By Rick Warren 

Few things in life happen spontaneously. You need a plan—a plan for building relationships, for witnessing to others, for reading the Bible, and for praying each day. Almost everything in life needs a plan.

Good leaders are planners. They always think through where they’re headed, and they don’t waste time worrying about failure. Effective ministry leaders start with prayer, and then they plan what God wants them to accomplish.

Why is planning so important for your ministry?

  • God does it. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).
  • God commands it“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (Proverbs 4:26 GNT).
  • Planning shows good stewardship“Live life, then with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time. Don’t be vague but grasp firmly what you know to be the will of the Lord”  (Ephesians 5:15-17 PHILLIPS).

Nehemiah was a master planner and gave us a biblical model for how to do so in our ministries. He had an enormous challenge ahead of him when he returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls. It’s impossible to tackle something that big on a whim.

Nehemiah teaches us six specific lessons about planning. I’ll share the first five lessons in this article and the sixth next week.

1. Think it through.

Nehemiah 2:1 notes that Nehemiah first talked to the king about rebuilding the wall “in the month of Nissan,” which was four months after God began burdening him about the work. What had Nehemiah been doing during those four months? He prayed, and he planned. When the king asked Nehemiah what he wanted, he didn’t hesitate.

Howard Hendricks said, “Nothing is more profitable than serious thinking, and nothing is more demanding.” Leaders make time for think time.

2. Prepare for opportunities.

When opportunity knocks, we must be ready to open the door. Life is full of opportunities. There are overlooked opportunities all around us. Often, we’re not ready for them.

Nehemiah was ready. He had been praying for an opportunity to present his idea to the king—and he finally got it. Nehemiah admitted he was scared, but he took the opportunity God put in front of him. Leaders move ahead despite their fears.

3. Establish a goal.

Then Nehemiah shares a specific goal with the king. “I replied, ‘If it pleases the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried’” (Nehemiah 2:5).

You need a target. If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it. Ask yourself three questions as you set the goal: What do I want to be? What do I want to do? What do I want to have?

I encourage you also to set big goals—so big that God must bail you out! Big plans honor God.

Nehemiah was a great example of this. He had never built a wall (or anything else) when he went to Jerusalem to build the wall, but he trusted God for this audacious goal.

4. Set a deadline.

In Nehemiah 2:6, Nehemiah set a deadline. The king asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” Nehemiah establishes a specific timeline.

A goal needs a deadline. A goal without a deadline isn’t a goal.

5. Anticipate the problems.

Nehemiah had already asked the king for permission. In 2:7, he asked for protection—a letter he could take with him to provide safe conduct along the way. Nehemiah’s 800- to 1000-mile journey went through quite a few provinces. People didn’t travel freely in those days. They had to go through proper procedures. Nehemiah recognized this potential problem and planned for a solution.

As you set out to tackle your goals, make the effort to define what could potentially hold you back. Managers focus on solving today’s problems, leaders focus on solving tomorrow’s problems. Both are essential roles for any organization, family, business, or church, but they are not necessarily the same. Managers must focus on the day-to-day details. Leaders anticipate problems nobody else thinks about. Then they figure out a way to overcome the problems before they arrive.