An Unexpected Gem in the Narrative of Jephthah

What can we learn from Jephthah? After all, he was born to a prostitute, rejected by his half brothers, denied an inheritance, served as a Judge over Israel, and either sacrificed or dedicated his daughter to the Lord. Few of us can identify with these characteristics so surely his story has little to say to us, right?

I discovered an unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah when recently preparing to preach this passage. I am constantly amazed by how applicable and relevant the Word of God is when we take the time to study passages that may at first glance seem irrelevant to us.

The unexpected gem is a lesson on how to handle confrontation. We all deal with confrontation whether it be personal or professional. In Judges 11:12-33, Jephthah has a confrontation with the king of the Ammonites over land. The way he handled that confrontation provides a great example. Let’s look at what he did.

1.  He acted. Jepthah had every reason to stay in Tob and do nothing. After all, his half brothers rejected him because his mother was a prostitute and they ran him out of town. He fled homeless and entered Tob as a refugee. He didn’t have to assist the Israelites in their war with the Ammonites, but when given an opportunity to lead, act he did.

Leadership is active not passive. You cannot sit by and watch if you want to influence those around you. Sometimes in conflict, we choose the way of passivity. We allow bitterness to fester and avoid the situation rather than dealing with it. Sometimes we allow conflict to build like steam in a pressure cooker until we too blow our top. To lead, influence others, or properly deal with conflict, you must act. But how you act matters. Jephthah, the unexpected leader from the wrong side of the tracks, demonstrates how to properly respond to conflict.

2.  He sought a peaceful solution first. The men of Gilead went to Jephthah because he had collected “worthless fellows” around him (v. 3). They wanted him to lead them into battle. He excelled at war not words, but his first act, was to send messengers to the king of the Ammonites.

Jephthah had moved past the youthful brashness of showing physical strength first. He had seen conflict up close, and he recognized that in any war people get hurt. In a war this size, lives would be lost and in any conflict, collateral damage may occur. When we seek vengeance rather than a solution, we take the place of God and find ourselves in the wrong. We must first seek a peaceful solution.

3.  He asked a question. Jephthah did not assume that he understood the situation completely and accurately. He asked a question. “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (v. 12) The king then explained his complaint that Israel had taken land that he felt belonged to him and he wanted it returned (v. 13).

Asking a question often diffuses a situation by demonstrating a willingness to listen. Even in cases when it does not solve a problem, it increases the probability of clear communication. In the Gospel accounts, we see that Jesus asked many questions. Remember when he asked, “Who do men say that I am?” Questions allow other people to express their position.

4.  He replied with good logic. In fact, his argument makes a good sample paper or speech. Jephthah has a thesis, supporting facts, and a conclusion—the building blocks that form the structure of good communication.

Jephthah presents his thesis in verse 15, “Israel did not take away the land of Moab or Ammonites…” Jephthah supported his thesis with arguments from history, theology, and precedent.

First, Jephthah argues historically in verses 16-20 by emphasizing that Israel acted peacefully until attacked by Sihon the king of the Amorites and that Israel never fought with the Ammonites. He moves from historical argumentation to theological argumentation in verses 21-24. He argued that only a deity gave victories. The Ammonites believed that their god Chemosh gave them land whereas Israel believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave them this land. Notice that Jephthah intentionally includes Moab in verse 15, notes Chemosh the god of Moab rather than Molech the god of the Ammonites, and references Balak of Moab later. This seems to be an intentional choice rather than a careless confusion of deities. Finally, he appeals to precedent in (25-26) when he references Balak the king of Moab who never made a claim to the land and nor was a claim made in the 300 years since the supposed incident. Why now would the king of the Ammonites suddenly have this problem with Israel?

Jephthah rightly concluded that Israel had not sinned. Rather, it was the king of the Ammonites who was wrong by making war against Israel. Jephthah demonstrates that the king had an agenda that did not include peace. He appeals to God to judge between them, which happens in the resulting battle.

It appears Jephthah graduated from Tob Liberal Arts University. Okay, so this is a shameless plug for Cedarville University, since we educate students across every degree to think well, write well, and communicate well. That is the idea behind a liberal arts education. Jephthah, a man of war, demonstrates that he is a man of words too. He analyzed the king’s accusation, formulated an excellent response, and communicated it well.

We should respond this well to confrontation. So often when we are faced with confrontation, we assume that we know the facts without understanding the other side of the story. Sometimes we escalate the situation by replaying it over and over in our minds. With each rerun, the situation escalates, we assign motives, and our inner boiler heats up a little hotter blowing the situation out of proportion. Even when we ask the right questions, we must be willing to listen to the response. Jephthah asked the right question, listened to the accusation, formulated a reasoned response, and sought a peaceful solution.

5.  He did what he had to do. Sometimes our best efforts don’t work. Sometimes we learn that other side has an agenda or has already made up their mind. We cannot be afraid to take a stand, but that should be our last course of action.

As I looked for application in a seldom-preached Old Testament narrative about a lesser-known judge who usually draws more criticism for a rash vow than praise for wisdom, I found a hidden gem. So the next time you find yourself in a confrontation, “Just Jephthah.”

