Leadership, Vision

The Theology of Goal Setting

Today our mentoring program is really underway. I had initial goal setting sessions with two of our participants. Goal setting is really the heart of the individual mentoring sessions. It’s a pretty simple process, but extremely valuable. The value comes in setting not only annual goals, but monthly targets toward those goals; and meeting monthly to review progress. Lots of people set personal and/or professional goals, but most of us don’t track with them deliberately. The result is that the best of intentions show minimal results. As Louis Gerstner (the leader who turned around IBM) writes repeatedly in his excellent 2002 book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?; people will do what you inspect not what you expect. After some time spent on the goal setting worksheet we talked about the theology of goal setting that is rarely mentioned. I believe there is a sincere but inaccurate belief that when followers of God are given dreams they are certain to be realized. It’s a slight variation from the health and wealth prosperity gospel. On the surface it seems right to think that God would ensure that these things work out, but ultimately it isn’t true, Biblical, or properly helpful. It feeds into some of our desires for self-satisfaction and pulls us away from the kind of faith and relationship with God we’re meant to have. To understand this further it helps to look at a popular chapter in the New Testament, Hebrews 11. Church people like this passage because it gives quick summaries of the lives of some major Old Testament heroes, and allows us to imagine ourselves demonstrating similar faith and obedience. That is helpful; but it may be misleading. A more deliberate look at the passage, (particularly verse 13 if you like shortcuts) shows that these heroes didn’t get to accomplish the dreams they were given. Looking further down the text, we read of people who’s crowning achievement seems to be being sawed in two because of their faith. I’ve never heard anyone aspire to that kind of spiritual experience. To wrap this up, it is a good thing for us to set goals and passionately pursue them. What is problematic is when we start to be more committed to the dreams and goals than we are to the one who we believe gives us those dreams. There is no promise that we will complete the things we aspire to. Often it is when things don’t work out that our character, faith, and authentic connection to Jesus become most real.