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The Vision Thing

What is vision? What does it mean to cast vision?

Pastor Dave Ferguson describes it this way:

Vision is the distance that exists between the reality of ‘what is’ and the possibility of ‘what could be.’

Let me start with some history. In the late ninth century, England was filled with warring Danes. They were everywhere. At one point, only Wessex in the south remained to be conquered. One leader stood alone: King Alfred*. He lost Winchester and was chased into a swamp. Alfred was a man with a vision. He believed that one day the Saxons would be united, drive the Danes from the land, and a country called England would be born. He believed this while his son was on the point of death in a swamp, and Wessex was overrun by Danes. Some might call that wishful thinking.

It is not. It is vision.

It sets Alfred apart as a great king. That’s why we call him Alfred the Great.

Vision is communicated through our language and that language must concisely convey – in very few words – the reason why we exist. Where there is no vision, we are all just turning up and completing tasks and ceremonies. Where vision is weak and poorly communicated, our church members lose touch with the ultimate goal of their lives.

Step forward what I call ‘the shapes and numbers.’ You’ve probably seen these.

The Triangle. In. Up. Out.

Our 4 values. Our 7 goals.

There is nothing wrong with shapes and numbers. There is also nothing wrong with slogans – short, punchy statements which encapsulate what the church is about. There is a problem, however, when you need five minutes to explain your vision. That simply won’t work. Try telling me about the shape while pointing at a chart you’ve created, and we’re all looking at each other, wondering what’s going on. The reason is that the church has been around for two thousand years and the vision of the church hasn’t changed. It’s always been the same. Your job isn’t to come up with a whole new way of thinking. It’s to express the two goals of the church in precise language. Those two goals haven’t changed. YWAM managed it quite successfully when they came up with this one:

Know God and Make Him Known.

Six words. There isn’t anything else. You’re either equipping your people to know and love God better (discipling) or you’re equipping them to share the gospel (mission). That’s it. Your people are either getting to know God or sharing the whole gospel. That’s it.

Perhaps you say, ‘well, Christ isn’t mentioned.’ You’re right, he isn’t. Shouldn’t we use the word ‘disciples?’ Sure, why not? YWAM hasn’t solved the vision thing. You too can have a go, but it must be clear and concise. Every extra word that’s not needed complicates and confuses people.

The Three Musketeers are fearless, brave and united. Their motto is ‘all for one and one for all.’ Concise, clear and focused. Superb. The U.S. Marines have a two-word motto: Semper Fi. Always faithful. Its meaning? We fight for those who fight alongside us. Every Marine is committed to that value.

Vision is embedded in the culture of the church you lead.

All organisations, including churches, have cultures. A culture is ‘the way we do things around here.’ Cultures are the shared values, beliefs and behaviours of a group. The behaviours of the group are driven by the beliefs and values. Italians eat large meals with the family. Why? Because Italians value family above all things.

So a new person joins your church. How quickly do they become aware of the culture, the expectations of what it means to be a part of the group? The vision statement, the words you use to cast vision are critical in creating that culture, because cultures are top-down. Your words – and how you communicate – will do this. You will either do it well or badly, but make no mistake, it will happen. Your vision – weak and ill-defined, or strong and clear – will come across to your people.

Casting vision is an essential task for a leader because it helps create the culture of the group. Cultures are either strong or weak, depending primarily on the leadership. Top-down. Armies have strong cultures. The Sargent-Major says ‘jump,’ all the soldiers jump. Sadly, many church cultures are weak. People turn up on Sunday, shake hands with others, sing, pray, and leave. Others attend a mid-week Bible study, but that’s about it. Is that what you want? Because I guarantee you, your vision statement will never say: ‘Come to church on Sunday and talk to other people during the week.’

Sometimes all it takes is a little imagination. We’re just so swamped, we don’t have the energy to do any more than what’s in front of us. I get that. But there are things we can do to inspire our people. Have you thought about mission as a form of Mission Impossible?

We’re going deep into enemy territory, courageously making contact with prisoners trapped by a wicked regime, which holds them captive. We are liberators, inviting them to take the hand of a Saviour who will free them, restore them to life and give them meaning and purpose. The importance of the mission cannot be overstated. It’s dangerous work at times, it takes sacrifice and dedication. Are you up for it? It’s the difference between life and death. If you want to get stuck in, you must be committed, and obey orders. Let’s go!

Vision needs to connect people with the grand vision of why the church exists. We exist to make disciples. Now let’s go out and make some (conversion being the first step, of course). Discipleship and Mission – the two great tasks of the church. Let’s do it!

Clear vision connects people with the why. It motivates them to live for Jesus.

When your people lose the connection between their service and the why, they lose heart. The woman who still serves coffee, but constantly complains about everyone who leaves the sink dirty, she’s lost her vision. She’s still serving, but she’s forgotten why she started doing it. The man on AV, who doesn’t take direction and has become passive-aggressive, he’s just plodding along. He doesn’t know why he started in the first place.

If you want to create a strong culture, in which everyone is inspired to live for Jesus with passion and energy, then think about how you’re casting vision. It won’t solve all your problems, but it is a vital first step. Creating a strong culture will take a lot more than just vision, but without it, the people will perish. They will lose heart. They need constant reminding about why they do what they do.

Fortunately, churches have a culture of Sunday worship. Once a week, you have an opportunity to communicate vision, to inspire people with the why.

The why for Christians is always Jesus. Show them Jesus, inspire them with how glorious he is, and you won’t go far wrong.

Shapes and numbers will only help if they clarify the message. If they don’t, then ditch them.

A leader with true vision equips the people to grow in knowledge of God, share the gospel, and do so right where they live. In Leicester, Perth, Swansea, Belfast, wherever you live.

Give your people a vision of why your church exists, inspire them with a vision of Jesus, and . . . well, I as I said . . .

You won’t go far wrong.

*You can read his story in Bernard Cornwell’s wonderful Saxon series books, or watch ‘The Last Kingdom’ on Netflix. Cornwell’s books are, of course, fiction (Uhtred is a fictional character), and he moves some of the historical events around, but this series has a great deal of historical accuracy. Let’s just say I’m a fan.

We are always updating our library of articles to equip you with resources for your ministry. This week we have added an article by Stephen McQuoid on Church Discipline.


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