When I first started consulting on vision I had a very left-brained approach. This was natural for me, because I am a hopelessly left-brained person. This meant I focused more on the vision statement than on the characteristics or qualities of vision. It meant I was more focused on being sure vision was crafted first before other things in a strategic planning process.
I have definitely transitioned in my own perspective over the past several decades. I am now much more right-brained in my approach to vision. I talk more about the feelings and experiences of vision, rather than the statement, strategy, or structure of vision. I talk more about vision emerging out of a ready-then-shoot-then-aim process that allows vision to be a reflection of the actions in which God engages us.
Vision is now for me much more about telling the future story of ministry of a congregational expression rather than crafting a 15 word or less statement.
The last decades of the 20th century were seasons when many organizations focused on leadership by their visionary leader. The individual who was in the position of highest leadership in the organization was seen as the person who needed to provide, cast, and be the embodiment of the vision.
You may remember the multiple commercials in which automobile executive Lee Iacocca was the embodiment as well as the spokesperson of the vision for the Chrysler Corporation. It is a strong example of what was going on during those decades.
A carryover was that congregations emphasized more significantly than they did already the idea they needed a senior or solo pastor who could bring vision to the congregation, and direct the congregation forward in a manner similar to Lee Iacocca for the Chrysler Corporation.
How many times have you heard someone in a congregation say when they are between pastors or anticipating the appointment of a new pastor by their denomination, “We need a new pastor who will bring us vision and get us moving forward”?
Vision is not the pastor pushing the congregation forward. It is allowing the congregation to be pulled forward by God. A new pastor with a new vision–or an old vision they brought from their last church–often seeks to push a congregation forward and make it successful beyond what it has recently experienced.
While the following statement in many ways is over-simplistic, it is appropriate to suggest that part of being captivated by vision is “letting go and letting God”. The implication is that often we feel like we must push a congregation forward with our own abilities rather than being embraced by the grace gift of God.
We mistakenly feel we must work more, push harder, and force something great to happen. Sometimes we feel like we’ve got to take the reins of control away from God’s Holy Spirit because we actually know better how to move our congregation forward. We see our efforts and timing as better than those of the Triune God.
You fool! This day the life of your congregation will be required of you.
Prayer discernment is needed. While it is possible to overemphasize waiting on the Lord and seeking discernment, and while I suggest a much more proactive approach when I work with congregations and denominations on vision, in many situations we need more prayerful discernment.
Vision is not an organizational statement. We too often seek to have vision come forth out of the conference room in which a committee meets. Usually what comes forth is not vision, but a programmatic and management statement that fits an organization rather than a congregation.
Vision is a grace gift of God we discern. Vision is part of God’s grace gift to us, and not a series of steps or deeds that produce vision. Vision is not something we earn, or an exercise we complete.
The exercises around vision do have a purpose. They help us with the strategies and tactics for living into our vision. They themselves are not the vision, nor do the exercises reveal true vision. Ultimately vision is a grace gift of God we discern that captivates our spiritual imagination.
Implications for Your Congregation
First, vision is more likely to emerge from the future story of ministry of your congregation than from the expert crafting of a vision statement.
Second, vision does not happen because we push harder, but because we listen to God with a spirit of discernment.
Third, because vision is a grace gift of God, we cannot earn it. We can receive it and rejoice in it.