, even though it seems foolish to the world. A theologian of the cross trusts the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1-2). A theologian of glory is interested in efficiency (which might be explained as control, authority, and power).

How much do the Westminster Standards value the values embedded in and embodied by the proposed Strategic Plan? Does anyone care? Did anyone ask that question as the plan was being drafted? As a former administrator (I did a stint as Academic Dean) I’ve sat through my share of “strategic planning” meetings. I always wanted to say, “Our strategic plan is to prepare 70 percent of our students to become faithful ministers of God’s Word and sacraments and to prepare the remaining 30% of our students to fulfill other worthy vocations (e.g., ruling elder, missionary, Christian school teacher, vocational scholar etc).” I understand that isn’t really a strategic plan but a goal and I understand that we have to think through how we’re going to achieve that goal and that how is important. Nevertheless, I often had the sense that the planning wasn’t as much about the goal as it was about the process and those involved in the process.

Don’t we have a strategic plan? Isn’t our strategic plan to use foolish means (Word, sacrament, discipline) to fulfill Christ’s apparently foolish command (Matt 29:18-20) to establish a kingdom of disciples that is largely hidden from the world and socially inconsequential? If a strategic plan isn’t premised on being as marginal as the apostolic church was, is it really a strategic plan that commends itself to Christians? As they say, “I’m just asking.”


The Crystal Cathedral Isn’t What it Used to Be

The Heavenly City vs Earthly Cities

A Question About Redeemer’s Multi-Site Model

Church Growth and False Premises

Balancing Preaching with Other Aspects of Ministry

Acts 8 and Every-Member Evangelism

Bob Godfrey on Church Growth

A Response to Zerochurch

Did God Leave Me When I Enrolled in Sem?

“Translating” the Gospel

Let’s Try Every Way But God’s

Church Growth is Dead

Easter: High Holy Church Growth Day

One of the More Distressing Posts

Obeying Roger or God?

Missional AND Reformed

Strategic, Authentic, and Confessional

Planting Confessional Congregations

Ministers All?

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I really appreciated the balance in this piece (How Do You Win?) My theological training also took place in the mid 80s at a Reformed seminary where the principles of Church Growth were assumed. Much good was found there, much wisdom, but seldom was the question heard, “What does the Bible say?”

    • Yes, if memory serves, to a class in which I was a student c. 1984-85. We’ve also had Roman Catholic priests, process theologians, and others speak on campus. We’re a school. Our job is to expose students to a broad range of ideas. They’re going to face them (these issues) in the ministry. They need to face them here where they can be analyzed. Having someone speak to a class isn’t an endorsement of the ideas presented.

  2. Good post!
    I get very frustrated sometimes with the “yearly vision plan” which seems to usually end up being more about adding church buildings and property and less about being a church. As an Industrial Engineer myself, I understand that you need to have control over three key factors to affect “efficiency”: the speed at which work is done as a percent of maximum capable speed, the percent of available time actual work is done, and percent yield. When it comes to building the church, do we have control over any of these? Or are we better off obeying the Gospel and being the church. To me, efficiency belongs to the wisdom of the world, constrained by time and material resources.

  3. It seems that given enough time, fads make it into the Confessional Churches. The Biblical agenda is: Gospel, Sacraments, Discipline.

  4. My thoughts on a positive, strategic plan for the PCA:

    1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.
    2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.
    3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.
    4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.
    5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.
    6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.
    7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.
    8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.
    9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.
    10. A renewed commitment to family worship.
    11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.
    12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.
    13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.
    14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.
    15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.
    16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.
    17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

  5. Jon,
    I think if we all did as you suggested, we’d be to busy for pragmatism. What a shame!

  6. Subject: catechetization.

    1. I find myself in Detroit since 23 Mar due to my Father’s passing and a 2-week hospitalization of my 87-year old Mother due to surgery on 15 Apr.

    2. I also find three nephews in a seeker-sensitive type church in this area where catechetization, doctrinal depth, and maturity does not exist.

    3. Due to #2, most unamused.

    4. Fortunately, my sister has authorized or allowed me access to catechetize the two older lads, 15 and 12. Here comes the Heidelberger and Westminster Catechisms, printed off the internet. Also, that old Book of Common Prayer where intelligent, decent and godly prayers are to be found. Working toward confirmation classes and a clear confession of faith. What’s the matter with these clerics?

