The Ethos of Worship (and why "goal-setting" is bad for my soul)

I am finished setting goals.

Seriously. I’m done.

You may have heard the whole schpeel about setting “Specific, measureable, obtainable, relevant, time-related” goals. It’s typical corporate-speak (that is now typical modern era church-leadership-speak).

But, for me, no more.

I know. Many people I know would insist that we must be “goal oriented.” (whatever that means). I’m familiar with the arguments for goal setting.

“You will not accomplish anything without setting goals”

“If you don’t have a target, you will hit nothing”

And something, something a “moving target.”

Blah, blah, blah. It all seems a bit clichè to me.

There’s a better way than goal setting, at least the way that “goal setting” is typically accomplished.

When it comes down to it, goal-setting doesn't work, in the same way that “New Year’s Resolutions” don't work. Goals are rarely, if ever, met in the specific ways we typically set them up. We often justify our plans by the feel of forward progress. Maybe we are further along in whatever our objectives may be than if there had been no goals. And while that is possible, I do not believe it to be an effective route to productivity … and, frankly, find it a downright depressing path.

I do believe in having objectives (this a very different concept than that of “goals”). But I’m exploring a contrasting idea in my personal life right now: Goal-setting will ultimately NOT be the practice that helps to achieve my objectives. The activities that will produce real movement in achieving objectives will be having a system and an ethos that advances me in the right direction. I’m finding that life, in general works better when I have less of a “goal-oriented” mindset and more of a “systems-oriented” mindset.

Here’s a recent and specific way this has worked for me.

I had to finish my Masters dissertation. In order to do so by my self-imposed deadline, mathematically speaking, I needed to pump out X number of words every day. So it made sense to give myself a daily “writing goal”. This worked on some days. I’d meet my goal, and feel good about myself, or I’d not meet my goal and feel like a loser. This wasn’t working.

Here’s what did work.

I got up every morning at the same time. Made coffee. Spent some time with my Bible and in prayer. Did two pages of free-writing in my journal. Made more coffee. Then did dissertation writing for several hours. Every morning. After a few short weeks, this became my morning ethos. Every day.

I finished my dissertation, and am receiving excellent feedback.

As I look back, I don’t think I finished because I made specific, measurable, obtainable, relevant, time-related goals. I finished because I had a system and an ethos that worked.

I could give more examples. I could also give lots of examples in the context of ministry (e.g., we “set measurable goals” for things like church-planting, but fail to think through systems which will result in an ethos of discipleship … this happens in US churches and mission fields around the world all the time. Another day, another blog, perhaps.)

However, I was thinking about this issue of “systems and ethos” a couple of weeks ago, as I prepared a sermon for Cornerstone Church of All Nations (which you can listen to online, if you wish) on Romans 12:1–2.

An ethos of worship is a necessary (and Biblical) objective for all believers in Jesus.

“Transformed by the renewal of the mind” is not about being more educated or having more BIble knowledge. It’s not about “setting goals” for our spiritual life that we can measure, obtain, etc., etc. It’s about ordering our lives … systemizing our lives … to live in an ethos of worship. This is what it takes. Worship changes us. Worship transforms us. Worship is the objective.

I am still thinking through this in my own life. How do I need to order my life so that worship is indeed my priority? I don’t think that’s about setting goals to “worship so many hours every day”. I think it’s deeper than that. More formative. Closer to the soul.

Things get super specific at this point. How I order my mornings. What kind of things do I do … or obstain from … during my days and evenings. How will I consciously work the disciplines of silence and solitude and listening into my daily and weekly routine. This requires much more than the banalities of corporate “goal-setting.” This requires an element of deeper self-awareness, others-awareness and, ultimately, Holy Spirit-awareness that isn’t conducive the cold-blooded nature of “goal setting”.

I know some will disagree (perhaps even “strongly disagree”) with my proposition here. It’s fine if you do (you’re welcome to make your point in the comments). However, I do know this: even if setting “specific, measureable, obtainable, relevant, time-related goals” is the way you need to “get things done”, it will not be enough.

There has to be a system which produces an ethos. At that point, I think real work will be accomplished. At least that’s how it’s working out for me. Personally. Corporately. For the Kingdom.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.
« Still different (and crazy) after all these years | Main | Dragon Riders and Sea Captains »