And by, “Just Jephthah,” I mean lead well by asking a question, understanding the accusation, responding with logic, seeking a peaceful solution, and taking a stand when necessary. By going directly to the person rather than taking up arms on Facebook, Twitter, the gossip corner, or the rumor mill, you too will come to appreciate this unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah.

Strategic Planning Committee Members

The email below went out to our campus community this morning. For those following along as we begin our strategic planning process, I have selected the members of the committee. I am meeting with the chairman tomorrow afternoon. He and I will discuss when they plan to meet and the implementation of the process.

Dear Cedarville Family,

I would like to announce to you the members of the Strategic Planning Committee. They are:

  • Tom Mach: (Chair) Chair of History and Government, Professor of History, & Director of the Honors Program.
  • Rod Johnson: (Vice-Chair) Associate Vice President for Operations
  • Lynn Brock: Dean of Library Services
  • Mandy Nolt: Accreditation & Assessment Specialist
  • Chris Cross: Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance
  • Amanda Gillespie: Advancement Officer, Scholarships
  • Tim Tuinstra: Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering
  • Brandon Waltz: Director of Production Services Group
  • Jim Amstutz: Director of Event Services
  • Jason Lee: Dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies, Professor of Theological Studies
  • Anne Rich: Associate Professor of Accounting

I am thankful to each of these members for agreeing to serve on this important committee. Through the graciousness of God, I believe we have assembled a well-balanced committee. We have faculty members serving in professional and liberal arts areas, we have staff members representing the entire institution, and we have variation in age and gender. This committee represents those who received the most votes of faculty and staff members, those recommended by the Vice Presidents, and a committee selected after sincere prayer. I would ask that you continue to pray for each and every member of the committee. Thank you and God bless.

By Faith,

Thomas White

The Steps Involved in Strategic Planning

Part of the problem in tackling strategic planning is agreeing on the steps involved for a particular institution and having common agreement on the definition of items like mission statement, vision statement, value statement, etc. Toward that end, I think it would be helpful to post the outlines of the steps various resources use in strategic planning. I have listed them in order from the one I found most helpful to least helpful with any comments in parenthesis. The title of the book is at the top of each list in case you want to purchase it to read more.

A lot of overlap exists, but each book states items a little differently. The steering committee will need to have input into the final process chosen for Cedarville University, but these lists will be helpful in identifying the right process when that time comes. If you are embarking upon your own strategic planning journey, then I hope this is helpful to you as well.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations (Simple, easily understandable, and complete. This one is my favorite so far. This book also has worksheets and several helpful appendices.)

  1. Phase 1: Get Ready
    • Identify the Reasons for Planning
    • Set Up Your Planning Process for Success
    • Develop a Plan for Gathering Information from Internal and External Stakeholders
    • Design your Strategic Planning Process to Meet Your Organizational Needs
    • Write a Planning Work Plan
  2. Phase 2: Articulate Mission, Vision, and Values
    • Write (or Reaffirm or Rewrite) Your Mission Statement
    • Write Your Vision Statement
    • Articulate the Fundamental Values that Guide Your Work
  3. Phase 3: Assess Your Situation
    • Prepare a History and Descriptive Profile of Operations
    • Articulate Previous and Current Strategies
    • Gather Information from Internal Stakeholders
    • Gather Information from External Stakeholders
    • Gather Information from Documents and Other Sources
    • Summarize Information into a Situation Assessment
  4. Phase 4: Agree on Priorities
    • Analyze Data, Review Progress to Date, and Update Workplan
    • Use Business Planning; Tools for Assessing Your Program Portfolio
    • Agree on Each Program’s Future Growth Strategy and Develop Your Program Portfolio
    • Confirm Your Future Core Strategies
    • Agree on Administrative, Financial, and Governance Priorities
  5. Phase 5: Write the Strategic Plan
    • Create Goals and Objectives
    • Understand the Financial Implications of Your Decisions
    • Write the Strategic Planning Document
    • Adopt the Strategic Plan and Next Steps
  6. Phase 6: Implement the Strategic Plan
    • Plan to Manage Change
    • Develop a Detailed Annual Operational Plan
  7. Phase 7: Evaluate and Monitor the Strategic Plan
    • Evaluate the Strategic Plan and the Strategic Planning Process
    • Monitor the Strategic Plan and Update as Needed

Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A Guide for Leaders (Designed for my context and uses the language of the Academy. Those items alone make it a must have for leaders in higher education to understand the terms and definitions.)

  1. Phase 1: Mission, Vision, and Values
  2. Phase 2: Collaborators and Beneficiaries
  3. Phase 3: Environmental Scan
  4. Phase 4: Goals
  5. Phase 5: Strategies and Action Plans
  6. Phase 6: Plan Creation
  7. Phase 7: Outcomes and Achievements

10 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning (good simple plan, relatively short book at 250 pages, good definitions and discussion in chapter 5 of mission, vision and values, overall a very helpful resource.)

