6 Things Vision Is NOT
The beginning place for real transformation in the local church begins with VISION. To begin by changing programs or mission is just another attempt at reformation at best and a another resolution at worst. Reformation and resolution do not create that deep and abiding transformation we always need. Reformation and resolution are our best efforts; transformation is God’s best effort. I can’t answer for you, but I would much rather have God’s best effort on one of His bad days (this is just a figure of speech, so fundamentalists, don’t get your blood pressure up) than my best effort on one of my very best days.
After listening to many coaches, church growth gurus, consultants and mainly from pastors of thriving congregation here is what I understand to be the meaning of VISION.
Vision is the image of what the church should look like in 5-7 years
A great place to begin our discussion about what discovering The Vision, is to identify what The Vision is NOT. In order to be able to clearly see The Vision, we need to clear the fog that often surrounds the process of searching and discerning The Vision in order to be able to both clearly see and articulate what God is doing and wants a local church to do. Without clearing away this fog there is a very high degree of probability that we may not clearly see The Vision. And this is not good because it opens the door for us to insert OUR Vision wherever it is we cannot clearly discern God’s Vision. Carefully read one of Jesus’ strong rebukes to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:7-9
8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
This is a quote from Isaiah 29:13 and shows God’s disgust with meaningless words as was the case when the Pharisees sought to lose another battle with Jesus. (I mean, they should have known by now there was no way to win against Jesus.) The words of Vision come from the heart and not the mind. It is to the heart that God’s Spirit speaks and reveals what God wants us to look like 5-7 years down the road. Therefore, our words need to be carefully chosen. So this process of discerning God’s vision is neither quick nor easy. It is often time-laden and even messy. So it is important that on the front end, Vision Teams understand that time consumption and messiness is normal and certainly not a cause to give up and quit. To the contrary, the process serves to make us stronger and bolder, less self-reliant and more compassionate.
There are many things that Vision “is not”, so I want to focus on what I perceive to be the 6 most common errors in both discerning the Vision and casting the Vision. Here they are in order:
1. Vision Does Not Begin With The Identification Of Our Current Resources And Assets
It is easy to begin the process of Visioning by labeling and assessing value on our current resources and assets. That is called accountability and it is needed in the life of a local congregation on a daily basis. To begin looking at our resources and assets typically means looking at our strengths because it takes a lot of strength for Vision to become reality. If a congregation has not retooled its Vision faithfully every 5-7 years then it will naturally gravitate to looking FOR the Vision by looking AT their strengths. Unless a local congregation has been faithfully reviewing and updating their Vision every 5-7 years it is not very likely that God’s Vision will be centered on their current strengths. It will probably be centered on their weaknesses.
2. Vision Is Not About Improving Our Programs
Some congregations take the approach that Vision is about making our Programs even better. But as we learned last week Programs are different from Vision and Mission. Because the church has been living under the paradigm that programs are the primary means of growing the local church, it is only logical to think that this Vision from God is going to be about improving our Programs. God’s Vision may or may not be about improving existing programs. In fact, HIS Vision may be about getting rid of some old and wornout programs. Many congregations are program driven churches rather than Vision Following churches, so the natural tendency will be to “dream” of ways to make programs better. If this is what you think Vision is all about, then I have 3 words for you: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!
3. Vision Is Not About Getting Rid Of Existing Leadership And Replacing Them With New Leadership
When I say “leadership”, what I mean is both pastor (or pastors), hired staff, and indigenous leaders within that local congregation. I have known of some congregations who have engaged in a new “Vision Statement” as a means of getting rid of old leadership to make way for new leadership. Vision is assembled around 1 Leader, the True Head of any local congregation. And if you haven’t a clue as to who I am describing, it’s none other than Jesus, Himself. The process of Visioning includes casting The Vision in such a way that it brings existing leadership onboard. Now, if any existing leaders are unable or unwilling to get on board, then it’s time for them to get on board the next train leaving town. But Vision is never about “cleaning house”.
4. Vision Is Not An Update, Upgrade Or Fix-It For The Local Congregation
Every local congregation has “issues” in need of repair. As you read this, if you are thinking there’s nothing that needs “fixing” at your local church, I have 3 words for you: Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! We like to think of our local churches as being really neat and rarely messy places. Which is exactly why many pastors and members move on to other places. Until we become the church in Heaven, we will be really messy and rarely neat. I do not say this to be critical of any local congregation; rather to help us accept this fact in ways that helps us accept each other when things are NOT so neat. Without a doubt a Vision does correct the compass and direction of a local church. But we do not enter the time of seeking, clarifying, understanding and casting the Vision simply as a way to fix our problems. Oftentimes the old problems follow into the new Vision. But then we will be better enabled to handle them in positive ways. Microsoft Windows™ has updates and perhaps it would be easier if we could just download an update and everything operate like it should. But oh, what great things we would miss if it happened that way.
5. Vision Is Not Chiseled In Stone
What I mean by this is that it is extremely rare for one Vision Statement that comes out of the wrestling and struggling to stay the same for a local church unless Jesus comes really soon. As the church changes, as the community changes, as the culture changes and as the world changes, so will The Vision change. Any Vision Statement that is static and not fluid probably did not come from God OR we have stopped looking for God’s Vision. As much as we wish the world would not change so fast, the reality is it does. Whatever changes happen in the world NEVER catches God off-guard. Instead He is always ready for the next new Vision. Another reason I believe that The Vision is more fluid than static is because of our own natural tendency to resist change, especially change that is initiated by the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
6. The Vision Will Not Be All That Complicated
This entire process begins and ends with God, and every point between lives within the context of God who truly is With Us. It isn’t complicated so that we can “buy-in” and take ownership in The Vision. It belongs completely to God and it just so happens that God has selected us to impart, cast and live out His Vision. The Vision will always be much more than we can do alone, or as we are right now. The Vision will never talk about “what is”, rather it speaks of “what can be” when we give up the right to control anything and totally surrender to the very thing God is doing. We do not remember the complicated, but we do remember the simple. I Googled “church vision statements” and found many. Their content ranged from 4 words to 279 words. As I looked through this list of some 80 churches and their Vision Statement, the best one I like contain 4 words. These 4 words did not even form a grammatically correct statement, but spoke volumes to me. It said: Making New, Making Great. It is so simple that anyone in that congregation could say it, and live it out.
I’m sure you can probably think of other things that Vision “is not”. So feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. And remember this:
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way God loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!