What Happened to Vision in the Church?

Those simple words carry a hidden complexity of meaning for many church leaders. Minuscule molehills of insecurity become mountains of defensiveness as we assume the motivation behind that question.

The reason those words can strike fear, however, most often comes back to one of four unspoken realities of leading with vision in the local church.

Reality #1: I don’t have a vision, and I don’t want to talk about it. 

Vision dims and drifts. It just does. We get busy, we realize success, or we struggle through challenges, and a clear, compelling vision becomes the victim. One day we realize we’ve been leading on automatic and ask God for a renewed, fresh vision for the church. Whatever the case, in seasons of diminished vision clarity, the last thing we want to do is admit we’re just not sure what’s beyond next Sunday.

However, the best thing a leader can do is talk about vision and its need with a trusted group of co-laborers. Creating a compelling vision that breaks through current seasons of success or struggle is a shared experience. Talking about the need for vision and inviting others into the process of clarifying a picture of God’s better future not only builds ownership beyond the pulpit, but it creates immeasurable energy in every pew (or theater seat).

A pastor in at an average-sized church in Michigan recently gathered a team to dream about a five-year future horizon of impact in their small college town. God’s Holy Spirit moved in the team during an overnight break in their vision planning retreat. The following morning, each came back with a similar picture of the church being a Samaritan well and a vivid vision of the gospel transforming people across their county. By inviting others into a vision conversation, the pastor can now confidently talk about their dream of 42 stories being told over the next four years as the church pursues a John 4:42 vision.

Pastor, it’s okay not to have every answer. What’s not okay is to refuse to ask the right questions with the right people and fail to dream together about the disciple-making future God has ahead.

Who can you start a vision conversation with this week? 

Reality #2: I have a vision, but I’m not sure how to talk about it. 

Most pastors grew up under, or have had modeled, a very authoritarian method of vision leadership. A my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership brought fruit and success when the world was less connected, free of “what’s happening over here” social media influence. Therefore, we tend to maintain a pattern of one or two Sundays per year to preach on vision and hope that everyone shows up that Sunday.

If the vision of your church centers on a calling to missional, daily disciple-making, wouldn’t that be something to talk about every week? Why would there ever be a sermon that does not paint a picture of God’s desire for the church gathered to grow and then sent to share the gospel of Christ? Every Sunday doesn’t have to be a “vision message,” but every message can contain a vision moment. After all, vision dripping is better than vision drenching. Tiny drops of vision in every announcement, in every small group application, in every expository passage, grows ever-deepening roots in your church’s Great Commission soil.

For a college minister in Tennessee, leveraging shared and dripped language of vision solved a significant problem he had. The ministry had just received permission from the university to hold their weekly worship gatherings on campus, a victory allowing them to reach those freshmen and sophomores who were less likely to drive to a church across town. Everyone in the service clapped when he announced this great answer to prayer. When he named the resulting problem, everyone suddenly went silent.

More students meant they didn’t have enough small group leaders to connect the students into the biblical community. Because the church body was versed in a consistent language of vision, however, when this minister moved from making an announcement asking for volunteers to casting a vision for connection and creating a “yes on the table” moment, growing believers stepped up to serve.

A regular, intentional dripping of vision feeds maturity and allows the once-a-year moments that are natural and necessary to take root in the hearts of your people.

How might you drip a small part of the vision God has given you into the hearts of people this Sunday?

Reality #3: I have a vision, but I’m not sure now is the right time to talk about it.

Vision, at the core, presents a God-sized and compelling solution to a present disciple-making problem. There are seasons when church leaders must cast vision around a universal solution like the Great Commission and seasons when vision leads us to apply the gospel to localized problems in our community or congregation. With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine a bad time to cast vision, but there are certainly better times than others to zoom in or out, rightly aligning people to God’s better future.

Catastrophic events like hurricanes, acts of terrorism, or global pandemics necessitate a vision that reminds people of God’s greater purpose in the contribution that each believer is called to make. Disconnected families, hurting neighbors, or growing populations necessitate a vision that reorients people toward God’s specific purpose of the church in the community where He placed it. Vision casting is always contextual because the gospel is always applicable.

During the height of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, a Houston-area pastor reminded his church that their mission was not limited to what happened in worship services or Sunday School classrooms. In an unsettled time of “what’s next” news cycles, a vision for crossing every divide to unite people in Christ and the good news of the gospel remained relentlessly relevant. Throughout a season of shutdown, clearly cast vision kept the congregation focused on what matters the most. As a result, giving stayed consistent, and the church has baptized more in the 12 months since the shutdown than the 12 months prior. 

Vision casting is never a question of when, because it’s always a perfect time to cast and keep the vision before your people. Vision casting is, therefore, a question of what and where. Stop and ask, “What is the appropriate scale of vision in this season?” Then ask, “Where are our people called to carry the gospel as a result?”

Reality #4: I have a vision, and I’ve talked about it, but no one seems to care. 

We’re living in the most messaged-from and marketed-to time in human history. Everyone has something to say and a catchy slogan or technological solution with which to say it. The average person receives more than 120 emails per day and only opens and responds to 25%. It’s little wonder that people complain about church communication when email is our only strategy. Expect a less-than vicarious initial response if you’re relying on one-way communication to serve as your primary vision vehicle.

Church people care about things that matter, things that have a perceived value. Your people contain the capacity to care about a vision, but that vision must bring about a gospel-centered future worth caring about. A younger generation of church leaders understands this to be true. Bigger buildings just don’t inspire involvement like they used to.

In a growing community south of Dallas, a church desired to see the families of their community living on mission. Rather than reflexively creating yet another ministry or running another programmatic play from the church of 20 years ago, the pastors created a “Missional Meal Plan.” They cast a vision for a family living with purpose through a straightforward vehicle: eating together.

Every week, age-group ministry leaders coordinated with the Sunday sermon to create interactive questions for a weekly family meal built on great intention. They also cast vision for every family sharing one meal a month with someone in the community, another family unconnected to Christ or His church. Finally, each quarter the entire church family would gather to break potluck bread together and gain instruction for family discipleship. Because parents could see both the value of involvement and the natural incorporation into their lifestyles, the vision flourished and stories of life change erupted. 

The old axiom remains true — people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. However, crafting and calling your congregation to a vision that transforms lives shows that you also care about what God has ahead for the church as a body gathered, not just an organization growing.  

A New Reality 

What if the next time someone asked you what your vision was, you could not just repeat a mantra but confidently share a future-fueled faith in the gospel at work in your church? Maybe it’s time to make God’s better future a spoken reality and step confidently into the good-natured questions ahead.

B. Rose

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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