  1. Laying the Foundation
  2. Scanning the Business Environment
  3. Collecting Relevant Data
  4. Analyzing the Collected Data
  5. Stating Mission, Vision and Values
  6. Prioritizing Needs and Identifying Risks
  7. Designing and Validating Tactics
  8. Prioritizing Tactics and Resources
  9. Documenting and Communicating the Plan
  10. Maintaining the Plan

Strategic Planning for Public and Non-Profit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievements (very simple outline, easily understandable and provides a good framework.)

  1. Initiate and agree on a strategic planning process
  2. Identify organizational mandates
  3. Clarify organizational mission and values
  4. Assess the external and internal environments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  5. Identify the strategic issues facing the organization
  6. Formulate strategies to manage the issues
  7. Review and adopt the strategic plan or plans
  8. Establish an effective organizational vision
  9. Develop an effective implementation process
  10. Reassess strategies and the strategic planning process

Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies (The most simple when looking at the 4 steps. Easy to communicate quickly and when fleshed out relatively thorough, but for an academic context, I fear this comes across as over simplified. That is the only reason for its lower ranking. In a church or non-profit, this one might work well. To the common sense person, this communicates well in my opinion.)

  1. Where are we now?
    • Mission
    • Values statement and/or guiding principles
    • SWOT
      • Strengths
      • Weaknesses
      • Opportunities
      • Threats
  2. Where are we going?
    • Sustainable competitive advantage
    • Vision Statement
  3. How will we get there?
    • Long-term Strategic Objectives
    • Strategy
    • Short-Term goals/priorities/initiatives
    • Action items
    • Execution
  4. How will we measure our progress?
    • Scorecard/Key
    • Monthly/Quarterly Business Reviews
    • Financial Assessment

Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning People, Performance, and Payoffs (p. 85) (good plan but perhaps over simplified and the book did not provide as much information on each phase of planning or did not lay it out as clearly as the above resourced did. This information is on one page whereas in some books the steps are the table of contents)

  1. Prepare to Plan
  2. Develop Ideal Vision
  3. Conduct Needs Assessment
  4. Analyze Scope and SWOTs
  5. Review Strategic Objectives (Mega, Macro, and Micro)
  6. Develop Strategies and Tactics
  7. Implement, Evaluate, Continuously Improve (Revise as required)

Team-Based Strategic Planning: A Complete Guide to Structuring, Facilitating, and Implementing the Process (I simply did not resonate with this resource as well as others. For other personality types, this one may be more helpful, but the delegation and accountability portions didn’t fit my purposes. I want to be actively involved in the process, and I desire a team feel more than an authoritative feel so delegation and accountability don’t communicate my desires as effectively as other choices of the above resources.)

  1. Situation analysis (external assessment, internal assessment)
  2. Priority issues
  3. Mission
  4. Objectives
  5. Strategies
  6. Program Development
  7. Delegation
  8. Accountability
  9. Review

60 Minute Strategic Plan (This book focused too much on business for my purposes. To be completely forthcoming, the title of this book bothers me a little. Any plan created in 60 minutes simply can’t have the thought and planning necessary to be called strategic. That’s playing checkers and not chess. All that to say the necessary parts are present, but I am not resonating well with this resource.)

  1. Issue
  2. Assumptions
  3. Values
  4. Vision
  5. Customer Benefit
  6. Other Beneficiaries
  7. Obstacles
  8. Vital Signs
  9. Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities
  10. Strategies
  11. Actions
  12. Title


Strategic Planning: Pitfalls of a Two Committee Structure

In my last post, I gave the reasons for choosing to go with two committees for strategic planning. One committee will be composed of the VPs and the president, which I will refer to as the executive leadership team. The second steering committee will be made up of selected faculty and staff members from across the institution to gather broad based input. In this post, I will discuss some of the pitfalls we have to avoid in this structure.

Pitfall 1— Can You Hear Me Now? This pitfall manifests itself when the steering committee brings ideas to the executive leadership team and the team thinks, “Where in the world did this come from?” While listening to the presentation of the laborious strategic plan, they think, “We can’t possibly do this.” But in an effort not to hurt feelings, they respond with, “Thank you for your hard work, we will take this into consideration.” In essence, clear communication has not occurred and two different expectations exist…a disconnect between the leadership and the steering committee.

This disconnect can easily occur. The committee looks at opportunities or threats. They have a great brainstorming session, and they come up with a plan to take advantage of opportunities or avoid threats. But if those opportunities or threats have never crossed the leadership’s mind or perhaps a more urgent set of opportunities and threats dominate the executive leadership team’s mind, then a disconnect can easily occur. At times, personal agendas arise that do not benefit the institution. Additionally, the lack of having realistic data about enrollment or dollars leads to an unrealistic result.

