Church Planning: The Etch-a-Sketch System I Learned in Nicaragua

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was an Etch A Sketch. If you’ve never played with one, it works like this. You turn the two white knobs in different directions to create a line drawing like the one in the picture. That was cool enough for us kids like me who lived in the pre-internet era. But the coolest part came when when you wanted to start a new drawing. A quick jiggle of the screen and the drawing would ‘magically’ disappear ready for a new picture.

What does an Etch A Sketch have to do with planning? It’s a phrase I coined during my recent trip to Nicaragua.

In six days our team held three 1-day training conferences in different locations in the country for over 325 pastors and their wives. Being a meticulous planner, I had created a well-designed schedule for each day. The only problem? My view of time didn’t sync with how the pastors and wives viewed it nor did it sync with how the three local pastors who sponsored the events viewed it.

I was literally forced to change our daily schedule every hour, sometimes as often as 5 times in an hour. For a recovering obcessive-compulsive, I was ticked. I had diligently prepared this schedule. We had lots to accomplish to finish at five each day. The speakers had prepared talks to teach. Our worship team had practiced songs to sing. But the people didn’t show up until anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half late. And they took really long breaks. Early on inside I was yelling, “What’s wrong with you Nicaraguans! Don’t you wear watches?”

But God graciously moderated my inner voice and attitude and I realized I could learn a lot from how the Nicaraguans treated time.

For me, time has always been a commodity I didn’t want to waste. I always felt that I waste time if I’m not always accomplishing some task or goal. I’ve also believed that people who are perpetually late aren’t stewarding their time wisely. Although the two previous statements are often true, the culture I’ve experienced in my five trips to Nicaragua has helped me become less ‘uptight’ if sometimes my time passes without any appreciable accomplishment.

I believe these Nicaraguan pastors, as a whole, value relationships over tasks, perhaps more than we do in the United States.

If you are a pastor, you are a busy guy or gal. I know because I am one. It seems there’s always more to do in ministry than time to do it.

But for me, I hope my Etch A Sketch planning experience will help me savor the relational moments that may show no immediate accomplishment. Perhaps Jesus had this thought in mind when he gently admonished Martha with these words.

… only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10.42)

Related posts: Strategic Planning for Dummies

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