Think and Pray Outside the Box—and the County

Discern your Big HOLY Audacious Goal (carefully).


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Just because a goal is so big it can only be accomplished
if God shows up does not mean it aligns with His will.[1]

Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer

Does your board need a kick in their, shall we say, vision?

Rather than enduring board meetings at the same-old-same-old locations with the same-old-same-old meals, plan a board meeting at an inspirational location.

Imagine if several decades ago, you had brought your board to New Life Ranch and heard Willard Heck’s story about vision and God’s faithfulness.[2]

In 1958, Heck and his partner bought almost a thousand acres in northeast Oklahoma and founded New Life Ranch, a nondenominational Christian camp. The audacity of his faith, like so many other founders, was extraordinary.

Leaders can lift a board’s vision by reminding them of God’s work in other locations. Not only do you need to think and pray outside the box, sometimes it helps to think outside the county. To inspire boards to imagine God’s new story for them, I’ve shared the story that follows numerous times:

There I was in the middle of a tour of New Life Ranch and my eyes almost popped out upon seeing the camp’s extensive, well-equipped bakery.

The bakery itself was larger than most camp kitchens! So I asked Willard Heck how he was able to afford such a huge kitchen, bakery, and dining hall. (You need to know that Heck, who was called to heaven in 2001, was as humble as he was filled with faith. I will never forget his simple response.)

Heck replied, “Well, I just showed the Lord our plans and blueprints for New Life Ranch and the kind of food service facilities we needed to do His work here. I told the Lord that if He was short of money, we could cut back on the plans. But if we were to create a facility and program that truly honored Him, then this is how much money we’d need. So the Lord provided the funds.”

Contrast Heck’s bold trust in the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills with the more frequent, sheepish response to Kingdom work: minimal, just-get-by, conservative, bargain basement. Willard Heck had his theology right and his prayer life tuned up for action.

Founders don’t have a monopoly on faith and vision. Yet for CEOs and board members today, you’ll need extraordinary faith to move your organization into the next ministry season. Ministry is hard work!

Decades back, it was often founders who inspired givers with raw land and radical plans. Today your board, perhaps, is faced with aging buildings, worn-out programs, demanding customers, and layers of bureaucracy. So how do we exercise our faith muscles?

King David gave Solomon the blueprints to the temple in 1 Chronicles 28:9, and urged him: “Get to know well your father’s God” (MSG). Get to know Willard Heck’s God. Get to know your founder’s God.

Then assemble your team, get on your knees, and discern His direction for the exciting years ahead. Resist the temptation to focus only on budgets, blueprints, and buildings. Instead, embrace those goals that focus on the people God is calling you to reach and serve.

Jim Collins, author of numerous helpful business books,[3] urges organizations to craft Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). Ministry leaders might prefer to call them Big HOLY Audacious Goals. The classic BHAG: after Sputnik I orbited Earth in 1957, President Kennedy inspired the nation with this BHAG: “Put a man on the moon by 1970.”

Some readers will remember where they were on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong descended from Apollo 11 and walked on the moon. That was audacious!

BHAGs also bring out the best in givers. A few years ago, a ministry leader told me he challenged a giver to consider one of three projects: a $200,000 idea, a $300,000 program, or a $500,000 project. The giver’s response? “Would it be okay if I funded all three?” That’s Willard Heck faith.

At your next board retreat—on holy ground somewhere—celebrate the BHAGs of past decades and generations, but also take time to hear from God anew. Get to know the God of your founders. What is the Big HOLY Audacious Goal for five years from now that is a Willard Heck-type goal? What target is so big, so audacious, so needing the faith of zealots, that only God can deliver?

When you hear from God—and your staff and board hear from God—and you put that BHAG on the wall, it will energize and propel your ministry toward the future like nothing else. But consider also this caution, from the authors of The Choice: “Just because a goal is so big it can only be accomplished if God shows up does not mean it aligns with His will.”[4]

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, adds this about thinking and praying outside the box: “The tyranny of the day-to-day—budgets, meetings, and yearly events to sustain life and keep the lights on—can overwhelm most leaders and sap our energy, leaving little that could be used to power a big, God-sized vision. Yet, counterintuitively, if we start with the big idea that we feel God led us to pursue, and it aligns with His will, then the energy and resources for the day-to-day often take care of themselves. In the end, we are left with something we could not have done ourselves, but that has sparked an imagination in the teams and people that God has surrounded us with.”[5]

Discern God’s will for you. That’s what Willard Heck did. Is it God’s will for you to operate only year to year, with modest budget and program adjustments and without a compelling vision that is dependent on audacious faith? Is it God’s will for you to lose momentum, miss Kingdom opportunities, and settle for second best, not God’s best? Who signs up for that inaction plan?



Visit holy ground at other ministries
and learn about the faith and vision of their founders.
Leverage these inspirational settings with your board
to think, pray and discern God’s direction for the future.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: Don’t skim but dig deep into The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes by Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer.
  2. Study: Reflect on 1 Chronicles 28-29 and the strategic planning book built around this scripture: Breakthrough: Unleashing the Power of a Proven Plan by Randon A. Samelson.[6]
  3. Visit: Research an inspirational setting and story for your next board meeting.



Lord, we desire a ministry plan that is rooted
in faithfulness-focused strategies
and eternity-oriented metrics. Amen.



[1] Gary G. Hoag, R. Scott Rodin, and Wesley K. Willmer, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2014), 31.

[2] Adapted from: “Your Big Holy Audacious Goal,” CCCA Executive Briefing by Bob Kobielush, Vol. 5, No. 8 (August 2007).  Used by permission.

[3] Visit for more on Built to Last, Good to Great, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, How the Mighty Fall, Great by Choice, and other books and resources

[4] Hoag, Rodin, and Willmer, The Choice, 31.

[5] David Curry, “Think and Pray Outside the Box—and the County,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), June 6, 2018,

[6] Randon A. Samelson, Breakthrough: Unleashing the Power of a Proven Plan (Colorado Springs: Counsel & Capital, 2014).

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018,

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.