Pitfall 2 – Show Me the Money! This can be a symptom of pitfall 1, but it doesn’t have to be. Many good ideas never get off the ground because a lack of funding resulted in too short of a runway. The steering committee needs to understand enrollment numbers and the budget, and the executive leadership team has to be transparent and forthcoming with enough information for realistic planning. Planning a new program that requires a new building may be great, but it’s a horrible idea if you don’t have the donor base to raise the money for the building. While it may be easy to say, “Let’s raise 20 million and launch this program,” actually finding people willing to give that money can be very difficult. Additionally, there are times when sudden challenges arise that require cuts in the budget. Proper communication concerning these types of situations will prevent people from thinking they wasted their time if a plan never receives funding.

Solution: The two committees must communicate regularly. We will have a regularly scheduled meeting with both committees to talk about agenda items or items from the floor. I also plan to meet regularly with the chairman of the steering committee so that he or she can communicate items to me, and I can provide feedback or perhaps point out some threats or opportunities that I am watching closely. Being intentional with communication will minimize the risk of pitfalls one and two.

Pitfall 3 – Burnout: Who really wants to do this much work every year? Committees pull teachers away from doing what they were called to do–teach. Committees prevent staff from accomplishing their primary task. Sometimes, you need a plan to acquire enough people to agree to serve on a committee with this large of a task. The chairman especially has the possibility of burnout. I talked with at least one former chairman who expressed no desire to ever do it again.

Solution: The solution of implementing a two-year cycle rather than a one-year cycle came from a discussion with a former chairman of a strategic planning committee. Performing everything associated with a yearly evaluation, SWOT analysis, writing, planning, communicating can be cumbersome. A two-year cycle makes the workload more manageable but can still changed and adapt with the organization. Assuming the chairperson we select agrees, Cedarville will operate on a two-year cycle. Another solution is to see the steering committee as a proving ground for future leaders. The strategic planning process provides a path for advancement within the organization, motivation for serving, and a training ground for leadership and communication skills. In this way, it becomes a win-win situation and minimizes the difficulty in recruiting team members to serve.

Pitfall 4 – Lack of Evaluation: A plan that is never evaluated becomes a relic on a shelf to demonstrate that you have a plan. The plan becomes the desired end without implementation or communication. Sometimes this happens intentionally. When an institution really doesn’t want to plan, but has to do so for accreditation or other outside pressures, the plan becomes the goal and not strategic thinking. At other times, a plan reaches too far into the future and merges with a long-range plan. The best strategic plans have to be nimble like a good football game plan. You may have the first 20 plays scripted, but you have to maintain flexibility to adapt quickly beyond that. And when you go in at half-time down by 20, you know something has to change. A strategic plan should be evaluated every two years (for our cycle) or sooner. Honest evaluation of the structure, people, and plan will help an organization succeed into the future.

Solution: Evaluate constantly and plan an evaluation phase into the two-year cycle but don’t wait until then to evaluate the plan. The point of strategic planning is strategy, not a document. Understanding where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there comes from strategic planning. Identifying threats or opportunities comes from planning and then surviving threats or taking advantage of opportunities results from good strategic thinking. If you want to thrive, you must think strategically in life, in business, and in ministry.

We will also clearly communicate that evaluation must be ongoing, and assign someone with the task of evaluating. If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible so a culture of evaluation must be created and diligently maintained. Constant evaluation also releases the team from the desire to have the perfect plan before implementation. Understanding that the structure or the plan can be changed in the future provides freedom to act.

Devoted to Destruction

The Old Testament passages that talk of Israel devoting entire cities to destruction are hard to stomach. If you don’t know me, then you need to know up front that I’m not a skinny-jean wearing, tree-hugging, pacifist. I’m a member of the NRA, a fourth-degree black belt, a supporter of our military, who likes MMA, and loves to watch football. Yet still, devoting a city to total destruction seems harsh.

Killing the men of valor I get, and even the leaders of the city. But to slay the oxen, sheep, donkeys, young and old men, women, and children…I don’t know if I could have done that.

So this week as I am preaching on the battle of Jericho from Joshua 6, I have had to wrestle with the entire city being devoted to destruction. I’m not taking the approach that the Bible said it so that settles it and you should never question anything. I’m also not taking the approach that God the Father is harsh in the Old Testament while Jesus demonstrates love in the New Testament. The Bible is a unified story of a gracious God so I am seeking to discern what God wants to teach me in this passage.

What I have realized is that I presume upon the grace and mercy of God without taking seriously enough God’s hatred of sin.

Yes, Jericho demonstrates the faith and obedience of the Israelites. Yes, Jericho displays amazing grace as God adopts Rahab the prostitute into the family and lineage of King David and King Jesus. But Jericho also demonstrates judgment for sinful rebellion.

In Genesis 15:16 we learn that the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete. God patiently endured their rebellion for over 400 years. We learn in Leviticus 18-20 that during this time, these nations committed heinous sins such as: child sacrifice, consulting mediums and spirits, adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and worshipping false gods.

In four different places in Scripture, God reminds the children of Israel that He is driving out these nations to punish their iniquity.

Leviticus 18:24-25, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”

Leviticus 20:23, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”

Deuteronomy 9:4-5, “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 20:16-18, “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.”

