“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” –Every Preacher who’s ever talked about vision. (also a Proverb)
This Month, I’d like to dedicate Thursdays to talk about the importance of vision in churches, and how to go about discerning what your church vision could be. Over the next couple of weeks, look forward to Steve Cloer and Josh Ross talking about practical ways of doing this.
I know that vision and leadership are a bit of buzzwords these days, but don’t immediately write this off, because I think that vision is the only way churches can lead without over-emphasizing and abusing power. Let me explain:
The work in a church is one of the best and most frustrating jobs there is. It’s incredibly rewarding getting to speak and minister to people that you love and mobilize a group of people toward a common objective. It can also be very frustrating, because this group of people who you are ministering to might not think of church the same way you do.
If you have a church of a hundred different people, chances are you have at least 100 different expectations about what church should be about, what your services should look like, what kind of sermon you should preach..etc.
And there are two ways to going about how to minister through these differences. 1) is to turn internally, and help them see that they are a part of a community, and each time they gather they must submit their individual needs and preferences to the community. That’s a good response. But alone, I think it fails. 2) Cast a vision larger than your organization.
Externally Focused Churches
In his book A Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, refers to the research done a few years ago. A group had surveyed 19th century communes, and they discovered that the ones that lasted had two common themes.
1) They were religious.
2) They asked for great sacrifice. More specifically, they didn’t ask people to sacrifice for the sake of the group, but for the sake of something larger than the group.
Martin Luther describes sin, as curving in on oneself. And if that’s the case then churches have a tendency to be extremely sinful. Over time, every institution has this slow bend to focus on itself, to focus internally, but that’s not their fault…And It would be extremely hard for them to change it by themselves.
One of the things about being the preacher at a church is that, chances are, you are in more meetings with more people than anyone else. You are visiting with people in the city, and people hurting in your church. You know some civic leaders and have shepherds who are in every part of your community.
Any authority that you have, has to start here: Leadership comes from people who see the big picture.
You see what the community needs, and what the church needs. You see the potential of what could happen if the people of the congregation could point all of their resources in the same direction.
You see it. But they don’t.
They’re not in the meetings, they don’t know the mayor, they’re not thinking about the girl who was sexually abused in their congregation, because they don’t know her story. They don’t know that the recent change about nursery workers has to do with that, because they don’t see everything.
So don’t get frustrated, work on vision.
Helping Others See
I’ve heard preachers complain saying something like, “We’re supposed to go into all the world, and I can’t get people to even move up a few seats.”
And I get how frustrating it can be when people don’t respond the way you want, especially if you are pouring your heart out asking for help.
But before you blame the people, and assume that they just don’t love the LORD, ask this one question: “What am I seeing that they don’t?”
Could it be that the reason you want them to move up is to create room at the back for guests? Do you assume that every week people might come to church that others have prayed for years for them, do you assume that if they can’t find a seat open in the back they might just leave?
Is that why you want them to move up? Because I don’t want to move after I’ve already sat down, but I’d move up for that.
To work at a church is to lead a volunteer organization. Which means you only have as much authority as people give you. You can’t force or control people to do anything, but you can lead, with vision, but first a Couple of cautions.
How To Form a Vision
Mark Twain once said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is so true here. It’s possible for a preacher to have a pre-set idea about what the church cares about, find a couple of people to support his theory with anencdotes, and then watch the vision fail, because it didn’t have buy in from a broad group.
When I first got to Highland, I started opening up my office for a few hours each week to anybody from the church who wanted to drop by. I just wanted to get to know Highland, who they were, and what they cared about.
I wanted to hear from everyone, not just the people who tended to know how to get meetings with the preacher, or were related to a shepherd or staff member. It was incredible! I got to know the church in the broadest and best sense of the word. I discovered people who were passionate about a broad range of things, and yet there was some overlap.
I tell my friends often that Highland cares about the right things.
I learned that here.
And then later when some shepherds and Ben Siburt and I sat down to pray and discuss the future of Highland and Highland’s role in Abilene and the world, these voices kept coming back to me. I had a good idea what they cared about because I had made time to listen to them.
The best description of vision that I’ve heard is that vision is where your churches resources and passions overlap with the needs of the world. I think that’s right. I don’t think preachers cast vision, as much as they reflect it. They are helping the church get to where, in her better moments, she already wanted to go.
Next week, Steve Cloer is going to talk about ways to find out how to serve your community through vision, but for this week here’s the question:
What is frustrating you? What is not happening in your town/city that could happen if a church got together and decided to do something? What does your city need? What can your church do if they seriously decided to focus on this?
Now help them see it.