Your Vision May Not Be What You Think It Is image

Your Vision May Not Be What You Think It Is

The vision you say you have matters less than you think. The vision you actually have matters more than you think. That's my theory.

If you lead a local church, it will be shaped far more by the vision you actually have—the things you are genuinely passionate about and committed to—than by the vision you say you have. With a company it can be hard to see through the spin (if there is any) to the reality, but with a family, like a church, it is different; people know each other, integrity is critical,  spades are spades whatever you call them, and most people know that. Hopefully, of course, the vision you have and the vision you say you have are the same. But in my experience they often aren’t.

The question is: how do you tell? How do you tell whether the vision you (or they) say you have is the vision you (or they) actually have? Well: the vision you say you have is the one on your website, poster, flyer, bulletin, billboard, projector screen, video, order of service or whatever else you do. That much seems clear. The vision you actually have, though it is not as immediately obvious, can fairly easily be identified by asking five questions.

1. What are you reviewing? What are the things that, every week, you are keeping an eye on to see how you’re doing? (Many companies and more than a few churches would call these Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs). In many churches these will focus on the Sunday meeting: the number of people present, the number and quality of the charismatic contributions, the length and intensity of the sung worship time, the quality of the sermon, the number of visitors, the size of the offering, the number of public responses to the gospel, and so on. But they might include all sorts of other things: the percentage of regular attenders who are in small groups, the turnout and level of encounter at the prayer meeting, the number and quality of healing stories, the number of people touched through ministries of mercy or social justice, the success of conferences and resources produced by the church, or whatever else. The things that you review—or, in churches that review lots of things, the things that you focus on most in your review process—are almost certainly the things you actually care about, rather than merely the things you claim to care about.

2. What are you paying for? Generally speaking you get more of what you incentivise, and less of what you penalise. So: what are you paying for? If serving the poor, or reaching unreached people groups, gets forty percent of your vision time but only four percent of your budget, then while it may be central to the vision you say you have, it probably isn’t quite so central to the vision you actually have. As journalists often tell us, borne out by a fair bit of experience: follow the money.

3. What are you disappointed by? If you had to make a list of the top five things about the church you serve that can really ruin your Monday (or whatever day it is), what would they be? I know leaders who are fine with low attendance but devastated if the sung worship time feels “flat” (and if I’m honest, that’s a category I fall into myself); I know others for whom the most disappointing thing would be a duff sermon, or a meeting with no visitors, or declining giving, or poor attendance at the weekly prayer meeting or evangelistic initiative or ministry to the poor. The things that make you most disappointed when they don’t happen, in all probability, are the things you are actually most envisioned by.

4. What are you celebrating? This one is a great question for two reasons. Firstly, there is the flip side of the previous point: the things you celebrate the most are almost certainly the things you care about the most. But secondly, there is the power of public celebration (or, if you are from a tradition that doesn’t really do celebrating, the power of commendation or even honourable mention) in communicating and reinforcing your public vision. We replicate what we celebrate. It’s like a comment Don Carson made about teaching at seminary: my students won’t remember what I taught them, but they will remember what I was passionate about. If you celebrate large meetings, intense times of prayer and fasting, successful youth events or generous offerings, then the church will catch how important those things are to you. Vision is easier to show than tell.

5. What are you praying for? This is the most revealing of all, because it reflects the vision we are carrying when absolutely nobody else is looking. In the quiet place, when you are pouring your heart out to the Lord for his church, what are you asking him for? The chances are, that’s your vision.

Hopefully, those five things will help you establish what your vision—or, if you prefer, your dream or hope or ambition for the church you serve—actually is, whether or not it is what you have so far been saying it is. And if there’s a conflict between them (or, equally, if there is a conflict between your vision and the vision of your team members!), it’s probably worth knowing about, and doing something about. Just a thought.

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