This post is a deconstruction of the commonly employed SWOT analytical tool, and reconstruction using biblical principles, and summarises/engages with some thoughts recently shared by my friend Mike Breen. The approach taken is a recognition that, as children of God, we are free to learn from anything, but privileged to have scripture to help us assess and improve – to take apart and rebuild better – those things.
SWOT stands for Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat, and is used to examine circumstances, from business strategy to personal decision-making. It provides four areas to consider: your (individual or corporate) strengths and weakness, and the opportunities and threats you (individually or corporately) face.
The first step of deconstruction is to put strength and weakness onto a continuum, as opposed to two separate categories.
Opportunity and threat are also represented as a continuum. Hopefully, the reasons for this will become clear below.
Now, according to SWOT analysis, if you have an opportunity that is matched by a strength, we can expect potential success. For example, if I have a great product that lots of people want, and I am a great salesman, I might reasonably expect to sell a lot of that product.
On the other hand, if we face a threat but that threat is matched by a strength, we would expect a battle or struggle. For example, if someone opposes you or sets themselves in direct competition to you but you believe that you have the resources to withstand their challenge, you are unlikely to roll over and give up without a fight.
Then again, where opportunity is matched with weakness, we are likely to experience frustration. As Jesus put it, the harvest is plentiful (opportunity) but the workers are few (weakness). We’ll come back to what he says next a little later...
Turning to the final quadrant, where threat is matched with weakness, we are likely to experience failure. If an alcoholic goes to a party where they are offered a drink, they are likely to succumb to the temptation.
Now we have our four quadrants, the next step in deconstructing SWOT is to replace ‘strength’ with an interchangeable biblical word: power...
...this clarifies why weakness and strength are a continuum: 2 Cor 12:9 records the revelation to Paul that God’s grace is sufficient in the face of our weakness, for – indeed – his power is made perfect in our weakness. Our weakness is the container for God’s power.
Now let us take a look at the word ‘opportunity,’ and again replace it with a biblical word: authority...
Why would we consider ‘opportunity’ and ‘authority’ to equate? Well, the picture-language the Bile employs to describe authority is the language of keys, doors, and gates...and an opportunity is, likewise, a threshold into a new thing.
So now we can re-frame ‘potential success’ in biblical terms, as Kingdom breakthrough.
Why? Because the Kingdom is defined by the King giving power and authority. Jesus gives his disciples power and authority, and sends them out to demonstrate the experienced signs of the Kingdom...
Now we can start to ask the questions, how can I move from the place of frustration, or battle, or failure, to the experience of Kingdom breakthrough? In terms of our diagram, how do we move from the other three quadrants to the one in the top right?
If we want to move from the place of frustration to the place of Kingdom breakthrough, we need more power in our lives. Frustration turns out to be a God-given gift, which prompts us to take our weakness to God, and to give it to him in order that it may become the vessel for his power. Jesus, faced with the frustration of a plentiful harvest but few workers encourages his disciples to pray that the lord of the harvest would send out more workers. And Paul so grasps the connection between weakness and power that he moves from wanting the weakness to be removed to boasting in his weakness.Note: this is in marked contrast to the legalism trap we so easily fall into that tells us that God could only trust us with increased power if our weaknesses were first dealt with, that is if we were a ‘better’ person. But power is not earned through works, it is given as grace: and in fact we need more power in order to be more obedient...
Let us take another look at battle or struggle. Remember, we have placed threat on a continuum with authority. Consider the account of Jesus’ temptation by satan in the wilderness, immediately following Jesus’ baptism. At his baptism, Jesus had been affirmed as the Son of the Father. Satan’s attack is in terms of identity: ‘if you are the son of God...’ In fact, that is always the heart of any battle:
threat is an attack on our identity...
authority is a function of identity...
and growing in identity results in increased authority.So Jesus is able to resist the threat he faces because he is secure in his identity and can exercise authority.
Now let us return to the place of failure. What is our hope here? We need to go to the Father with our failure and hear him affirm our identity as his child, and increase our power and authority. So failure may turn into frustration, or into battle, on the way to experiencing Kingdom breakthrough: but Kingdom breakthrough is the ultimate destination God intends for us, as he redeems our failure.
To move from frustration to Kingdom breakthrough we need to receive more power from Jesus. How do we do that? By giving our weakness to God; by boasting in our weakness.
To turn battle into Kingdom breakthrough we need to increase our authority. How do we do that? Battle is about identity. If I am a child of the King, a co-heir with Christ, I can’t have (and don’t need) any more authority than I already have.And so the final question is, where do I want to see Kingdom breakthrough?