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Get A BHAG!

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 169

What do the following have in common?
What do all these items have in common? They are all Biblical examples of "BHAG's. (pronounced "BEE-hag").
 
A Big Hairy What???
 
"BHAG" is an acronym for a "Big Hairy Audacious Goal." A BHAG is a visionary goal which is believed to be difficult if not impossible to achieve. It is a goal which can not be achieved by ordinary methods. In a biblical context, it is a goal not at all within the grasp of human power.
 
It is the seeming impossible character of BHAG's that makes them one of God's favorite tools. Why? Because BHAG's  force God's people to deal with their own powerlessness. BHAG's require great faith on behalf of the believer. BHAG's overwhelm God's people with a profound sense of humble weakness.
 
BHAG's require a profound, unprecedented trust and extraordinary obedience to God's commands...no matter how difficult or ridiculous the BHAG might be. BHAG's force God's people to look outside of what they themselves can do and simply trust God.
 
A Classic BHAG
 
President Kennedy, in his famous 1962 speech stating America's goal to "put a man on the moon and bring him back" by the end of that decade was a classic BHAG. Kennedy's statement was not only visionary. It was BHAG-impossible. At the time this goal was announced, it was technologically impossible to achieve. Detractors said it was merely a fantasy of Kennedy's imagination gone wild.
 
Or was it?
 
The expression of this BHAG inspired and shaped the destiny of the United States Space Program for the rest of that decade. It energized the people of America. It energized the space program. It encouraged the development of unparalleled advancement in virtually every technology known to man. Metallurgy, communications, computers, space navigation, medical advances and food technology are just a small sampling of areas greatly transformed because of the quest to realize this BHAG.
 
BHAG's Bring Renewal
 
Whenever a BHAG is used, its greatest benefit is that it can bring unprecedented renewal and transformation. Politicians promise BHAG's to give a vision of societal or governmental renewal. CEO's use BHAG's to renew and re-energize corporations. Christian leaders also use BHAG's to renew churches and ministries of various kinds. Why? Because BHAG's are borne out of the pages of Scripture.
 
God has used BHAG's since the beginning of the world. In fact, He invented the BHAG. Scripture records how He repeatedly used BHAG's to do bring unprecedented renewal and spiritual transformation to His people.
 
Moses, Noah, Abraham, Elijah, Jesus' mother Mary, and St. Paul all knew what God's BHAG's were all about first hand. They knew the sense of impossibility and weakness BHAG's instilled in God's people. But through their BHAG experiences they learned the the inestimably awesome power of God made everything BHAG-possible.
 
Mary, BHAG's, and Faith
 
Perhaps the most remarkable human being in the scriptures is Mary. Her faith was extraordinary. Her understanding in God's working was nothing less than awesome.
 
She understood something very early in her life that sometimes takes us a lifetime. She knew that her walk of faith was to be a daily trust in being a believer in God's power. For this reason, Mary might be designated the "Mother of All BHAG-ees."
 
When it was announced that, though a virgin, she would give birth to a son, she didn't laugh like Abraham and Sarah. She didn't doubt like Zechariah. She accepted the BHAG, believed it, and committed herself to it saying,  "Let it be to me as You have said."
 
When told that her child would be the divine Son of God, she "rejoiced in God my Savior." Each step along the way, she trusted God's calling. No matter how painful, unreal, or impossible God's calling appeared, she never complained. She never doubted. The bigger the BHAG, the greater her trust and reliance on God.
 
The Price Of BHAG's
 
Certainly, she knew BHAG's had a price. What great BHAG of God doesn't? She paid the price of social censure for having a child out of wedlock. She paid the price of having to be a fugitive of a king. She paid the price of knowing her Son would be pierced for the rising and falling of many. Most importantly, she paid the price of dedicating her life as a living sacrifice to God's gracious will and mysterious working.
 
Though it does describe others' weak faith, scripture never records Mary's faith as weak or uncertain. If there was a wine shortage, she trusted in the BHAG of God's intervention. She didn't question how God would do what he would do. She just trusted. If her Son died, she trusted that He would rise. From conception to death to resurrection, Mary understood that faith is really living a BHAG existence. Always mindful of  "her low estate as a handmaiden of the Lord," she knew that she could do nothing. But with God, all things were possible.
 
That's the essential element of any BHAG's. Given man's power, it is impossible. With God, the impossible BHAG is not only possible but inevitable. When accomplished, BHAG's demonstrate the remarkably awesome power of God. Mary, the "Mother of All BHAG-ee's," saw it often in her life. Indeed, some would say her whole life was virtually a BHAG. What God did through her was far beyond anyone's wildest "big, hairy and audacious" imagination.
 
