How a Bad Day of Tree Planting Taught Me to Work Smarter in Ministry

Hard work is not the same as smart work.

Years ago, I spent a summer tree planting in northern British Columbia. One day, I decided that I would plant as many trees as fast as I could. I was flying across the planting area! At the end of the day, my boss checked my work. It was terrible! We were supposed to plant the trees a certain distance apart. Mine were all over the place. I had worked extremely hard, but my planting strategy wasn’t very smart.

Ministry is already hard enough work, but we can make it even more difficult by failing to work smart. An example of smart work is identifying the key steps that are needed to make our ministries more effective. I want to share a process that I have used to discern and implement strategic priorities to help a team build momentum toward a desired future.

1. Proceed Prayerfully

The importance of prayer throughout the entire discernment process cannot be emphasized enough. As you go through the following steps, take time to pray periodically and to practice (and encourage others to practice) a posture of listening to God’s voice.

2. Clarify Your Mission

In a previous posted called How to Create a Mission Statement in 45 Minutes or Less, I describe a process for identifying your group’s mission. If you don’t have a mission statement for your ministry yet, I encourage you to read this article and create one before moving on. It’s difficult to discern meaningful strategic priorities without an overarching goal in mind.

3. Articulate Your Core Values

How would you describe your ministry’s core values? (This is a great question to consider with your ministry team!) What do feel your ministry should value? Come up with a list of 6-8 current and desired values that you believe are foundational to your ministry. One way to do this is by having your team brainstorm adjectives or phrases that describe the state of your current ministry. Then, your team can consider their “dream ministry” and go through the same brainstorming process.

4. Discern God’s Vision for Your Ministry

Together with your team, project your ministry into the future. Tell yourself that it is now five years from the present day and you have, amazingly enough, developed the most incredible ministry. As a team, it’s now your job to describe it—as if you were able to see it realistically around you. Make sure to use your ministry’s core values from the previous step. It’s also very important that your emerging vision aligns with your mission.

5. Identify Strategic Priorities

Now that you are clear on your ministry’s mission, core values, and vision, you can identify strategic priorities. What are the steps you need to take to realize your vision? Identify three to five big objectives (e.g. develop a mentoring approach to discipleship).

For each objective, come up with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals that will help you make progress with each objective (e.g. equip at least 15 people on how to mentor others through a training event). 

6. Develop and Execute Your Plan

Make sure that you have a system in place for monitoring progress on accomplishing your strategic priorities. This could be as simple as having your ministry team review the progress made on your priorities on a monthly basis and then modifying your SMART goals, as necessary. As you accomplish your strategic priorities, discern new ones that will help you live out God’s vision for your ministry even more.

As you can see, the process of discerning strategic priorities requires knowing and embracing God’s vision for the ministry. This sense of direction will not only help you discern next steps, it will help empower you to take those next steps during the executing phase.


[Randy Wollf is Director of the ACTS World Campus and Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Practical Theology for MB Seminary. His course called Vision, Strategic Planning, and Organizational Leadership is available to learners anywhere through the ACTS World Campus.

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