Even in the midst of such detestable wickedness, God tells Israel to march around the city for 7 days. That means Jericho potentially had 6 days to act as Nineveh did and repent of their transgressions. Joshua 2 tells us that they had heard about the drying up of the Red Sea, and the defeat of Sihon and Og. Rahab even says, that “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:10-11) They knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and continued to rebel against him.

With the destruction of Jericho, we see a glimpse of the final judgment, but with the salvation of Rahab, we see grace extended to those who repent and believe.

What strikes me most is God’s hatred of sin. He wants total destruction of evil and one day He will accomplish it. We like Jericho sit while God patiently endures the rebellion of many in our own nation and while God extends grace to the Rahabs of this world who repent and believe. God’s ultimate hatred of sin is so serious that He will accept no treaty with evil in the war for the affections of our heart.

As I look at those devoted to destruction, I realize that I do not hate my sin enough. Rather at times, I love my sin more than I love God. At times, I make peace with my sin and tolerate its existence through a treaty of deception. Sin deceives me to think that I can “handle it or control it.” Biblically, I should hate my sin and desire its utter destruction so that I may live my life totally devoted to God.

My prayer for you and me is that we look at sin through God’s eyes, which will cause our hatred of sin to grow and stoke in our hearts a desire for God’s amazing grace to abound.

Strategic Planning: Choose This Day How You Will Plan…

Okay, so it’s not really the same decision presented in Joshua, and the title is a little over the top, but it’s my blog and I’m having fun. The process we choose will undergo an evaluation every two years so it can change, but choosing the process is a big step in implementing a new strategic planning process.

In my last post on strategic planning, I described three different models. In this post, I want to unveil the model that I have chosen for Cedarville University and provide some of the reasons why.

I ruled out having the executive leadership team serve as the strategic planning team. I am new to the institution, and I did not build it. I am not the institution although I do represent it wherever I go. Many of our team members do not know me well yet. For those reasons, I don’t think the Cedarville family would like this model. Also, I want broader input because I am new to Cedarville, and I need to learn more about the people I am leading. For those reasons, model 1 would be ineffective for Cedarville University.

I have ruled out having one large committee made up of the executive leadership and at-large members as the strategic planning team. I want input from across the institution. With over 3,600 students, 100 areas of study, 250 plus faculty and a large staff base, I need input from enough places that one committee would be too large. Working in higher education, I need input from various schools. I need someone who loves liberal arts and someone who knows his or her way around a shop…not too mention all of our facilities and our budget. I need input from young bright employees and from those who have been here 25 or more years. That committee quickly grows to a 20-person team which cannot be efficient, agile, or even herded very well.

By process of elimination, you now know I have chosen model 3, consisting of two separate committees. One committee will be the executive leadership team and the other will be a steering committee.

This model worked at Cedarville University from the early 1980s until around 2000. It has history on its side. I have only been at Cedarville for 18 months now, and I did not graduate from Cedarville. With some employees being graduates that have worked here for more than 25 years, I need their input. Not having a long history with this school, I desire the transparency and trust that this model will help bring. Yes, I am losing some control, but ultimately I trust that God is in control and that the Cedarville University family is united enough in purpose that this will not be a problem. The weakness…well I will address those in my next post, but as with everything, good communication is the key to success. I think we can take some steps to ensure good communication. For these reasons, I am choosing model 3.

Whew, glad that’s over. So two committees it is. Now, let’s summarize with a few talking points.

For 3 reasons, I am choosing to go with two separate committees:

1) I have not been with this organization for a long time so I need to work at broad buy-in for our vision and plan. Model 3 includes the largest number of people so it meets what I perceive as the institution’s need.

2) My institution has a history of successfully operating with this model so it will not be completely new. I have history supporting my choice.

3) I need input from legacy employees, younger employees, faculty, and staff, which would make one committee too large. Model 3 allows me to include representatives from all of these groups for comprehensive input, meeting my needs as a leader.

Make sense?…it does to me, and I hope it does to you too.  In the next post, I want to address some of the pitfalls of our selected structure and how we plan to avoid them.

Do We Believe? Moses Did

Hebrews 11:23-29 zooms in on Moses as a man who lives by faith.

The passage begins in verse 23 by discussing the faith of Moses’ parents as they hid him rather than throw him in the Nile River. Two worldviews arise here, with Pharaoh not valuing children but Moses’ parent seeing children as a blessing from the Lord. After being granted temporary care of Moses, we must assume that they diligently taught him about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which leads to the main description in this section of Scripture—Moses’ personal faith.

Verses 24-26 describe the faith of Moses personally. Here the author of Hebrews demonstrates that biblical faith rejects the temporary titles, temptations or treasures of this world for the eternal rewards of identifying with Christ.

By faith Moses rejected worldly titles. Verse 24 says Moses refused the title “son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” This title would have given him authority, power, prestige, and more. Yet, God called him to reject the Egyptian mother who adopted him out of the river Nile. Unlike Joseph and Daniel who worked through the political system, God called Moses to refuse the title. Moses obeyed by faith.

