In the previous post, we explored three 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?
- Are we willing to believe God already has a vision for our congregation?
- Are we willing to see God’s vision for our church?
In this post, we pose two more questions church leaders should ask about vision. In ways, these are the more difficult questions to answer. They require us to grapple with the idea not only that God still speaks to his people today but that he has very particular goals in mind for individual congregations.
- Are we willing for vision to be specific?
“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 10:5-6)
Funny thing about pictures … they are very specific. Certain faces and events are portrayed. A particular moment is captured. Pictures aren’t meant to be generic. And neither are visions.
Jesus sent his disciples out (Mt 10:5-42) with a very specific vision of the ministry he wanted them to do: go to the lost sheep of Israel … preach that the kingdom of heaven has come … heal the sick … no gold or silver … find worthy people, bless them with peace … if people won’t listen, leave … expect opposition. The list goes on. Thirty-eight verses of very specific, detailed instruction.
Do you think God has anything less specific in mind for your congregation? You can’t just throw a Bible at the church and say, “There! There’s the vision for our church!”
Yes, the church exists to glorify God, feed the hungry, make disciples, fulfill the Great Commission, heal the sick, care for the needy, preach the gospel, love each other, serve the world … the list goes on! And a godly vision must take all these matters into consideration.
But the key to vision is not how much ground is covered by a church’s vision, but how specific and contextual that vision can be.
Who is God calling you to “go” to? Who does he want you to reach? What is he asking you to preach? Are there any “sick” people in your church’s future and what kinds of diseases has God equipped you to heal? Who are the “worthy ones” in the community your church is meant to bless? Who is likely to ignore and oppose you? How are you to handle that as a congregation of God’s people? What priorities would God set for you? What difference does he want your particular family of believers to make in the world? Are there a few things you ought to be doing really well as a church?
The more specific your vision for the church can be, the more guidance that vision can give you for the future. The more contextual the vision is (taking general principles like “make disciples,” for instance, and filling in the “who/what/where/when/why/how” blanks), the more effective your church will be at its kingdom business.
- Are we willing for our vision to provide focus?
It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. (Ac 6:2)
A lack of vision does not condemn a church to do nothing. It (more likely) condemns a church to do everything. In the absence of vision, a church suffers ministry ADD, says “yes” to too many things, is unable to focus, and (as a result) greatly limits its impact. Churches without clear vision have ministries a mile wide and a millimeter deep. They are doing many things, but nothing well and transformatively. The sheer pace of work to keep all those ministry plates spinning ensures there is little time or energy left to evaluate ministry effectiveness, deepen ministry impact, or kill off ministries whose time has passed.
A vision does little good if it can’t help a church say “No.” You can be convinced your church should have a vision, that God has given you a vision, that the vision is specific and unique … but if a church does not exercise the discipline to say “No” to good things so it can say “Yes” to best things (those related directly to the church’s vision), vision remains just a wish and a dream.
As churches age, as they grow, as budgets expand, they tend to accumulate ministry pounds. They keep packing on the good works, adding line items, setting directions that have more to do with individual interests than congregational effectiveness and impact. (One of the authors of this chapter once worked with a church that boasted of 168 budgeted ministries! When it was suggested they trim that list down to ten, they almost choked.)
But how can you tell so many ministry stories? How do you recruit and train leaders for so many different works? How do you evaluate the kingdom effectiveness of all those ministries? You don’t. You decide (of necessity) that more is better, that quantity of ministry trumps quality of ministry, that the church is not in the business of evaluating ministries so much as supporting them, no matter the fruit.
Until your people grow tired and discouraged, that is. Until membership and giving begin to decline. Until those you go to church with start wondering whether the ministries of the church are making any real difference, any significant difference. Until someone asks you, “If this church vanished suddenly, would anyone around us notice?”