- Where are you headed as a congregation? Silence
- Do you have a vision for where God is leading you? Puzzled expression
- Do you have a strategic plan for ministry? Blank look, then shrug
- What are your goals for next year? Annoyance
As I have traveled around the district leading annual church conferences this fall, I have been inspired by dozens of stories of lives that are transformed through the ministries of our local churches. Many of our congregations are intentional, deliberate, and strategic about their planning, and it shows. At the same time, I am dismayed by the number of churches who not only do not have a formal vision and plan for ministry but see no apparent need for such a vision.
It’s discouraging for pastors when congregation members simply want to show up for worship on Sunday morning and leave feeling good. They have no interest in discerning who God has called them to be as a congregation, where they are headed as the body of Christ, and what that roadmap looks like. It’s equally discouraging for lay leaders when their pastor is not an enthusiastic advocate for strategic planning and goal setting.
I believe that the key to congregational health and vitality is the development of visionary pastors and lay leaders. No one doubts the importance of vision. Sight is one of the most precious gifts we have. We spend billions of dollars a year on glasses, contact lenses, Lasik surgery, and other procedures to correct or enhance our vision. Yet physical sight is only a small aspect of vision. Helen Keller once said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision.”
All human beings need a vision of who they are and who God has called them to become. According to family systems pioneer Edwin Friedman, a distinctive mark of a mature person is having clear life goals. When we are guided by personal goals and values, we direct our own life and are less likely to be sidetracked by the behavior or expectations of others. One of the most important roles of adults is to help children discover their future and discern how God has gifted them to make a positive difference in the world. How might our world be transformed if every person were encouraged to develop and live by a personal vision/mission statement?
Vision could be defined as “the articulation of a preferred future in a picture”. The right vision invites commitment, bridges the past, present, and future, creates meaning and purpose in people’s lives, and establishes a standard of excellence. The Bible is full of quotes and stories about the importance of vision in the development and practice of faith.
- Proverbs 29:18: “Without a vision, the people perish.” (Vision is essential for a whole and healthy life.)
- Habakkuk 2:2-3 “Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.’” (A vision must be plain and easily understood and demands patience.)
- Joel 2:28: “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Vision is a gift from God that is given to every human being.)
An effective leader in any organization must have vision. A visionary leader:
- Looks at the whole picture, sees possibilities that others don’t, and knows how to get there when others don’t
- Inspires others to engage in a shared vision that is greater than themselves and their own self-interest
- Listens to God and others and observes more than talks
- Clearly defines what success looks like, then frees, empowers, and fuels others to determine how best to achieve it
- Is passionate, curious, and a continuous learner
- Knows who needs to be at the table and stays connected with them
- Engages, leads with, and encourages the heart
Last Thanksgiving Gary and I spent a few days visiting our family inFlorida, including our now 2 year old grandson. We flew back on Sunday morning so that I could lead a church conference in the evening. Because of low and heavy cloud cover inGrand Rapids, the pilot was not able to see the runway until we were barely above the ground, at which point he suddenly accelerated, and we zoomed back into the sky.
After a few anxious moments, the pilot informed us that when we broke through the cloud cover, he realized that the plane was not in alignment with the runway, necessitating emergency action. Evidently, there was a computer problem, and because the pilot could not land visually in the cloud cover, we were diverted to sunny Fort Wayne, Indiana, where we sat for 4 hours until a new plane could take us to Grand Rapids.
I missed the church conference that night, but they got along just fine. Another elder led the meeting, and I learned some critical lessons.
- Our vision, mission, core values, and strategic goals must be aligned in order for churches to be healthy and effective.
- The benchmark for any ministry in the local church should be whether it aligns with our vision, mission, and ministry plan. If a proposed ministry doesn’t fit, God might be calling us to let it go.
- Visionary leaders are alignment specialists who keep us moving in the same direction and constantly bring us back to our vision and mission.
- When the runway is clearly visible, churches don’t waste time sitting around the table asking the age old question, “Well, what should we do this fall?”
- As important as alignment of ministries is the alignment of self. Visionary leaders are self-defined, integrated, authentic individuals whose words, actions, and beliefs are consistent.
Dr. Arthur Watkins is a retired university professor who has devoted his life to etymology. From his study of the word “leader,” he says that “being a leader means finding the path, but before you can help someone else find their path, you must know yours.” What is preventing us from becoming churches and clergy whose decisions are guided by a clear vision for the path to which God is calling us? What is hindering our congregations from investing time in a strategic plan and then using it rather than letting it sit on a shelf where it looks down at us and pleads, “Look at me! Get me down! Let me guide you!”
It’s never too late to get a vision alignment and think strategically. How will your congregation reach out during Advent and Christmas?
- Is your adult choir or children’s choir doing a cantata or play during Advent? If your strategic plan calls for you to invest yourself in your community, how about presenting your cantata or play at a local nursing home instead of or in addition to in the church?
- If your plan includes finding ways to build fellowship among church members, why not have a chili lunch after worship, then break up into groups and go caroling to shut-ins?
- If your plan calls for servant evangelism, why not organize members to take homemade cookies to fire and police departments, hospitals, and homeless shelters on Christmas Eve?
During this Thanksgiving week I thank God:
For vision that links a congregation’s identity with the mission to which God is calling them;
For strategic thinkers, alignment specialists, and pilots who don’t miss the runway;
For the alignment of the snow tires on my car and for pastors and congregations who are moving together toward a shared vision and goals;
For those who can see with the eyes of their heart.
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” Ephesians 1:17-19
Need an alignment? Get vision!