By George Bullard
Often congregations put high pressure on their senior or solo pastor to be the originator of vision. It is a classic statement, and by no means an urban legend, that laypersons will say when a church is without a pastor or they know a new pastor is getting ready to be appointed to their church by the denomination, that they need a new pastor who will bring them vision.
It is also said that when a pastor does not bring vision, seems unable to sell vision to the congregation or cannot get the congregation moving forward, the congregation needs to replace the pastor. At times a sports analogy is used. The statement goes something like this: “If the team ain’t winnin’ then it is time to fire the coach.”
All this rhetoric misses the point. Pastors are not the source of congregational vision. They are one key to visionary leadership.
The five keys to visionary leadership
Yes, visionary leadership is of great importance for congregations. But the pastor is not the only key to vision. The pastor is one of at least five keys to the success of a congregation. However, the pastor is the first among the five keys.
It is important for pastors to acknowledge they are one of the keys, and that they do have a role and responsibility in vision casting. They cannot deny this. Yet vision may not come easy to them. It has been suggested that as many as 80 percent of all pastors do not find vision casting an easy task.
The second key is there must be a set of visionary lay leaders within the life of the congregation supported by the pastor and staff persons. At least 7 percent of the average number of adults present during a typical week for worship must participate in vision casting and be captivated by vision.
Third, there must be a clearly discerned vision for the future story of ministry within and beyond the congregation. “Where there is no vision the congregation will perish” is a reasonable paraphrase of the first part of Proverbs 29:18. A God-given vision must be part of the fabric of the congregation.
Fourth, there must be reasonable resources to support strategic programming, ministries and activities, and to align them for the fulfillment of the vision. Congregations cannot make brick without straw, just as the Israelite people could not in Egypt. Reasonable resources must be present or acquired to empower the vision to come alive.
Fifth, there must be a clear sense of God’s timing. Visionary leadership does not happen because the calendar says it is time for a new or renewed vision, or because a meeting is called to determine vision, or because a committee is appointed to develop a vision. Vision happens when there is a movement of God that creates memorable visionary experiences.
Seeing these five keys, let’s return to the role of pastors as one of the keys to visionary leadership.
The pastor is the voice of vision
The pastor does have a key role in being the voice of vision. The Triune God is the originator or source of vision. It is my hope the pastor is among the first persons, if not the very first person, within a congregation to be captivated by God’s vision for the future of the congregation. Why? Because pastors do have a crucial role in casting vision.
However, it is not the pastor alone who brings forth vision. It is the pastor plus a number of staff and lay leaders equal to 7 percent of the average number of people connected during a typical week for worship within the congregation. These include the categories called the People of Pastoral Leadership and the People of Passion.
This 7 percent must be supported by another 14 percent called the People of Position, thus adding up to a number equal to 21 percent of attendance. This number is an informal congregational community called the Enduring Visionary Leadership Community.
If it is the senior or solo pastor’s vision alone, then it comes and goes as the pastor comes and goes. It never develops deep ownership in the congregation. In this model the pastor has the tough task of always pushing the congregation to understand and live into its vision.
Pushing may work in the short-term, or as long as the pushing pastor has high credibility. In the long-term only being pulled forward by a prophetic understanding of God’s leadership will bring success, significance and surrender to the congregation.
This is the 10th in a series of posts on congregational vision. To see all the posts go here. Look for the next post entitled “Pastors leave congregations, but God’s vision never leaves.”