Where Are We Going? Answering the Vision Question

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 227

The necessity of pursuing vision in the church cannot be overstated. Imagine deciding to go on a road trip with a friend but never discussing where to go. You get in the car together and start driving. 

After a little while, your friend says, “Where are you going? Shouldn’t we have taken that turn to go south?” 

You reply, “No, the mountains are north.” 

But, the beach is south!” they exclaim. 

“Who said we’re going to the beach?” you say.

“I thought that’s what you meant when you said we were going on a trip,” they reply.

Clarity matters. Unity matters.

Vision in the church is what moves it forward. It’s what makes the present uncomfortable. It helps make the right decisions about the future. Below, I’ll describe the three most common vision issues in churches and how to develop vision in a healthy way.

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Vision issue #1 – Absence.

The most common vision issue in churches that we work with is that it is non-existent. It’s not a topic of conversation among church leaders, as most energy is expended on the Sunday-to-Sunday flow and the tyranny of the urgent. The beginning of the year sometimes brings it to mind out of frustration with the status quo, but without a plan to pursue vision exploration, things rarely change.

When the church is not pursuing an active vision, day-to-day ministry decisions are often made on what just seems like a good idea or something to try. The church without vision sometimes makes some left turns and sometimes makes some right turns, and usually, where they end up is about where they started from.

The absence of vision can also provide a false sense of unity. Were no vision exists, no conflict exists related to vision. Everyone assumes we’re moving together until it is articulated.

Vision issue #2 – Uncommunicated.

In some cases, a pastor does have a picture of the future in mind. The quantity of vision, were it to be quantified, would be larger towards the earlier time of his ministry and growing smaller as time goes on. The pastor new to a position is the one who usually has greater vision in mind. I believe it would actually be unhealthy to enter a new position without vision. Almost unnatural. Vision is what drives the pursuit for most people. It may not be articulated that way, but it’s there. You imagine the great ministry you can do in the role. Maybe it’s geography-driven or people-driven, but it’s there. A change made begrudgingly is rarely one in which vision thrives.

The issue begins when the uncommunicated pursuit of vision forces change. Whether significant or insignificant, changes made without clearly articulating the vision will often lead to resistance. With the best of intentions, a pastor can begin to alienate himself when the church begins to perceive him as going in a direction they either don’t want to go or don’t understand. The latter is more likely, though the former happens sometimes too.

Vision issue #3 – Communicated but contested.

This vision issue generally plays out in one of two different scenarios. The first is more common. A new pastor comes to serve the church. He has a vision for the future and begins to express it, and the people don’t seem to share the same vision. This often happens when, during the hiring process, good conversations don’t happen about the future and the pastor’s ministry philosophy and goals. Sometimes, it’s the other way around, and the search committee or church board fails to articulate their own ministry philosophies and future goals. Sometimes, those things simply don’t exist to even be talked about.

Timing is often one of the characteristics of this failure. Unless decided upon with large-scale agreement, a pastor new to a position should take the necessary time to build relationships and understand the culture of the church prior to moving towards change in pursuit of vision.

The second scenario is similar to the first, but in an environment in which the pastor is not new to the church. Vision may be contested in this scenario when leaders have not been involved in developing the vision. We’ll get into that next.

Best practices for vision development

There are ways to best set yourself up for vision success. Plan to succeed by including these components in your vision work.

Include the team

We believe that the pastor is the chief vision-caster of the church, but perception and development of the vision in a team environment leads to fruitful vision work. Gathering ministry leaders together to take up the task of perceiving God’s vision for your church will provide a variety of voices and ideas, but it will also provide the necessary vetting of the vision. When multiple people perceive the same things, we can move forward with greater confidence that the Holy Spirit is leading.

Communicate continuously and clearly

The vision bucket has many holes, so it must continuously be filled. What I mean is, keep the vision in front of people, or they’ll forget. Large group gatherings like worship services – speak of the vision; small group gatherings – speak of the vision; staff meetings and planning meetings – speak of the vision; leader training – speak of the vision. Remember to celebrate the little accomplishments along the way!

Make it clear and compelling

If the future doesn’t sound better than the present, who will want to go there with you? Vision should be exciting so that people want to go there and help the church get there. They should see themselves in it and strive toward it. You must speak of it so that people can visualize it.

Show scriptural alignment

If it doesn’t line up with God’s Word, the people should reject it! God’s vision for your church will always align with his Word. Good and proper future vision will also align with the Great Commission. A vision that does not include making and maturing disciples of Jesus is not one a church should pursue.

Build out a strategy

Without the first step of a journey, the end is never reached. Outline the necessary steps to get where God is leading you. This is especially helpful for the people who need to see a complete picture to understand and get on board. You may not have all the answers up front, but you should have a general idea of how to get started.
Seem overwhelming? We’re here to help. Schedule a free call today to discuss how your church can move from the status quo to vision pursuit.

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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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