Faith As A "BHAG"
 
To gain an appreciation for the true nature of BHAG's, try this "radical" exercise. Go to the "Faith Chapter of the Bible," Hebrews eleven. Whenever you see the words, "by faith," substitute it with the phrase, "It was in obedient response to set a BHAG that..."
 
Admittedly, the grammar may be awkward. But the message is not. Biblical faith is a BHAG of the first order. Except God's Spirit give it to us by grace, faith is out of our reach. It is given only by God's power, not ours.  Once given, this faith miraculously given is a faith which lives in the response of trusting in God's miraculous working.
 
The Calling To God's BHAG's
 
One of the most essential tasks of a pastor is to lead God's people to see the power of God in their lives. The preaching of the Word, administration of sacraments, pastoral counseling and visitation, and teaching are all ways pastors apply God's power to the lives of parishioners.
 
God also shows His power in the realization of God's grandiose vision for His church. Unfortunately, this grand vision can scare both pastors and members. Negative responses such as, "Oh, but I can't do that!" "It's dangerous!" "It's risky!" "It's political suicide!" and "Has Pastor gone crazy?!" all betray one's refusal to consider the Lord's calling as a BHAG.
 
BHAG's Display God's Power!
 
How can pastors doubt God's power? After all, we read, we witness, we preach God's amazingly miraculous power to work in the hearts and lives of our parishioners every day. Somehow, however, pastors become reticent, reluctant and fearful to apply that same power by which God converts, forgives and works in the hearts and lives of our people on a wider scale.
 
Pastors hesitate to go ahead with those unprecedented, unheard of ministry initiatives. They are afraid of conflict, failure, ridicule and persecution, the very same things which God uses BHAG's as a spiritual testing to get eliminate. "Fear Not!" is the Word of God which pastors and their leaders need to hear. "Fear Not! I am with you!"
 
Pastors who doubt God can use them ought to consider this. Perhaps the biggest BHAG to think that God can actually use sinful, finite, human pastors--like you--to carry out the greatest divine work. The pastoral calling is in nearly every respect of the pastoral office an incarnational calling. Pastors are called to be a walking, visible testimony of God's Word and His awesome power among the people.
 
Even as pastors are called to preach the BHAG's of God in the past, they are called to lead BHAG's in the present. Even as pastors proclaim the foundation BHAG's of Scripture--conversion, forgiveness, the creative work of God, redemption, the transformation of all things at the parousia, the incarnation of God in Christ--so it is the pastors' calling to call others to the greatest BHAG of all, faith itself.
 
The BHAG: It's Easy To Refuse
 
God's calling for pastors to lead BHAG's is one of the most frightening callings He can give.  Moses tried four times to refuse God's BHAG calling. Pastors often try to do the same.
 
"I'm not charismatic enough!" some might argue. "I'm not eloquent!" "I don't know what to say?" "I don't believe I can do it" are all time-tested excuses. These excuses didn't work for Moses. They shouldn't work for any other of God's chosen leaders, either.
 
Thank God that when presented with a BHAG that we might otherwise refuse, God causes it to occur without our will, thus drawing us into it anyway. He does build His church, doesn't He! And He will work through you, ready or not!
 
No BHAG, No Growth
 
Perhaps it is the pastors unwillingness to consider God's BHAG's for their ministry that their personal faith never grows. Their level of trust remains stagnant. Without energizing ministry goals, heir vigor for ministry just starts to fade away. The natural consequence is that their churches may not experience the power and response of faith for a vibrant ministry, either.
 
Unwilling to take a BHAG by the horns, pastors and congregations avoid the most powerfully transforming renewal they could ever experience. There is something about a implementing a BHAG that helps give joy to ministry and in the confidence of God's leading. Unfortunately, that something is all too often ignored.
What Keeps Us From BHAG's?
 
Perhaps the greatest obstacle is fear. Make no mistake about it. Fear is real, very real. The fear can be a fear of failure, ridicule, or loss of ministry. It can be a fear that we can't survive in our present ministry if we fail.. It's a fear that if we implement the BHAG, the opposition will undo us and the BHAG in the process.
Those who promote BHAG's risk many things...including their credibility with their followers.
They must deal with doubts--their own and that of their members. They must be able to remain constant, steady, and steadfast in difficult times. They must be able to persevere. They must be able to stand steadfast and unflinchingly firm. They must be able to take develop a "No Fear" faith.
 
They must be willing to follow the process by which Christian hope is developed as Paul described in Romans 5. This, in itself, is a BHAG. Of course, without God, this BHAG is also impossible. Notice the greatest resistance to the BHAG is probably not the "Big Hairy Audacious Goal." Instead, its the resistance to God and the personal challenge of faith that He gives via the BHAG/
 
The Fearful Implementation
 
Perhaps the greatest fear that BHAG's can provoke is during implementation. During the trial, fear-driven anxieties may make us feel as if God has abandoned His people. Yet, that is precisely the anxiety that BHAG's address. BHAG's force us to trust God. They put us into a corner. They make it so that there is no other option...but trusting God.
 