By faith Moses rejected worldly temptations. Verse 25 says that by faith Moses refused to enjoy “the fleeting pleasures of sin.” The author of Hebrews does not provide a detailed explanation about what the fleeting pleasures of sin include, but we must assume materialism, hedonism, and other temptations would have been included. The main point is that such pleasures are fleeting in comparison to the eternal reward in Christ.

By faith Moses rejected worldly treasures. Verse 26 says that by faith Moses rejected the “treasures of Egypt.” More than just materialism, perhaps even the cultural comfort of a stable home, food, clothing, and a nice standard of living, served as temptations to prevent Moses from living boldly for God. Moses did not allow temporary treasure to derail his eternal purpose.

By faith Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God” and considered “the reproach of Christ greater wealth.” Moses’ loyalty to God by faith resulted in identification with the slaves of Egypt rather than the royalty of Egypt. He rejected the worldly treasures of the richest culture of the day to choose the reproach of Christ because he looked to a future reward beyond this earth.

This passage of Scripture contains rich application for today. As I studied it, I stopped and asked myself the following questions, which I hope will be helpful to you as we examine our hearts, our motives, and our faith.

  • Would I refuse a respected earthly title in order to be faithful to God or would I compromise for the sake of power, prestige, and authority?
  • Would I choose to be a mistreated slave in this life rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin?
  • A more basic question is do I reject the temporary pleasure of sin to be faithful to Christ on a daily basis? Lust, Gossip, Lying, Pride, Gluttony, etc.
  • Do I consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than worldly treasure? If not, what does it say about my faith and my worldview that I value temporary riches that I can see and touch over the eternal reward that God promises?
  • Do I truly believe the future reward is coming? If so, how should that affect the way I live my life daily?

If we truly have faith shaped by a biblical worldview, then we should be willing to reject earthly titles, temptations or treasures for eternal rewards.

The question is simple: Do we believe? Do we have biblical faith?

What we genuinely believe affects the way we live. Perhaps our footsteps of doubt provide an accurate depiction of our inner beliefs. Alongside the father reference din Mark 9:24 we pray, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

This passage concludes by discussing the faith of Moses’ leadership in verses 27-29. He left Egypt, he endured the desert, he kept the Passover, and he led the Israelites to cross the Red Sea. But before he demonstrated great faith in leadership, he possessed great faith personally.

My prayer today for you and for me is that we will live out our faith as Moses did.



Photo is from the movie Exodus.

Persevering to Understand the Order of the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11:27 says, “By faith he (Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.” Verse 28 then says, “By faith, he (Moses) kept the Passover.

Some commentaries embark upon tangled discussions as to whether verse 27 addresses Moses’ first departure from Egypt, or the second.

Both answers seem to have a problem. The first apparently contradicts Scripture and the second contradicts the historical order.

If the author of Hebrews refers to the first departure of Moses, then what do we do with Exodus 2:14 which indicates that Moses was afraid? Some commentators attempt to explain away the fear and contend that the first departure is referenced. If this refers to the second departure of Moses, then what do we do with the order as the Passover came before the final departure?[1] Some like O’Brien and Kistemaker argue the reference is to the second and final departure as the “culmination of a series of events’.”[2]

I believe that the Old Testament testimony of faith and not order is the focus because their testimony to God’s faithfulness encourages our faith so that we might run the race with endurancCU_Chapel_Heroes_Titlee and perseverance.

Hebrews 11 falls in between discussions in chapter 10 and 12 on perseverance and endurance in our faith. Faith and commendation in verses 1-2 and verses 39-40 bracket this listing of the heroes of the faith. Inside chapter 11, the words “by faith” occur over 20 times. This rhetorical devise serves to encourage the reader and provide an introduction to the “cloud of witnesses” testifying to the faithfulness of God in Hebrews 12:1.

The order of the Old Testament witness is not the focus—their testimony of faith is.

Let me demonstrate why order was not the author’s focus.[3]

  • The author mentions Isaac and Jacob in verse 9 before Sarah in verse 11.
  • The author mentions the walls of Jericho in verse 30 before turning to Rahab being friendly to the Israelite spies in verse 31.
  • The author mentions Gideon (Judges 6-8) in verse 32 before Barak (Judges 4-5).
  • The author mentions Samson (Judges 13-16) before Jephtha (Judges 11-12).
  • The author mentions David before Samuel.
  • Depending on how one takes verse 33-34 the stopping of the mouths of lions could be out of order with the quenching the power of fire if the references are to Daniel 6 and 3 respectively.

The order of the events is not the primary focus. These events focus the reader’s attention toward a consistently faithful God.

So while we run the race on this earth, let’s not miss the forest for the trees. We don’t place our faith in material possessions. We don’t place our faith in our own wisdom. We don’t place our faith in anything this world offers. Hebrews 11 provides a host of witnesses testifying that God is faithful. Over and over again God is faithful. Therefore, we place our faith in Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith.



[1] David Allen in the New American Commentary on Hebrews provides a thorough discussion of the problems.

