In my work with congregations for over twenty years and before that studying to become a systems analyst I had to learn to identify and pinpoint the reasons why institutions are stuck. For congregations to examine themselves, ask yourself and your leaders this simple question, “Who or what is driving the church bus?” Now I know some of the more sarcastic readers are squealing, “God is!” I would anticipate that any parish has God as the focus of the ministry and reason for existing.
However, God is not driving congregations. God is their Shepherd. He is guiding them, and the Holy Spirit keeps pointing them back to the Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gave His life to redeem the Church. And through the ministry of the Church, our message is your sins are forgiven, and Jesus offers you life everlasting through faith. That is our foundation, but that is not how our church operates. Leadership and direction come from those placed in authority by the churches’ proper order. Beyond that, there are other factors that influence who is setting the ministry direction and overall effectiveness of the congregation’s ministry. Those four factors are vision, relationships, ministries, and structure. In this post, we will look at the first two components: vision and relationships.
There is a place for vision in the church because vision comes from God.
2 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.Habakkuk 2:2-4
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. – Charles Kingsley, Bits & Pieces, December 9, 1993, p. 16.
Vision is often misunderstood. How do you define the concept? Vision is defined by a ministry focus that is geared to share the gospel with those souls who are outside God’s grace. I love this deeper explanation. “What is a vision? Where do they come from? Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved – frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry – about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo…Vision carries with it a sense of conviction. Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done.” (From Visioneering) When vision is in the front seat driving the ministry direction, it can create energy and deeper engagement from members.
“ For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” Ephesians 5:29.
The principal second seat on the bus is reserved for relationships. Jesus was all about relationships. For a church to have a ministry that reaches those far from God it all begins with creating space in our lives to develop relationships that embrace new people. Relationships are the lifeblood of a church and essential for life itself. In Ephesians, Paul compares the intimacy we have with Christ like a husband has for his wife. In the Old Testament God describes His relationship with Israel with that same type of intense intimacy. Relationships are the secret to life.
We can live only in relationships. We need each other. A rather crude and cruel experiment was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what man’s original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? He decided to isolate a few infants from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural tongue of man. Wet nurses who were sworn to absolute silence were obtained, and though it was difficult for them, they abided by the rule. The infants never heard a word — not a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead. – Joe E. Trull.
When vision and relationships are in the front seat driving the direction of the church’s ministry, then a congregation is in the early stages of its life cycle.