When God comes through in His own way and time, he proves His faithfulness in ways never imagined. The witness of this awesome display of God's presence and power is what God uses to motivate us to another even bigger BHAG.
 
What Every BHAG needs
Every BHAG must...
 
1) have a "larger than life" goal. It cannot be within man's expectation or power to achieve.
 
2) be of God and based firmly on His Word. It must be His vision, not one's own self-concocted plan.
 
3) describe a "Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal." It's something that is so outrageous, so unthinkable and so unbelievable that there's no other alternative but to give it to God.
 
4) attract the undivided attention of leaders and followers. Participants and on-lookers will be watching. Though skeptical, they too may be moved by the enthusiasm of the BHAG. Those implementing the BHAG must be steadfast. After all, their participation is a witness--an important witness--of God's power among them.
 
5) recognize that only God's power can achieve the vision. This is where the real power is. When God works a BHAG, His purpose is not simply to accomplish the stated goal. His purpose is also to transform the people, the organization and its leaders into a BHAG community of faith. This is where the greatest results occur. This is what causes the renewal which enables these communities of faith to move on to even greater--and more impossible--BHAG's. Viva la BHAG!!!
 
Examples Of BHAG's
 
1) Personally surviving a congregational split. Overcoming temptations to commit suicide, mental illness, or to resign is no mean accomplishment. It's nothing short of miraculous. Indeed, if God were not for us in the conflict, who could stand???
 
2) Experiencing the spiritual renewal of a congregation which had been mired in conflict, antagonism, and self-centered ministry
 
3) Moving the church to a new location;
 
4) Totally shutting down a declining church, restructuring its worship and ministry, changing its name, and restarting it in the confidence of God's working;
5) Setting a faith budget well beyond the reasonable expectation of anyone and achieving it;
6) In faith, adding staff to promote and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ from your church.
 
7) Extraordinary missionary goals that your church has never even imagined.;
 
8) Planting a new church with the assistance and sponsorship of your congregation or a cluster of congregations;
 
9) Creating a more healthy relationship between faithful pastors and their congregations and having denominations develop structures to realize greater levels of concrete support toward this goal;
 
10) Following the BHAG calling when God gives and beckons you and the congregation to stretch toward the vision.
 
How To Determine A BHAG
 
Each BHAG is unique. They are ultimately determined by God's vision for the respective parties called to carry out the BHAG. What may be a BHAG for one congregation may not be a BHAG at all for another, and vice versa. It is all relative and determined by God's will

Those who have been faithful in little BHAG's will be given opportunities to be faithful in larger BHAG's. Whatever your abilities, gifts, past or present history, God in His grace will give you the BHAG necessary to stretch you as far as your faith can go...and then some.

The listing of possible BHAG's is virtually limitless. Indeed, their miraculous, divine quality defies specific listing.  Instead, BHAG's are probably more accurately identified by their effects on people...pastors included.  The following BHAG test will help you identify BHAG's.

The BHAG Test

Directions: The following set of questions will help you determine if a present or future goal is a BHAG. Read each item. Then answer each item by drawing a circle around the "Y" ("Yes")  or "N" ("No") to each item.

Y   N   1) Does committing to the goal make you really nervous?

Y   N   2) Does the goal create organizational anxiety?

Y   N   3) Does the goal raise an uncomfortable level of fear of failure?

Y   N   4) Does the goal illuminate your weaknesses and that of your leaders
                and parishioners?

Y   N   5) Does the visionary goal go beyond the boundaries of normal standard
                operating procedures?

Y   N   6) Will the goal take you to where "no man has ever gone before"?

Y   N   7) Will the goal require an unprecedented witness of God's power to
                achieve?

Y   N   8) Is the goal something that you clearly recognize can only happen by
                God's power?

Y   N   9) Will the goal's implementation and attainment require a spiritual
                transformation in you and other leaders?

Y   N   10) Does the goal go beyond what is normally found in managerial
                "how to" manuals?

Y   N   11) Does the goal incite resistance among significant segments of the
                membership?

Y   N   12) Is the goal costly and demanding of great sacrifice?

Y   N   13) Is it a goal that you and your leaders are absolutely convinced that
                God is directing you to do?

Y   N   14) Considering the difficulty and complexity involved in achieving this
                goal, would you rather not do it?

Y   N   15) Does thinking of this goal drive you to begin an obsessive life of
                prayer?

How Did You Do?
 
If you answered all fifteen questions with a "Yes," it's definitely a BHAG. If you answered with even just one "No," it's probably not a BHAG. It may be a major project or an exciting new program. But it is probably  not a BHAG!
 
