In my work with congregations, besides stewardship programs and evangelism causing a rip in the congregational space and time continuum, talk of vision and vision planning also creates havoc. With stewardship, the issues are guilt and often a struggle with trusting God to provide. In evangelism, we feel inadequate. Believers do not feel equipped to talk about their faith with any level of confidence. Vision is problematic because it feels too corporate America. Fortune 500 companies have visions, goals, and strategies. Churches are faith-based. We trust in the divine direction of God. Planning is taboo. Goals are ungodly. Measuring outcomes seems to reduce people to products, right? Vision is often misunderstood. Vision was God’s term first. Let me explain what vision is from a biblical, Christian worldview and explain its role in the life of the church.
A Biblical View of Vision
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 characterized by a ministry focus geared to share the gospel with those souls who are outside God’s grace. I love this more in-depth 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 the driving force in the ministry front, it can create energy and deeper engagement from members.
Why Does Vision Matter?
“But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible…”– T.E. Lawrence.
When our vision is from God, it reflects God’s passionate love for people. It aligns our hearts with the heart of God and refreshes our desire to reach the community in which God has placed us. It is compelling and motivates us to action. Things get done because the vision is integrated into the life of the congregation. It becomes the driving force in all decisions. We will take all of our resources of money, people, time, and talents and focus on this one thing God would have us do. Leaders and laity have a clear picture of what role they can play in carrying out God’s mission. This becomes the first item discussed at the council meeting or voter’s meeting even before we get to the news about the finances. The vision becomes the thing that must be done!
Christ Church, Anywhere, USA needed to discover God’s vision to give energy to a congregation that had become stagnant and aimless. Maybe you can relate to their situation. Perhaps you are looking for answers. It is possible you see around you, and you see the writing on the wall. Like a line in my favorite Christmas novel by Charles Dickens, “I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” So many congregations see the grisly reminder every Sunday of the fate that awaits if the images remain unchanged with continued dwindling attendance, shrinking income, and eventual death.
So, what do you need to do? You need to start by asking the right questions. Do you have a good vision statement that points you to your reason for existence? Who are the people God has called you to connect with in your community? Once you figure out if your vision statement is pointing toward those outside your walls is this vision from God?
These are the fundamental questions a compelling and inspiring vision statement will answer:
• What are the results you see when this vision is accomplished?
• Who in the community is being impacted by this vision?
• How are you developing a discipleship culture? That is a culture of equipping the saints, multiplying and sending the followers of Christ into the mission field.
• How are the members living out the vision and what impact does it have on them and the community we are called to serve?
The power of a “God-sized” vision is that it gives energy and direction to the church. It unites and inspires people around God’s plan. As we hear from the wisdom of Solomon, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people perish,” Proverbs 29:18. If you need help with that process, there are many options. Lutheran Church Extension Fund has a method called VisionPath. I have also led congregations through a process. No matter what path you take, vision can energize a group that is just going through the motions. If you want to talk more, let me know, and I can point you in the right direction.