Pastors: Don’t Envision A Church. Receive One image

Pastors: Don’t Envision A Church. Receive One

I've talked before about how overrated "vision" is in church leadership. I have long suspected that there is an Emperor's New Clothes thing at work with the big V, whereby leaders tell everyone that they have succeeded because of their "vision", largely influenced by the herd, when there are thousands of leaders with identical "visions" who have got nowhere, and their success is actually down to a combination of gift, calling, context, team, wisdom, communication skills, management capacity, and ability to plan (or, if that list is insufficiently peppered with buzzwords for your tastes, ability to strategize. With a "z.") But my critique was nothing like as thoughtful, or powerful, as this one from Chase Replogle in Christianity Today. Church leaders are not meant to "envision" a church, he argues (following Bonhoeffer), but to receive one. It's worth reading the whole thing.

Early on, he quotes a deeply challenging passage from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, which is basically the opposite of virtually everything you hear in Christian leadership seminars and conferences:

God hates visionary dreaming. It makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Weaving Bonhoeffer’s insight into his own pastoral ministry story, Replogle shows how easily this can become true of anyone. “Pastoral imagination,” he writes, “captured by dreams of potential churches, pulls pastors out of their humble calling and toward pride and pretense. The vision becomes the ground for our frustrated demands of others, our desperate petitions to God, and our crushing self-doubts. Everything is judged by the vision. Everything is evaluated by its success. Our work becomes the obsessive desire to actualize what we have envisioned. Our actual congregants are often sacrificed in our pursuit of better ones.” Ay, ay, ay.

So what is the alternative? Coming to the church, in Bonhoeffer’s terms, as recipients, not demanders:

The pastor’s first call is not to envision a church but to receive one. We lead by discerning how Christ is forming a community and by being one of the first to accept that fellowship with gratitude. The pastor is not an entrepreneur. We are called to a project already underway … The starkness of Bonhoeffer’s warning opened my eyes to this new kind of pastoral vision. It forced me to finally see the congregation already in front of me. How had I missed it? While I was dreaming of some other place, God was planting a church in that basement, and he was calling me to pastor it.

HT: Duke Kwon

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