Making goals a reality Print
Trusting in the Spirit
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

Trusting in the Spirit by Grant Emmel

As the Council reminds us: "The People of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord, who fills the whole world. Moved by this faith it tries to discern authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the events, the needs, and the longings which it shares with other people of our time. For faith throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal to which God has called each individual, and thus guides the mind towards solutions which are fully human" -- Christifideles Laici, 3. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II (December 1988)

I've talked about the purpose of pastoral planning, that is, to answer the questions, "Who are we as a faith community? What are we called to do? How are we best to do it?" be it for a parish, or a cluster of parishes, or even a diocese.

I've also mentioned how these questions are answered by the Holy Spirit through the bishop of the diocese, the pastor of the parish, and his pastoral council. The bishop gives each parish and cluster of parishes a focus through his goals and directives. These in turn are taken by the pastors and pastoral councils and are prayerfully reflected upon to create a plan of action.

This article will discuss how this plan of action is made real and active in a parish and in a cluster of parishes.

SMART goals are:

S Specific, significant, stretching (well-defined and clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of your situation)

M Measurable, meaningful, motivational (know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is; know when it has been achieved)

A Agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented (agreement with all the people involved what the goals are)

R Realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented (within the availability of resources, knowledge, and time)

T Time-based, timely, tangible, track-able (enough time to achieve the goal; not too much time, which can affect performance)

Why necessary

Often I'm asked why planning is necessary or "why do we do it because we really don't know how things are going to play out."

In the first place, planning is only necessary if you don't want to be merely reacting to the situations that come up on a day-by-day basis. Given a choice, people generally want to have a plan going into a situation because it usually means that the journey, while not without problems, is likely going to be relatively smooth.

However, planning takes time and effort, and it's easy to succumb to the temptation, "Oh, we can't predict anything so why bother?" As Mother Teresa said, "We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful."

God asks us to not just survive but to thrive, to do our best with what we have, remembering that our faith and hope is in the Lord, not ourselves. God does not expect us to single-handedly change the world, but he does expect us to act as he would have us act in each circumstance given us by his will and his providence.

The best way to demonstrate that we actually believe this to be true is to make a plan for our future. Once we make that step, God's grace will be there to help us act out his will.

Getting past this mental block is the biggest challenge I find our parishes and pastors having to make. Once this is done, it's just a matter of putting your shoulder into it and coming up with something that follows a few simple guidelines that are related to goal setting.

SMART plans

Goals are often judged by how SMART they are (see insert box) and the plan that is derived is generally directly related to their SMARTness. Why? Because a plan is just the breaking down of the goal into smaller objectives, each of which, if successfully achieved, will lead to the reaching of the goal.

Just like goals, objectives need to be S -- smart but are just more S -- specific and generally less S -- stretching. Each objective is made up of tasks or action steps that clearly state what is to be done, by whom, and how quickly; that is, they are M -- measurable. You can see how the A -- action-oriented, R -- reasonable, and T -- timely parts of the SMART goals come into play when doing the action steps.

Once a parish takes the time to make a plan, they'll find that it gives focus to their community, whether local, cluster, or diocesan. A plan serves as a way of communication with one another which leads to an even better utilization of our resources; that is, good stewardship of God's gifts to us.

You can take a look at some of the plans that are following these guidelines by checking out the Office of Planning Web page under Trusting in the Spirit, Cluster Implementation Plans. While many parishes have created plans to date, a large number have not done so. Check and see if your parish or cluster is doing an annual plan and if it isn't, ask your pastor what you can do to help put one in place.

May the most just and most lovable will of God be done, be fulfilled, be praised, and eternally exalted above all things. Amen. Amen.

Grant Emmel is the director of the Office of Planning of the Diocese of Madison.