Aubrey Malphurs has been recognized as an expert on leadership issues. He has authored several books on the topic of leadership and is the President of the Malphurs Group, which is a consulting firm. Malphurs has also served as a church pastor and has experience in church planting.
In the introduction of the book, Malphurs presents “the problem” , which is that most North American churches are not growing, but rather have either plateaued or they are in a decline. He demonstrates the life-cycle of a church with the “Sigmoid Curve”. The Sigmoid Curve or “S-curve depicts how virtually everything in life begins, grows, plateaus, and then ultimately dies.” This process is also true for churches. They are born, they grow and then reach a plateau, begin to decline and can eventually die. Malphurs states that beginning new S-curves to interrupt this process is the solution to the problem. To begin new S-curves involves the process of strategic planning. Throughout the book, Malphurs uses a sailing analogy to describe and explain the process of strategic planning. The book is divided into three parts. In part one, Malphurs explains how to prepare the boat or in other words how to make preparations for strategic planning. In part two, the process of strategic planning is explained. Malphurs refers to this as setting the course. In part three, the boat is launched and Malphurs discusses implementing the strategic plan.
In the beginning of the book, there is a disclaimer of sorts that should be noted:
The key to strategic planning is strategic leadership. You may develop the finest strategic plan in the history of the church. It may be featured in the major journals on leadership. You might publish it in a book that sells thousands of copies. However, it will not happen without competent, gifted leadership…
Competent leadership is the key to effective strategic planning. The purpose that I feel that Malphurs intended in this book was to provide a detailed guide for helping leaders develop a personal vision for ministry, develop the mission of their church, discover the core values of the church, and then to develop a strategic plan that accomplishes the mission of the church. By helping leaders through the process outlined in this book, Malphurs also helps them to become more competent leaders.
The purpose of the book is accomplished as Malphurs helps the reader connect one chapter to the next by using an analogy of sailing a boat. He states that, “Sailing a boat has much in common with strategic planning.” In this analogy, the church is the ship and the pastor is the ship’s navigator.
The church is a ship that attempts to cross a body of water, destined for some port. Just as the ship encounters numerous navigational hazards along the way (tides, currents, wind, flotsam, low water levels, false buoys, and so on), so a church encounters its own navigational hazards (difficult people, a changing community, lack of leadership, poor congregational mobilization, and so on). Church leaders, like a ship’s navigators, must have a process (compass) to plan strategically (chart a course) to reach the church’s destination (port). Though a limited few can do this intuitively (they are natural born navigators), most cannot. They need training to be navigators.
This book guides leaders through the process of strategic planning from the point of preparing the boat for sailing (learning and understanding the process) to the time of launching the boat (implementing the plan). Malphurs fulfills the purpose of the book by presenting the planning process in an understandable, detailed outline.
One of the major strengths of this book is the expertise of the author. Aubrey Malphurs is not only writing from the perspective of a pastor who has implemented a strategic plan for his church, but he writes as a professional consultant with years of experience in helping churches develop a strategic plan for ministry. He serves as the President of The Malphurs Group, a Christian consulting service.
Chapter three is a strength for this book. Malphurs stresses that the leadership needs to call the church to “spiritual renewal and revival” as part of the planning process. “Spiritual formation is foundational to strategic envisioning.”
Spiritual formation connects God with the strategic planning process and then its ministry product or model, and it must undergird the entire process. If you picture strategic planning as a house or building, spiritual formation would be the foundation that supports it. Any planning for the church must begin with and be about the spiritual formation of the church.
Malphurs does not simply state that spiritual formation is important and move on to the next step. He devotes an entire chapter to the process of spiritual formation and provides several biblical references to support each point of the process.
Overall, the book is strong and the purpose intended is accomplished. For that reason, it was difficult to identify any substantial weaknesses but from a personal perspective, I did take exception with one point that Malphurs made regarding why some pastors oppose strategic style thinking. Malphurs stated that the problem could be a personality issue and that some people have a “fear or are suspicious of change.” He further stated that people who have such fear of change usually have the temperaments of “S and C” on the DISC personality profile. One of the main characteristics of these two temperaments is that they are passive and reserved as opposed to active and outgoing. It is true that those with a strong S/C personality type can be resistant to change, however they are also competent, careful, stable, steady, and tend to be specialist. My own DISC personality profile results indicate that I am high in both the S and C temperaments, however I am very much a strategic thinker. Pastors and ministry leaders with this type personality may need time to think the process through but it doesn’t mean that they will not accept the strategic planning process. Malphurs made this comment only as one explanation so it is certainly not a true weakness in the book but just a point of interest for this reader.
The intended audience is of course those in leadership. The more specific audience is church pastors and ministry leaders. Malphurs states that, “Strategic planning requires a strategic point leader, a lead navigator. Someone has to take charge, to captain the ship.” The book is intended as a guide for the “lead navigator”, which within the church, should be the pastor. The planning process requires a strategic planning team, so those who are part of the process would also be included in the intended audience.
The book was enjoyable and informative. Although, the book is written in an easy to read format, it still contained a lot of detail on the topic of strategic planning. There is no doubt that Malphurs is an expert in his field and he shares a vast amount of knowledge throughout the book. Malphurs is professor, a pastor and a consultant so the book is easily used as a textbook, a guide to strategic planning, and reference for any ministry leader’s library.