Does Your Linear Thinking Have You Going in Circles?

Your linear viewpoint is sending you in circles.
Your linear viewpoint is sending you in circles. (Flickr)

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right? I've discovered that, for long-range goals, circles actually work better. For example, I get to work with Jay Kranda and Efraim Meulenberg on our online ministry at Saddleback Church. Jay and Efraim do an amazing job of attracting an audience that watches Saddleback services, and turning it into a community of small groups. Three years ago we envisioned some lofty goals for this ministry. We dreamed of our small groups growing into congregation-sized micro-sites that could effectively minister to their communities. Today we are thankful and amazed to see those dreams becoming reality. However, the journey toward reaching those goals has been anything but a straight line. A diagram (pictured here) shows the pathway we followed: analyze, plan, implement, assess and repeat.

We started with a vision of the destination we wanted to reach. In the beginning our vision was not nearly as clear as it is today. A year from now we expect it to be even clearer. We have found that the closer we get to the vision, the clearer it becomes. This is why thinking in circles is so important. Once we developed our vision, we didn't make a five-year plan and pursue it until we achieved our objective. This would have been thinking in a line. Instead we decided to take a day each quarter to prayerfully do five things:

  1. Reconnect with our vision tapping into the passion that it elicits in us. Key questions: What does God want to do? What about our vision do we see more clearly?
  2. Assess our progress toward the vision. Key questions: What have we accomplished? What challenges have we run into?
  3. Analyze our current situation. Key questions: What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are the opportunities and threats to our ministry?
  4. Create a plan for the next three months. Key questions: What objectives do we think we can achieve? What are the steps for achieving them?
  5. Commit our plan to the Lord and ask him to correct anything we've missed.

This is thinking in a circle and, while it may not sound as efficient as a straight line, we have found that it has accomplished several things:

  • Our vision is fresh and up-to-date.
  • We are forced to operate in the reality of actual results.
  • Our work gets re-calibrated when things don't turn out as expected.
  • Our efforts are disciplined and kept on a realistic timetable.

The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but it's almost impossible to draw an accurate line for long-range goals. The journey to accomplish these objectives really has to be a series of circles that, over time, gets you closer and closer to the vision God has for your ministry. So, when it comes to long-range goals, think in a circle instead of in a line.

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Dave Alford is Pastor of Leadership Development at Saddleback Church.

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