How do you evaluate the dreams and plans of another person whose work and dreams affect you and the people you love dearly? It is interesting that when we talk about our plans we use words like our goals, or our dreams for the future. But it is pretty common when we are talking about another person’s dreams and goals for life or for the organization we will say of them that they have an agenda. Even in church it is common when a new shepherd is added or a new person becomes part of the staff of the church for someone to say of them “They have an agenda.” What exactly do we mean by this statement about another person? What is the difference between a goal, vision or plan and an agenda?
In our mind there are likely two differences between a plan and an agenda. First, if it is a plan of action that we agree with and believe is really what is best for the group as a whole then we will refer to it as a goal, dream or vision. But if what is being put forward isn’t what we agree with or even what we feel is needed then we will describe it as an agenda the other person has. Second we tend to think of plans and goals as ones that are stated, clear and open for everyone to see. But if it is an unstated goal or plan that if people had an inkling that was where the person was trying to go with the group or organization they would object or even fight it, we will refer to it as an agenda. So, often whether we think of an action or dream as a goal or agenda is based solely on how we feel about the goal or vision.
The truth is just about everyone that is put into a place of leadership has an agenda in their minds. They wish to be part of leading the church or organization in a direction that they believe will be best for all the organization. I can’t image, for example, a new preacher moving into a church thinking that I will just keep everything just like it is and we will keep doing them the same way as always the entire time I am part of the church. Instead we normally think to ourselves that we will lead the church to make certain changes in their work or worship that will bring in more people who can be reached with the gospel of Christ.
One thing that would help others buy into the agenda of any leader is if we can clearly tell people where we are trying to go, why we believe it is the best way to go and what the results are that we are anticipating if we follow the plan. Think of Paul and his agenda as he wrote the churches in Rome or in Corinth. He told the Corinthians of his efforts to collect a large contribution from Gentile churches to give to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. His goal was to help them with the physical problems they were facing with the ultimate dream of tearing down the walls between the two kinds of churches. The Jewish churches were still wanting to maintain separation between them and the Gentile congregations. But in these outlying cities where Paul had been preaching the churches were usually mixed with both Jews and Greeks worshiping in the same group and helping one another. He was hoping and praying that when he carried this great contribution from the Gentile churches that it would tear down the walls of prejudices that were still there. When he wrote Romans he told of plans he had to come there and be helped by them on his way to Spain to preach the gospel. His agenda was to come and visit them and have them help him on his way to Spain.
Here is the problem with laying out such agenda’s. Quite often the dreams never develop beyond that point. Paul’s dream of coming to Rome and having a great ministry there, were crushed when he was arrested in Jerusalem while there to deliver gifts of money and support to the poor among the saints in the area. He spent the next three years in jail in Caesarea and after appearing before both Felix and Festus appealed to the authority of Rome, appealing to Caesar. He came to Rome but in a very different way than what he had supposed. Whether he ever made it to Spain or not we don’t know. His agenda that he strongly believed was one blessed by God, turned out not to be in God’s plan at all. It was during those years in prison in Caesarea and Rome that he would write many of the letters we now have as part of the New Testament. God’s agenda was different from Paul’s and it was God’s that prevailed.
Do you have an agenda in your home or in the church where you worship? Are you willing to lay it out before God and the church for their examination? Are you willing to submit it to the will of God? What happens to you and your dreams if the church rejects your agenda? Will you be ready and willing to go in the direction God is leading when it turns out that your agenda and his are going in very different directions?
I suspect Philemon had a real agenda for Onesimus the slave. But when he escaped and ran away, everything changed. Onesimus became a convert to Christianity. In a Roman prison he happened to meet Paul who taught him about Jesus. There he was baptized into Christ and Paul sent him back to Philemon. But things had changed. In the days to come he would be a beloved brother instead of a runaway slave. I doubt Philemon was ever able to look at Onesimus after that time without thinking of Paul and his charge to take anything he owed him and put it on his account.
Agendas aren’t bad if we are ready to subject them to God’s will and change when the Lord leads us to a whole new agenda for our life and others. Even in the political world, every new congressmen or president goes into office with a huge agenda on their mind. No matter how hard they work at it, much of the agenda will never be accomplished and a great deal of it, the person will realize wasn’t really a good idea after all, it was based on a lack of good information and thus is dropped if we are people of integrity.