Where there is no vision, the people perish…
I haven’t written much lately because I’ve been spending more time observing and listening. As an American, I suffer from what most of us Americans do: I tend to spout an opinion before all the facts have come in. Given the inflammatory nature of our punditry nowadays, I think we’d all be better off saying less and ruminating more.
It is no coincidence that, this month, several Christians from different churches have dropped the same statement to me:
“I have no idea what the vision is for our church.”
Oddly, for most of those people, the vision statement for their church is ever before them. It’s printed on their church bulletin every Sunday. Some have it emblazoned in big letters on a wall in the church lobby. The pastor even talks about the vision of the church in his sermons.
But it might as well be buried in the silt at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, because little of that vision plays out among the lives of the people in the seats.
Who is to blame for this lack? The leaders of the church.
Leaders lead. And one huge aspect of leading is communicating vision in a way that people get it.
In most cases, I think the leaders of a church do have a vision. This is not to say that all do, though. Some leaders fall down in their responsibility to get a specific vision for their church from the Lord.
When the Lord speaks to the churches in the early chapters of Revelation, it’s clear that each church has its own flavor and character. They are in different regions, and those regions have a personality. Therefore, the way a church in that region operates will reflect a vision that matches where it is located. For this reason, not every church will have the same vision or act the same. This is the beauty of how the Holy Spirit operates in the lives of leaders: communicating a unique vision.
So if you are the leader of a church and you have no unique vision for your church, you darned well better find out what it is the Lord would have you do.
And it better be specific.
I add that because a simple pass through the New Testament shows that the Lord, more often than not, is specific in what He wants church leaders to do. He names specific names (set apart Paul and Barnabas), directs people to specific places (come over to Macedonia), and tells people what they should do (bring one Simon, who is called Peter). This is the normal Christian life. If it is not the norm for our leaders, then we need to get leaders for which this is the norm! If a leader isn’t getting direction from God, then he or she is not a leader. Period.
But assuming our leaders do have a vision, how is it that we end up with the generic, bland visions that practically define Evangelicalism today?
Here are some perfect examples of vision statements that often make their way to the front cover of a church bulletin:
To present every man mature in Christ
To make Jesus known
To love our neighbor as Christ loved us
Here’s my one word comeback for those bold statements: How?
How are we to present every man mature in Christ?
How are we to make Jesus known?
How are we to love our neighbor as Christ loved us?
Ask most people in the seats the question of how with regard to their church’s declared statement of vision and you’ll see dumbfounded expressions on their faces. Why? Because they don’t even know where to begin to answer the question. In fact, most of them have never asked anything of their church’s vision statement, much less a tough question such as how.
Some may attempt an answer, but further drilling uncovers a shakier and shakier foundation for their reply.
The problem is, if the people in the seats can’t answer the question How, you can bet that they are just as shaky on the rest of the journalist’s other favorite questions of Who, What, Where, When, and Why. If those questions go unanswered, then it is nearly impossible to say that church leadership has effectively communicated the vision of the church. If people cannot answer those questions, then they can neither own the vision statement in their own lives nor carry it out in practice. Effectively, that vision statement becomes worthless.
Asking Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of any church vision statement will show how shallow—or deep— it may be.
That shallowness begins with leaders. If they can’t ask themselves those six questions of their church vision statement and answer them quickly and fully, then thinking the people in the seats can is foolishness.
Beyond that, the six questions expose the shallowness often found in the vision statement itself. The questions uncover just how impossible it is to fulfill a vision that lacks details.
Why are we to present every man mature in Christ?
Where are we to make Jesus known?
How are we to love our neighbor as ourself?
We can’t hit a target we can’t define. Yet this is what churches attempt when their mission statement withers under any kind of scrutiny. An unfocused vision can’t be enacted because the enactors will never know the justifications for that vision. In America, we see the results of that failure every day.
If you are a leader, put your church vision to the six question test. How are you plainly and regularly communicating the answers to those six questions to your congregation?
If you are one of the people in the seats, have you ever asked your church leaders to explain the church vision statement in such a way that the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of it are fully answered in a way that makes practical sense to you? If not, why not?
Folks, if we want our churches to look like the company in the Dilbert comic strip, let’s keep our vague, high-sounding vision statements that make us feel good about ourselves but which have no practical expression in the world beyond the doors of our churches.
On the other hand, if we want to get serious about the Faith and our praxis, let’s not be afraid to subject our pontifications to a little fire. If they are worthy, they’ll stand. If not, then we know what we need to do.
And while we’re finding answers to Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How, let’s thank journalists for helping us to be better Christians.
See, the Press IS good for something. 😉