In my 37 year journey with my Oklahoma City church, I’ve made it a practice to spend time learning from Senior Pastors from some of the greatest congregations in our country. I’ve visited churches in Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Arizona, California, Georgia, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, and Arkansas. In some cases, I’ve been to several churches in most of these states.
These congregations were visited because, at one time, they were all larger than mine. Many of them still are.
These church visits, meetings with executive teams, and discussions with Senior Pastors provided invaluable insight into what our own church’s future might look like if we continued reaching more people in our community.
It would be easy to take you back to each church visited and give you the one or two things we came away with, but there is one visit from a few years ago that stands out.
During a Q and A, someone in the group asked the Senior Pastor what his five-year plan looked like. I cringed. Not because I had any issue with the person asking the question, but because that has always been one of the hardest questions for me to answer. I was just sure this pastor was about to give an impressive response complete with bullet points, grand dreams, and a process to make it happen.
I’ll say it again. I’ve never been able to answer that question. It has dogged me for many years. The Senior Pastor shocked me with his answer: “Just do the next right thing.” Had I jumped up, shouted, and hugged the guy, everyone around me would have assumed I’d lost my mind.
I had the audacity to ask him to say it again.
Question: "What is your five-year plan?”
Answer: “Just do the next right thing.”
Honing in on our church’s mission, values, and purpose statements has served us well throughout the decades. When I’ve been asked the question about our vision for the next five years, my answer was typically continuing to be a church that exists to “help people find and follow Jesus and do this by living by faith, being a voice of hope, and being known by love.”
I can assure you, we have had plenty of goals, objectives, and strategies which mostly revolved around a two- or three-year venture. I do spend some time thinking about the staying power of our mission and purpose statement mentioned above.
The question is not so much what will we be doing in five years, but what will it look like to still be a church living by faith, being a voice of hope, and being known by love? As you might imagine, carrying out that statement looks very different in 2018 than it did five years ago.
But the statement still holds.
It has staying power.
When it comes to planning for the future, I’m neither a goal-setting strategist nor so passive that I’d give no thought to the future. In fact, one of my favorite statements about my future vision is from Bob Goff: “Love God and do stuff.”
You’ll be relieved to know that I now have the answer to the five-year plan if I’m ever again asked about it. You might want to write this down. I’ll give you a minute to get a pen in your hands.
Okay, here goes.
My five-year plan is to "love God and do stuff by always doing the next right thing."
One of my great concerns for our younger generation is that they do not realize that today’s foolishness will be tomorrow’s regrets. When I speak to young adults, I always tell them they need to remember there is a future for them, and actions in the present will shape that future.
Too many high school and college students assume life goes on forever. I did. As a college student, I lived in the present moment and really didn’t give much thought to the future, at least beyond a career path.
When I meet couples preparing for an upcoming wedding, I give them this bit of advice: the issues you’ve had in dating will be the issues you will most likely face in marriage. It is not my intent to discourage them; quite the opposite. It is my hope to give them a sense of the future, to help them somehow understand that today and this week and this year have great impact on the next thirty or forty years--maybe more.
For reasons I can’t fully understand, the thought of just “doing the next right thing” has given me both a day-by-day strategy as well as great hope for my future.
Think of the 23rd Psalm this way: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” You can do the next right thing with nothing lacking.
“He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.” You can do the next right thing knowing He has the future in His hands.
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil.” Even in the midst of challenges, we can faithfully do the right thing.
“My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” Blessings do not usually come as a result of dramatic and highly visible acts. They come in the simple things by doing the next right thing.
I also love the statement from the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.” It is acknowledging that all I really need is what I need today.
In the New Testament book of Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus gives us clear direction on how to handle today as well as the future. He says things like, “Don’t worry about your life…your clothes…your food and drink” and He closes the chapter by saying, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Just do the next right thing…TODAY.
What is the right thing to do with this moment? This decision? This temptation? Do the next right thing. Jesus promises His spirit will give us the strength we need to withstand the forces that seek to destroy us.
I’ve learned that the presence of evil is not interested in a one-and-done mission. Evil prefers to dismantle our lives one little step at a time, one little decision at a time, one little compromise at a time. Then, years have passed and you look around and wonder how you got into such a difficult season in your life.
So, I offer my pastor friends--and everyone-- this advice: just do the next right thing. Every minute. Every hour. Every day. Every week.
Trust me. If you will do this, your family, your friends, and your church family will all heap praise and thankfulness on you for setting an example they desperately need.
No grand statements or proclamations. No grand visions for the future. No promises you can’t keep.
Just do the next right thing.