I guess it focuses attention when you have been set a target. This has been the argument of the government in setting the target of 100,000 tests per day for the coronavirus by the end of April. But targets can also distort. Other important things might be sidelined in order to achieve the target, and if a target is set too high or too low it can be demotivating. If too high people might say it is impossible to achieve, so why bother? If too low they might say it is not sufficiently challenging so no need to work hard. Also, of course, the chosen target may not be worth achieving anyway. So target setting can be a blunt and clumsy instrument for bringing about desirable change.
Some professionals may feel that their professionalism is undermined by a culture of target setting. That might be demotivating for them, and/or may discourage new recruits to the profession. Equally, of course, a lack of clear targets may bring about inertia or a lack of urgency.
Did Jesus set targets? 20 healings to be done today. 500 people to hear me preach today. 40 minutes of prayer time today. I doubt it. Rather I would say he established certain principles/ways of doing things: taking advantage of every encounter to make a teaching point, looking out for those on the margins or who were ill, challenging those like the Pharisees who were blinkered, showing love in action, etc.
OK, he also said: make plans. He said: “Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?” (Luke 14:28) We read that Jesus made up his mind (towards the end of his ministry) to head for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead to prepare for this (Luke 9:51-52). That sounds rather like setting a target, doesn’t it?
So perhaps there is a place for making plans and setting targets (let’s call them goals). After all, you will have heard the saying: if you fail to plan you plan to fail. But let’s make plans which bring God into the equation. Let’s allow for possible set-backs and disappointments. Let’s work hard to achieve our goals, once we’ve thought them through, not pussy-foot about them. Let’s be humble enough to recognise our plans may need revision.
St Paul wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)