Month: February 2015

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.

© 2020 Thomas White

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