In Defense of Strategy

This morning I came across a post by Sam Allberry called Why ’Strategic Ministry’ Makes Me Deeply Uncomfortable. I really like Allberry’s work generally speaking; his little book “Is God Anti-Gay?” is succinctly brilliant, helpful, and pastoral. By all accounts he’s a great guy. But I was disappointed in this post.

As I read Sam’s post, it seems he is uncomfortable with people calling college ministry “strategic” because of who and where they are (in his case, Oxford). He believes this verges on privileging or favoring the rich/powerful/strong. 

As any readers here know, the strategic importance of college ministry in particular is near and dear to me, to say the least. So Sam’s post struck a nerve.

Thus, a few hastily configured points that originated as tweets to Allberry.

1) First, we can affirm that favoritism is clearly & unequivocally forbidden there in James. (Sam’s post is excerpted from his commentary on James, James for You).

2) But strategy is not equivalent with favoritism, which the post seemed to imply. Strategy is not inherently a form of favoritism. It could be, but isn’t automatically an unbiblical playing of favorites.

3) Strategy is like theology: everyone has one, functionally. It is unavoidable that way. The question is whether it is good or not; biblical or not. Christ-like or not. Therefore, strategy is not automatically a capitulation to “business thinking” or human/earthly/demonic thinking.

4) Let’s look at the two individuals in the New Testament who provide us with the most data on how they ordered their days, months, and years. When we look at Jesus’ and Paul’s ministries, we see they displayed clear strategic thinking and priorities. They prioritized certain people and places.

Jesus shrewdly stayed away from those who would bring his messianic mission to a head before it was time. That’s why he strategically instructed those he healed to not tell anyone of what he had done.

Paul’s ambition was to go where the gospel had not yet been preached. Peter went to the Jews, so Paul went to the Gentiles. He strategically made his way to major cities and outposts throughout the Empire in Asia Minor and eventually made it to Rome. Redeemed strategy functions as a shrewd and discerning Proverbs-style wisdom.

5) Jesus was strategic but didn’t do anything without hearing from the Father.
Paul was strategic but also Spirit-led. Jesus & Paul show that strategic & Spirit-led not incompatible. Strategy needs to be interruptible.

6) Strategy is in part the consequence of being a finite being. It’s about having limitations and therefore making trade -offs. So we could say that Jesus being strategic is a necessary consequence of the incarnation, therefore so should we. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” says Jesus in John 20:21. 

7) We can be strategic and avoid favoritism in practice. In my churches we’ve had college students and homeless folks side-by-side. If I ignored homeless to reach students that’s wrong. But if I plant or pastor in an area to reach students, but pastor all those entrusted to me, that’s strategic, not playing favorites.

So by all means, let’s be on guard against favoritism, and only going to the privileged, powerful, and wealthy. But let’s not be less strategic. Taking strategy off the table *could* lead to passivity, lack of intentionality, and complacency in mission—and that would not be very Christ-like.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “In Defense of Strategy

  1. Good response, Steve. I, too, was uncomfortable with Allberry’s equating of strategy with favoritism. Though I am challenged by his point that “strategy” could be an excuse for favoritism.

  2. “I do not think it means what you think it means…” (Diego Montoya) I think you grabbed on to the word strategic, and then ran with it in a completely different direction than Allberry used it in his article. His discomfort resulted from the assumption that students at Oxford were more useful (strategic) to God than someone with less education, background, worldly potential, etc. That’s something that should make us all uncomfortable. Allberry is not at all opposed to strategy, only to using man’s strategy instead of God’s. His point (just before the bold quote toward the bottom of the article) is that God’s scripturally stated strategy is to use the weak things of the world (1Cor 1:27ff), but far too often, our strategy is to seek out those who appear humanly “strategic.”

    • Thanks Paul…but I don’t think I’ve misread him here. I believe reaching college campuses (and city centers, etc.) are in fact more strategic than other places, and should be prioritized. I believe the NT witness confirms this approach as part of God’s wisdom. Our NT is composed of epistles to major cities, not “to the church in the middle of nowhere.” My main pushback on Sam’s post was the false equivalency between strategy and the way James defines favoritism.

      • Then perhaps it is not so much an issue of misreading him as not responding to what he actually wrote. I don’t see anything in your post that invalidates anything that Allberry said. Regarding your point 2, he didn’t say strategy is equivalent with favoritism. He said deeming people from a certain class or station in life as more strategic than others could be favoritism. Those are two very different things. Regarding point 3, as I said in my earlier comment, Allberry is not advocating for a lack of strategy, but rather to base a strategy on biblical values and criteria. You pointed out that Paul prioritized major cities and outposts in Asia Minor. Again, I believe that Allberry would have no problem with you here. His concern was not with reaching out to people in the physical location of Oxford, but rather of prioritizing those teaching and studying at the university over those from more menial backgrounds. Judging from 1Cor 1:26-27, Paul would have viewed the strategic value of the custodians and cafeteria workers at Oxford as equal to that of those teaching and studying there. I believe this distinction is the one that troubled Allberry, and I believe he is right in raising this concern. Allberry never draws a parallel between strategy (in general) and favoritism. He is speaking against one specific strategy that determines a person’s strategic potential based on human criteria.