Every Five Years… (Wayne Schmidt)

“We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”

This statement has often been attributed to Peter Drucker and I’ve certainly found it to be true in my own life and ministry (of course, Drucker is the “Apostle Peter” of the management field, and I wonder if he could have possibly written or said all that is attributed to him, even with his long life).

Wesley Seminary at IWU will pass the five-year milestone next month (the first cohort launched in August of 2009).  It has been a fast-paced, innovation-infused five years!  It’s hard to believe over 400 students, men and women of different ethnicities and generations and ministry contexts who serve in nearly forty different denominations, are now enrolled.  We have an amazing new facility on the Marion campus, but students gather in variety of settings nationally and internationally.   New degrees and certifications serve the needs of our students and the Church.  MDIV instruction occurs in both English and Spanish.  The Association of Theological Schools, the most widely recognized accreditation organization for seminaries, has wonderfully affirmed our mission, curriculum and personnel.  A gifted full-time faculty (and adjunct faculty) has been joined by staff in enthusiastically going above-and-beyond the call of duty to build strength and depth into the learning journey.

The five-year window can be a good way to assess and summarize the history of a church or organization…and perhaps even one’s personal growth and ministry development.  It can also be a helpful way to envision the future.  While many strategists prefer a shorter time frame (such as 2-3 years) due to the rapidly changing world in which we live, five years has a way of getting us past the “urgent” to the horizon of the “important” – what we are becoming over time.

These may be helpful questions for pastors and leaders to consider:

  1. If we looked at the history of our church or organization in five-year blocks, what are the significant positive or negative events in each block that have shaped who we are today?

I was privileged to serve as a pastor at Kentwood Community Church for three decades – I found that reflection at each five year anniversary (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30…) was a great way to identify areas to celebrate as well as issues to address.

If we looked at just the most recent five years, what has aligned with our stated vision?  In what ways have we lived out, or failed to live out, our values?

Should the next five years be marked by continuity with the past five years, or discontinuity?

The Bible talks about seasons of planting and seasons of harvesting.  The spiritual life is characterized by times of fullness and times of dryness.  There are moments when huge steps of faith are required and eras where many small steps of faithfulness are what is most needed,  In churches, there are times of “reaching out” (focusing on unchurched people to be reached) and there are times of “raising up” (focusing on disciples being more deeply developed).  Ecclesiastes 3 enumerates a variety of “times” in life.

Our Seminary’s first five years has been characterized as a “start-up” phase, and it’s been suggested the next five focus additionally on “sustainability.”  So we’re wrestling with what should be changed and what should be continued.

What do we want to be true of the next five years?

This could be considered by age groups (children, youth, adults, etc.), by ministry areas (outreach, discipleship, worship, etc.), by resources (finances, facilities, paid and volunteer staffing, etc.) – or the combination of them all.  What do we “see” happening in the next five years if we live out the mission God has entrusted to us?  I love it when churches approach this not only strategically but spiritually – what if the congregation as a whole were to make each of one of these areas a weekly focus during their congregational/pastoral prayer time, small groups would prayerfully consider an area each time they meet, and personal prayer guides were developed so the congregation might collectively sense God’s leading?

Five years is a measure of time the Bible describes as “chronos” or chronological time.  It may provide the “frame” for the pictures of our history or future.  It can mark chapters closing and new ones opening.  It can raise questions that need to be asked.  But it can never be a substitute for “kairos” time – making the most of opportunities that God creates that no calendar can fully capture.