Why It’s Dumb to Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Zig Ziglar is famous for saying, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” This is why it is so important to set goals in ministry. No goals means no progress. Passionate ministers of the gospel who are discontent with the status quo set goals for gospel growth.

What few people point out, however, is that you can hit nothing even when you are aiming at something.

It’s not sufficient merely to set goals. You have to set the right goals.

A definition of S.M.A.R.T. goals

There are as many methods of setting goals as there are interpretations of the mark of the beast (it’s a bar code, right?). But one popular method for setting goals is the S.M.A.R.T. method.

It’s an acronym for: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound. The logic is simple. If you want to achieve a goal: 1) you have to clearly define it, 2) you have to know when you’ve met it, 3) you need steps to pursue it, 4) you have to be able to do it, 5) and you need a deadline to motivate you.

Add a dash of effort to a S.M.A.R.T. goal, and you’re virtually guaranteed to meet it.

S.M.A.R.T. goals  are small goals

I don’t like this method. Not one bit.

Why? Because S.M.A.R.T. goals are small goals. They are Safe, Mediocre, Acceptable, Rule-keeping, and Typical.

I’m actually not that much against the specific and measurable part. Action-oriented is a pretty good feature.

But the R and T irk me.

Don’t be so realistic

Can we even call a goal a goal if it’s realistic? Was it realistic for Butler to make consecutive NCAA championship games? Was it realistic for two college dropouts – heard of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? – to lead the two biggest tech companies in the world? It was unrealistic for Elizabeth Elliot, widowed by those she sought to save, to think she could accomplish any gospel advancement.

Too many people excuse themselves from wonderful challenges with the claim that unrealistic is synonymous with impossible.

The best goals are unrealistic goals.

You will say that my examples are the exceptions. My guess is that we will be amazed at the stories of pastors at small churches who have met ridiculous, unrealistic goals when we get to glory.

Don’t be in such a hurry

T, you will recall, stands for “time-bound.” The thought is, if you don’t put a deadline on it, then you’ll never achieve it.

But if you need a deadline to push you toward a goal, it’s probably not something you really want to do. On the other hand, you won’t be able to keep yourself from working on a goal that combines your deepest desires and the real needs of those you serve.

Furthermore, if you set an unrealistic goal, it may take you longer than you think. It may take you much shorter than you think. You are not so much responsible for the timeframe for meeting your goal. Your job is to keep plugging away at it.

S.M.A.R.T. goals are dumb goals

I’m not calling the people who invented S.M.A.R.T. goals dumb, nor those who have used them successfully. What I am saying is that this: if the whole purpose for pastors to set goals is to ascend to new heights of ministry, talent development, and creativity, then S.M.A.R.T. goals will not take you where you want to go. They’re too small.

The question that remains is, should you set goals?


Then how?

Watch for the follow-up post tomorrow.


  1. Actually when I was first taught to use SMART goals, the R was for “relevant”.

  2. I was just going to say the same thing LyleB said three years ago! When I’ve used these–with myself or with others to help them in goal-setting–I have R be “relevant,” with respect to the larger mission and vision of the organization. That *has* to be part of goal-setting for goals to be truly smart.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      I got the “Realistic” part from Michael Hyatt (here). Maybe he changed it for his own purposes?

      I agree that relevance is massively important, though. Goals that are out of alignment will only take you off course with respect to your mission, not closer to completion.