    5. This is a timely post for myself, given that I’ve been reflecting on this Warren-gate phenomenon and the impact on lads and lasses.

    Thanks Dr. Clark. RRC rules.

  7. Again, Amen and amen, Jon.

    Within 24 hours of the issuance of The Strategic Plan, I told a number of my fellow elders that this document may prove to be the most divisive in the history of the PCA. The strong confessionalists in the denomination come in for quite a drubbing, cleverly worded to be sure but clear enough, at least to me.

    I’m in the midst of my busiest season at work and don’t have the time now to reply in detail. There’s so much wrong with the Plan -both its tone and content – that I hardly know where to start, anyway. God willing, I’ll have my thoughts in good order in time for General Assembly in June. I expect the debate to be, shall we say, animated.

  8. Jon – great thoughts on the PCA and all Reformed denominations in America. We long for pastors and elders to be willing to take the lead on catechesis in the corporate setting, visitations, etc. so that covenant families would more diligently follow. Currently reading Rediscovering Catechism: The Art of Equipping Covenant Children by Donald Van Dyken and being reminded again and again of personal and church weaknesses. It seems Mormons and other groups take better advantage of “catechizing” their youth than those of us that have inherited the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformation.

  9. Several thoughts:

    It would be good to dust off and review John Leith’s article, “Reformed Preaching Today,” wherein he makes the point that whole congregations must be catechized–raised up to a place of being theologically and biblically informed–if they are to track with the pastor’s sermons. See The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 10.3 (1989): 224-257.

    Early in that article, Leith states:

    ““A decisive test of the effectiveness of a minister is the difference between the sermon taste of the congregation when the minister arrives and the sermon taste of the congregation when the minister leaves. A second test is the power of preaching to gather a congregation, to create a godly public opinion, and to build up the communion of saints. Once congregations have heard good preaching of theological and biblical depth over a period of time, they find it very difficult to accept poor preaching, or to be enticed by actors or entertainers or moral exhorters or therapist in the pulpit.”

    Look too at the ministry of Rev. A.L. Lathem, who, as he considered the problem of so many children growing up and leaving the Church, came up with the famous Summer Bible School program. Five weeks, three hours a day–75 hours of catechism and Bible teaching–and no handcrafts! This was the program that undergirded the early ministry of Francis Schaeffer, incidentally. Could you do that today? I’d at least like to see it tried.
    For more, see

    • Thanks Wayne.

      A renewed emphasis on catechesis and home visitation (and the other things that Jon listed) are essential for all our NAPARC denominations.

      If people want to see what happens to churches who adopt a latitudinarian, lowest-common-denominator approach to theology, piety, and practice, to confession, read Loetscher’s /The Broadening Church/.

      The future of the various NAPARC churches is not in becoming more like the prevailing American religion but in becoming distinct from it. We have to be a genuine alternative to it not a weak version of the same. The one thing we have to offer this country is an undiluted message of the righteousness and grace of God, a real, institutional church, a real sacramental ministry, and discipline. More pietism, whether of the emerging variety or some other, and more broad evangelicalism will not bring renewed growth to the PCA or sustain any of our churches.

      • Scott,

        My reading of American church history would suggest that to do what you warn against is just to increase the speed with which evangelicalism is rushing toward a second Modernist defection.

        After all, the mainline churches in the late 1800s were evangelical, and pietistic, and look where they are now.

  10. Dr. Clark – many thanks for the link and the HUGE amount of visitors to our sleepy little site!

    Great comments on this thread as well. I agree.

    A note to those who visited: 95% of you didn’t see the 2nd post on the same subject, here:

    DV there will be a third in the next day or so.

    Those of you in the PCA who think this is helpful, please pass it along, especially if you will be at GA and/or know those who will.

    Thanks again!


    PS – I hated the stopwatch toting as well. Probably why I ultimately didn’t last long in that profession…

    PPS – a thought on efficiency: IE’s tend to focus on work and making it more efficient or productive. What do we focus on in the P&R tradition? Work? No! Rather, the unbounded grace of God given freely to sinners who deserve just the opposite. Me? I want good news, not efficiency.

Comments are closed.