[2] See P.T. Obrien, The Letter to the Hebrews (pp. 433–434), and S.J. Kistemaker & Hendriksen, Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 339–340).

[3] G. Guthrie in his commentary on Hebrews provides a good discussion on the order in Hebrews 11.

Strategic Planning: A Description of the Options for Structure

Implementing a strategic planning process necessitates choosing a structure. Endless variations exists, but in my research, I have found three different types to be the most common: 1) The executive leadership team is the strategic planning committee and process, 2) One large committee which includes the executive leadership team and other members, 3) Two committees with one composed of the executive leadership team and another steering committee chosen from the organization at large. All of these models have strengths and weaknesses.

Model 1 — Executive Leadership Team is the Strategic Planning Committee:

A strength of this model is that it is efficient, agile, and will have budget resources allocated to its decisions since the same leadership making the decisions creates the final budget. Another strength is that those making the decision have access to all pertinent information including confidential employee or trustee discussions that may not be shared with a larger group. This model also maintains the greatest level of control which some leaders and organizations need or desire.

A weakness of model one is the lack of input from the broader constituency which may mean the final strategic plan feels forced upon those who must implement it. Unless you have a strong leadership style, dedicated followers, a high level of trust, and a very charismatic leader, this model can come across as a dictatorship. In some circumstances, it does work. If you personify the organization, if the organization is developed around the leader, or if you are the founder of the organization, then this may be the perfect model for you.

Cedarville University is much bigger than any one person, and like the children of Israel, I have inherited buildings that I did not build. I have, therefore, ruled out model one for Cedarville University, but I recognize that this model may work best for some churches or non-profits.

Model 2 — One Large Committee with the Executive Leadership Team and At Large Members:

The adjective “large” can vary. For my context, the executive leadership team includes 8 people so one large committee would have to include 12-16 members to have any level of input from outside the executive leadership team. The first weakness quickly emerges. To have broad input, the committee becomes so large that it is hard to find meeting times or manage discussion. Another weakness of this model is that employees reporting to people sitting at the table often do not feel the freedom to express their opinions without hearing their supervisor talk first to confirm support for the idea. If this happens, then you do not have broad-based ideas which limits the effectiveness of this model.

A strength is that one committee ensures communication between all members of the strategic planning team. Another strength is that executive leadership maintains a level of control. While control can be seen as bad, it can also be seen as good when it prevents personal agendas or unrealistic goals from dominating the discussion.

At Cedarville University, this model was the choice of 80 of the 100 staff members who responded to the survey, but it was the choice of very few faculty members. Perhaps staff managers do a good job of listening which means staff feel less of a need to be involved in the planning process. Perhaps their trust level for administration is higher because they interact with leadership more frequently. Perhaps they are overworked or engaged in immediate assignments and prefer not to be tasked with serving on a committee which is more likely with two separate committees. I’m not sure why the preference was so great for one committee among staff members. I am still thinking through this one.

What I do know is that I’m in a no win situation with this choice. One committee pleases the staff whereas two committees pleases the faculty. At least making this information public will reassure them that I have considered the input and tried to think through the possibilities.

I believe the one committee model would work well for small executive leadership teams and high trust organizations that can keep the size of the committee manageable. It provides greater flexibility, agility and efficiency if the committee size is small enough. I am not leaning toward this model because of the size committee I would need.

Model 3 — Two Committees: The Executive Leadership and a Separate Steering Committee:

The weakness of the two committee system is also a strength–separation. The separation from executive leadership allows freedom to think. That freedom sometimes results in ideas that the executive leadership will not support or fund. If communication between the two committees is not strong, then the steering committee may feel like it is wasting time or does not have administrative support. Plans are perceived as stillborn with no budget resources and no feedback–equaling frustration and failure. From an administrative side, relinquishing control can be scary and can create problems if the committee determines the best course is a way that you don’t want to go. Perhaps the reason you don’t want to go that direction is information from another constituency like students, parents, alumni, donors, or trustees that you understand better than the committee.

The strength of the two committee system is broad based communication. The freedom to think separately also brings buy in to the ultimate plan. This system brings trust and transparency to the institution as well. For institutions where the executive leadership is new, this system brings much needed information from other leaders on campus. For institutions with a low trust factor, this minimized the criticism of the administration having personal agendas and increases transparency in the process. This model may also develop other leaders on campus, but the chair has to be a strong leader with good communication skills or the committee will not succeed.

Feedback from the faculty members indicates that this is the plan of choice, but only 15% of our faculty members participated in the town hall forums. Low participation indicates either a high level of trust in the administration or apathy toward strategic planning. If the faculty feel like strategic planning never changes anything anyway, then why should they participate. If they trust the current direction, then there is no need to engage personally by attending another meeting. Perhaps, they are over worked and just want more time for students, research, writing or teaching. I am not sure why the preference for two committees or why so few went to a town hall meeting. I am still thinking through this one.

