As important as it is for your church to have a clear vision, having the right vision is even more critical. And the right vision does not happen accidentally. It begins with asking a few basic questions and following an effective process.
Here are some questions church leaders should consider as they peer into God’s preferred future for their churches:
- Are we willing to accept that a vision for our church is necessary?
Where there is no vision, the people perish … (Proverbs 29:18)
Think of Abraham without God’s challenge to travel to “a land I will show you.” Can you conceive of the Exodus story without Moses and the burning bush … without Israel’s hope of the Promised Land? What would have become of David’s reign without his dream of a united kingdom? What if there had been no Damascus Road experience for Saul, no burning aspiration to become the “Apostle to the Gentiles”? Imagine the Antioch church without a vision strong enough to free them from the patterns of Jerusalem so Gentiles could be reached.
Everywhere you turn in Scripture, God gives vision to his people. He sets goals. He commissions and directs. He paints his preferred future for those he loves.
When God’s people hear God’s vision and respond faithfully, they thrive. When they embrace God’s vision, they find purpose and meaning. When they partner with God and his vision, their lives have significance and impact and “the nation prospers.”
Without godly vision, two things occur to God’s people (neither of them good):
- People wander and drift, without direction and goals, without any real basis for unified action, without common cause (a definition of ineffectiveness).
- Or other people’s agendas and ambitions replace God’s agenda and ambitions. Someone else’s goals drive the plans of God’s people (a definition of unfaithfulness).
In the absence of godly vision, the same two consequences occur in churches today. Members either wander and wonder (and are doomed to ineffectual church lives) or they embrace other agendas and goals (and waste themselves chasing unworthy ends).
Is vision necessary? Only if you take Scripture and an effective future for your church seriously.
- Are we willing to believe God already has a vision for our congregation?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord … (Jer 29:11)
Developing a vision for your church is not the same as “originating” a vision or “inventing” a vision or stitching a vision together out of whole-cloth. You don’t establish vision with coin-flips or Ouija-boards. Godly vision has nothing to do with membership polls and personal preferences.
God has already crafted a unique vision for your church. He knows what he wants you to accomplish, which needs to meet, where your ministry-focus should be, who he intends you to reach, and what kind of kingdom-impact you are meant to make. The question is not “Does God have plans for your church?” but “Have you been listening?”
God has (for instance) determined the make-up of your congregation: the people he has gathered there as members … the experiences they bring with them … the gifts with which he has equipped them … the interests and sensibilities they possess. Surely a godly vision for your church will take such matters into consideration. He has provided a history for your congregation: ministries you have done well (or poorly!) … proven strengths and weaknesses … leadership models that have worked (or floundered) … a track-record of follow-through (or ball-dropping). Surely a godly vision will build on and account for that history. He has placed you in particular times and circumstances: the community of which the church is a part … the needs of your neighbors … seasons of plenty or want … open doors and burnt bridges. Surely a godly vision will address this wider context of the church.
By listening to Scripture, to God’s Spirit, to your congregation, and to your community, you can hear God’s vision for your church. Discovering how God has equipped your church, you learn what God expects you to accomplish together. Paying attention to the needs of your neighbors, to the opportunities in your community, helps you recognize the work God is calling you to do.
As a result, establishing a vision for your church isn’t an act of invention; it is, rather, an act of submission to the will of God revealed through his word, his people, and his world.
- Are we willing to see God’s vision for our church?
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Ac 2:17)
A vision is … well … visual. The basic idea of “visioning” implies an ability to see something. So close your eyes. Throw yourself into the future of your church. What do you see?
Yes, eventually a vision must be painted with words. It must be described in nouns and verbs and adjectives. But vision begins with a picture; a clear, full-color, richly textured image of tomorrow’s church. It is something viewed with the mind’s eye. It is imagined (i.e., “an image is formed”) by someone (or some group) in such a way that a portrait of what the church’s future could or should be is captured.
So, can you see God’s tomorrow for your congregation?
- What does an effective, vibrant, loving, transformative church look like (to you and to God)?
- If someone were to photograph your church ten or twenty years down the road, what images, what activities, what faces, would you hope they capture?
- Are you seeing vignettes of ministry, relationships, worship, transformation, holiness, and faith-sharing unfolding like a movie on a screen? (Such stories are closely connected to images. After all, stories are “word pictures.”) Does your vision for the church allow you to tell stories about what the future of your church looks like?
Bringing vision into clear focus requires imagination. Imagining something godly requires inspiration. Invite your church to see a godly vision (through prayer, fasting, and discernment) and then trust God to encourage that vision according to his preferred future for you.
If you take your time at this, if you do it well, you will be able to show others the future of your church, not just tell them. The resulting portrayal will enthrall people. Painting that future will cause spines to tingle. Telling those stories will encourage partnership with God. A godly vision—when seen and shared—motivates God’s people to action! And that’s something we need more of … much, much more!