BHAG's, unlike major projects, stretch you and your parishioners to the extreme limits of faith. That's the biggest difference between a major projects and a BHAG. In major projects, we still think we have control over it's attainment. With BHAG's there's absolutely no real control. It's all trust, it's all faith, it's all perseverance.
 
The BHAG requires an absolutely holistic trust in God completely for it's realization. As Moses, one of the greatest BHAG-leaders said, it requires we love Him with "all our heart, all our soul and all our mind" (Deuteronomy 6:4).
 
Are you ready to think bigger and "BHAG-ger" things for God???
 
Difficulties With BHAG's
 
On the negative side, BHAG's are difficult things to consider and implement. In a church, they are potentially disruptive, difficult, dangerous and politically volatile. They change people, they around emotions, and they raise resistance. They may even cause people to leave the church. Indeed, they will. Bank on it.
 
BHAG's are powerful tools. But they come with both a price and a promise. Not every church or organization can tolerate a BHAG or BHAG's of identical proportions. For some congregations and pastors,  they are just too anxiety-provoking. For others, the faith required surpasses the personal allowable limits of our "little faith."
 
BHAG's expose the strengths and weaknesses of all involved--pastors, leaders and parishioners. BHAG's quickly smash the facade of faith. BHAG's are instruments God uses to turn on the refining fire to test and expose the level of faith that is really there.
 
Some Like BHAG's, Others Don't
Some churches and organizations will gravitate toward BHAG's. They will enjoy the "g" forces of faith it produces. Such organizations enjoy seeing God at work. They enjoy the challenge and thrill of faith. They eagerly seek the greater growth and transformation of discipleship.
 
Others, however, are more resistant, some unmistakably so! One of Moses' greatest struggles was that having led the people of Israel through several BHAG's--redemption from the hand of the angel of Death, being delivered from slavery, passing through the Red Sea on dry ground, etc.-- the Children of Israel still lacked the faith necessary to aspire to greater BHAG's.
 
Instead of inspiring them, the Promised Land BHAG soured them. It held their faith to the fire...and found them lacking. Thus, they spent forty years in the desert living off God's lesser daily BHAG of quail and manna, until they died.
 
A younger generation of leadership, eagerly following Joshua's steady, unwavering spiritual leadership, was drawn to God's BHAG. Overcoming impossible and overwhelming odds, Joshua led the people of God beyond the obstacles, lies, false reports and nay sayers. With God steadily leading them onward, the steadily progressed toward the realization of God's BHAG.
 
What was the result? They realized and enjoyed the fulfillment of God's covenant promise to them to posses a land flowing with milk and honey. They trusted God's BHAG-promise. In response, they received a land of promise.
Should Pastors Have BHAG's?
 
The answer is "Yes." God calls individuals to BHAG's. BHAG's are not only what we are called to do, it is the basis of our calling. The Gospel itself is a BHAG. As unbelievable as it may have been, Christ has defeated Satan. He is risen. He is risen, indeed! What a wonderful BHAG!!!
 
It's not an easy answer, certainly. God's called servants are always called to a ministry of change and renewal. The record of scripture contains virtually innumerable examples of God calling plain, regular, ordinary, incompetent, unsure, and untrained people to lead a BHAG of one kind or another.
 
Does that "plain, regular, ordinary..." description describe you? Congratulations. God is calling  you to lead a BHAG in your place of ministry.
 
It is because the Gospel is a BHAG that it is "foolishness." Those who lead BHAG's are, by association, "fools." Of all people in this world, should not it be the Christian pastors, leaders and parishioners who passionately seek God's BHAG's in their lives and ministries?
 
Yes! But does it happen? Well, not always. But it can. God can make it happen through you.
Are You Ready For A BHAG?
 
How do you know if your congregation is ready for a BHAG? They probably are if....
1) They are experiencing a drought of God's power.
 
2) They are in decline, plateaued and seemingly lifeless.
 
3) They are growing nicely, steadily and predictably as planned.
 
4) They are in an area where ministry is a greater challenge than they can imagine.
 
5) They have just experienced the joy of God completing a BHAG around them.
 
6) God's Spirit is working powerfully through other churches in their area.
 
7) The congregation has ministry needs which have gone unfulfilled for years and have hindered key areas of ministry growth.
 
8) The congregation's life depends on it.
 
9) There's not enough money, people or resources to pull it off. and
 
10) God instills within you His calling to lead your congregation--or whatever ministry He has designated--to implement His BHAG.
The Most Important Thing
 
Of course, the only factor which really matters in considering a BHAG is God's will. Without God, everything is impossible.
 
What BHAG opportunities does God have for you? For your congregation? For your denomination? For His ministry in the world? When He calls may your response be, "May it be to me as You will."
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:12 PM