Time to Choose:

I now have to make a choice. I will do that in the next post. I have prayed throughout the research that God would make the right choice clear. As I hope I have communicated, different models can work for different institutions. Good leaders know their team and try to sense what the organization needs most. Good leaders do what is right before the Lord and then allow God to sort the rest out. I don’t know that there is a right moral decision in this situation, but I am going to do my best to make the best choice for Cedarville University and then pray that God works through it.

Strategic Planning: Beginning the Process

One of my goals as President of Cedarville University during the 2014-2015 school year is to implement a new strategic planning process. I have finished the first semester of research, and I will be blogging about what I am learning and the process we implement.

Why? Blogging about our process demonstrates 21st century transparency to all our constituents and might also benefit other leaders. I have also found that writing clarifies my own thinking and ability to communicate clearly to others. At the very least, the Cedarville University family will have the opportunity to know what is happening and why.

Starting out, I perceive that a good strategic planning process allows team members to know that I value their opinion while also communicating that I understand my obligation to cast the vision and make necessary decisions. A good process understands who we are, realizes where we are, identifies future opportunities or threats, allows the best ideas to rise to the top, remains faithful to our mission, and positions resources to take advantage of future opportunities. A good process also must adjust to the institution and its needs. We will see if this working description develops along the way. What follows are the initial steps we have taken at Cedarville?

Step One – Solicit feedback from faculty and staff.

The Faculty Committee to the President (FCP) initiated several town hall discussions which were open to all faculty members. They gathered the questions and comments from those meetings and delivered them to me in written format.

The Staff Committee to the President (SCP) determined that an electronic survey would work better. They relayed my primary questions about the structure and process to the entire staff and returned the feedback to me.

One might ask, “Why use two committees?” First, utilizing committees like the FCP and SCP allows faculty and staff to feel the freedom to provide brutally honest feedback, which in turn allows me to know exactly what members of our team think. While there are certainly venues where anonymity is inappropriate, in this instance, it allows me to have candid input that is vital to the strategic planning process. Second, the FCP and SCP are already fixtures within Cedarville’s structure, both of which aid in communication to and from the President to faculty and staff. Using these existing committees demonstrates a willingness to work within the established systems and a desire for honest feedback. Finally, it involves more people in the process while increasing transparency. So far, I would say using the committees was a wise decision.

Step Two – Research, research, research.

In some ways, this happened simultaneously with my first step. I began researching, May 2014, and I am still reading. Since this step is still ongoing, I list it as second. I have talked with several members of our Cedarville family who have experience in strategic planning. I have talked with current and former presidents at other institutions. I have had multiple discussions with Dr. Paul Dixon and read his dissertation on the subject. I have also consulted or read the following books:

Surviving to Thriving: A Planning Framework for Leaders of Private Colleges & Universities – This book includes much more than strategic planning, but it says a great deal about strategic planning. I created an outline of this book and went over it (along with several other books) in August of 2014 at our executive leadership team retreat.

Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A Guide for Leaders (2014) – I liked this book because I could get it on Kindle for my iPad, and it specifically addresses higher education. A strategic planning process at a University has unique challenges not present in all non-profits or businesses.

Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (2011) – The table of contents sold me on this book. Its sections on the 10 step strategic planning process and tailoring the process to specific circumstances is the reason I bought it.

60 Minute Strategic Plan (2011) – The “How to Use this Book” section in the Kindle preview sold me. Chapters 1-3 comment on why to plan and the importance of planning; chapters 4-15 discuss on the 12 step process it recommends and the last chapter addresses implementation of the plan in your organization.

Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies (2011) – Yes, I did order it. After all, what could it hurt? I read the preview on the definitions for strategy and identifying the part of a strategic plan and from those two sections, I thought it might be helpful.

10 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning (2006) – I like that it had 10 clear steps which provide clear direction for a strategic planning committee. It also has a chapter dedicated to “Stating Mission, Vision, and Values” which I think will be helpful.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Practical Guide and Workbook (2003) – While a bit older, it’s now in its second edition, has 4.3 of 5 stars with 27 reviews on Amazon, and includes the workbook.

Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning People, Performance, and Payoffs (2003) – This hardcover book has 416 pages making it a thorough work. Thorough enough to qualify as an academic resource and it’s thickness alone adds credibility to any planning process…it takes a plan just to make it through it. But I didn’t buy it just to have an instant earthquake shelter, and I am still working my way through this monster.

Team-Based Strategic Planning: A Complete Guide to Structuring, Facilitating and Implementing the Process (1994) – This one is a little old, but I like that it included structure and implementation as a major focus.

For better or worse, we began with these two steps. If you know of a good book that I have yet to consult, please let me know. I suspect the research phase will never end as each planning process needs to be reviewed to ensure effectiveness.

The next step is determining the structure which will best work for Cedarville and selecting the people who will participate in the process which I plan to do in January. As with everything, we do at Cedarville, we have and continue to pray for God to grant wisdom and guide us to a process that will result in clear leadership that glorifies God.

If you’ve stayed with this post until the end, thanks for your perseverance in reading. I hope you found it helpful. I’m back to research…there’s a 416 page book calling my name.

« Older posts

© 2015 Thomas White

Based on a theme by Anders NorenUp ↑