In my experience of working with churches, I have found that discerning and articulating a church’s vision oftentimes brings pronounced confusion and high frustration to pastors and leaders, with much of their angst stemming from misunderstanding what vision is – and isn’t.
What follows are five aspects of vision that help pastors and leaders to understand, discern, articulate, and live into the vision God is leading them to pursue.
Vision is subordinate to mission, and works to fulfill the mission.
There is much confusion in church leadership as to what differentiates mission from vision. Simply put, mission answers the question of why we exist as a church, while vision answers the question of what God is leading us to be in the future to fulfill the mission.
It is my belief that the mission of every church is the Great Commission we’ve received from Christ (Mt. 28:16-20, Acts 1:8). There is no need to discern our mission because it’s already been given to us! Further, we are instructed how to go about fulfilling the mission – to love God with every fiber of our being, and to love people as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Churches may restate their mission if they please, but ultimately the mission of every church ought to encapsulate the Great Commission we’ve received from Christ.
Whereas our mission is given to us, vision must be discerned. Our mission is God-breathed; our vision is God-inspired. Hence while our mission is fixed and lies ever before us, our vision – what God is leading us to be in the future to fulfill the mission – is a variable that changes from time to time. For this reason, vision must always be “subordinate” to mission.
Vision is borne of discontent.
In Holy Discontent, Bill Hybels makes the case that when a person is discontent over a matter that also brings discontent to God, the person’s discontent is holy – righteous – and instrumental for bringing forth a personal vision that is also holy. The same dynamic is true in churches. Church leaders must pray for clarity about what grieves both ourselves and God, for it is in that place where holy discontent is found, and a holy vision begins to emerge.
Vision is most often discerned collaboratively.
The notion that vision must always be discerned by the senior leader is a myth that puts inordinate and misplaced pressure on a single person, and restricts other leaders from fully stepping into their call to lead. The truth is that vision tends to emerge in a variety of different ways, and through a variety of different people. In some churches, vision is in fact discerned by the lead pastor, but most often vision is discerned through collaboration. But regardless of how vision is discerned, three things must happen before advancing a vision beyond ideation:
First, there must be sufficient leadership agreement on the vision. This means that at least 75% of the leadership team must agree on a proposed vision before advancing it beyond ideation.
Secondly, there must be express agreement from all leaders to promote the vision as a unified, fully committed team. Though some leaders will not fully grasp or have innate passion for the vision, there must be all-in leadership commitment to actively cast and promote the vision.
Thirdly – and most importantly – while the lead pastor does not have to personally discern the vision, he or she must be deeply passionate and wholeheartedly committed to it. Vision rises or falls with the senior leader. If the lead pastor casts and preaches the vision frequently, creatively, and passionately, the vision will become contagious. If not, the vision will evaporate.
Vision comes in two forms: specific and directional.
A specific vision is one in which there exists a clearly defined end point, where the desired destination is known and can be arrived at. In contrast, a directional vision is one where there is clarity on a direction to take, but not on a specific destination.
Both types of vision have their place, and both are equally viable, and equally biblical. In Deuteronomy 8:7-10, Moses received a specific vision with a clear, unmistakable end point – Canaan. In contrast, Abram (Abraham) received a directional vision to go “to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Never in a million years could Abram have imagined all that God had in store for him. All he knew at the onset is that God called him to a journey, one that would bless him and all peoples. Eventually, the directional vision God gave Abram was followed by a more specific vision to “Look up at the sky and count the stars … so shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). God made clear to Abram that he would be the “father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5).
These two examples reinforce the truth that a specific vision always requires a directional journey (see Moses, who was forced to endure the directionless wandering of the Israelites), and that a directional vision always leads to specific stops along the way where clarity emerges (see Abraham, who spent the last one-hundred years of his life watching the vision God gave him gradually unfold).
Vision statements should be brief, inspiring, and preachable.
You’ve prayed, you’ve dreamed, you’ve discerned, and you’ve gained ample support from your leadership team. Now it is time to finalize a vision statement that is…
Brief and to the point. Your vision statement should be just that – a statement. If you can’t easily memorize it, go back to the drawing board.
Inspiring. If your vision statement doesn’t make your heart race a bit faster, it probably needs some work. Enough said.
Preachable. Your vision must be “preachable,” because it will need to be preached – a lot. A lead pastor I once worked for used the expression “creative redundancy” to describe the need to send the same message over and over but in a variety of different, creative ways. A Holy Spirit-inspired vision will lend itself to being creatively and redundantly preached.