When I landed a big role as executive director at Habitat for Humanity in suburban Houston one of my first tasks was to orchestrate a combined board and staff retreat to determine where we wanted to take the organization over the next five years. Our plan from previous leadership had expired and we needed a new strategy. “Great,” I thought. “Nothing like diving into the deep end to get things started?”
Fortunately for me, I’d been in the role as interim for several months by this point and had already met so many people who were willing to help. One of them was a local entrepreneur named David who liked to consult with area non-profits and help them get established. David invited me to a new winery and bistro he was opening at the Kemah boardwalk and we chatted about the affiliate and how I should approach my first year as its leader. At some point along the way David told me that he taught Business strategy classes at the University of Houston at which point I knew I had my guy.
“David, is there any way you’d be willing to lead a business planning session with my staff and board?” I asked towards the end of our meeting. “I’m not really sure where to begin and something tells me you’ve done this a time or two.”
“Hmmm,” he said. “Can we host it here at the winery? My staff can handle lunch.”
“Sold.” I said, smiling.
Well, I don’t mean to brag…but we knocked this thing out of the park. By the time we finished the plan at a board meeting two months later, people were saying it was the most fun they’d had on a retreat in years. We had put a lot of work into turning over stones and talking about areas where our affiliate was struggling. Now we had a plan and had even written a story from the vantage point of our future, encapsulating the major transitions we wanted to make as an organization. I was so pleased…
Until the following week.
I took the plan and put it in the front pocket of my padfolio and stared at a blank page on my legal pad next to it.
“Now what?” I thought.
The truth is, I knew that even if I followed my business plan to the letter, I could never force someone to write a check for the ministry. I also knew that we could galvanize all the resources and teams necessary to build houses in Galveston, an organizational goal, and ultimately learn that the barriers to building successfully in a flood plain would be too high to raise the first wall. Where was I going to get the personal, financial and organizational power to carry this vision out?
This may seem like a rabbit trail but stick with me…It occurs to me that we might just have to divorce the Kingdom of God from the American Dream.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up learning that with enough hard work and determination the American Dream was mine for the taking. Dream is probably the right word here…what exactly were we supposed to be working so hard for? A two car garage and an acre of land? Self determination? Don’t get me wrong…the Lord and I have had very intimate conversations about my desire for a place to call my own. I don’t think these are wrong things to want and I also happen to believe that in time he will be pleased to root me somewhere. But I’ve also started to become grateful for the realization that I have no power to make these things come about and that whatever does eventually come my way is a gift and not something owed to me.
This feels like the kingdom of God to me.
In the sermon on the mount after Jesus says verse after verse about paradoxical blessing he says the following: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt 5:17
He’s referring to the oldest business plan there ever was, given to Moses on Mount Sinai. God established his own vision with his own organization, the Israelites. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God gives Moses the ten commandments and says, essentially, follow these and you shall live in my blessing and for the thousands of years that followed we are given a history of the Israelites trying to do things on their own. The nation returns time and time again with their tails between their legs wondering what went wrong.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes are the new business plan; the new blueprint for living a holy, and therefore a whole, life:
- For we know we are to have no other Gods besides the Lord and yet when we admit that we put so many people and things in place of relationship with him we are poor in spirit and inherit the kingdom.
- We know we are to keep the sabbath day holy but when we admit that we can’t we are meek and inherit the earth.
- We know we are supposed to honor our parents and when we fail to do this we remember how blessed it is to be peacemakers and are called sons and daughters of God.
- We know we’re not supposed to bear false witness against a neighbor and when we finally admit our need to be pure in heart, in time, we see God.
There are different kinds of power in the world. There’s pure muscle. There’s emotional and relational power. There’s financial power and so many other forms.
As much as is possible I want to be driven by the power that’s found in the beatitudes. Its the power that does not necessarily seek weakness for its own sake but understands that in its very nature, as exemplified by the Israelites time and again, that it is simply unable to get much of anything good accomplished by determination alone. There’s power in acknowledging our weaknesses and power in asking God to carry out a plan.
2 years after we made our plan, I left Habitat to move to Atlanta. I had mixed emotions. I knew it was my time to go but I wondered where our hard work would go next. The one thing I thought I was certain of was that our attempts to start building in Galveston would dissolve. I had developed those relationships and I didn’t think we had gained enough momentum to carry this part of the plan out. Funny how things work out though. 2 weeks ago a former employee who worked for me and eventually became a board member posted a picture of the walls rising on the first house in Galveston. All while I’ve worked joyfully on the new projects the Lord has had for me here in Atlanta. I’ll take that kind of power any day of the week.