Aubrey Malphurs, is his book, ‘Planting Growing Churches’ says this: ‘Christian leaders are godly persons (character) who know where they are going (vision) and have followers (influence)’ (p126)
Having discussed the importance of character in part 1 I would like to say a few things about ‘vision.’
This is a big thing in Christian circles today. Apparently, churches need ‘vision statements’ and individuals need ‘personal vision targets’ in order to progress in the kingdom of God. It all sounds good, exciting and even logical, but I wonder how much of it is biblical. Vision in the scriptures usually had to do with an experience of the Lord or the supernatural and not some sort of concise business plan. There is a lot of talk about ‘vision casting’ in certain circles and I would love to know the biblical foundation for this practice (I am sure somebody is just about to inform me).
I am persuaded that having vision, in the sense of knowing the general direction your ministry is heading, is a good thing, but I am less so by Christians having to label what is often common sense with some sort of super spiritual ‘tagging.’ Why can’t we just call something ‘common sense’ or ‘prayerful direction’ rather than invent these fanciful pseudo-spiritual titles? Now, when we look at some of the major players of the Bible it is true that they received more specific visions. Moses, Abraham, David, Peter & Paul are all clear biblical examples of this. The issue is are these prescriptive or descriptive events? My money is on the latter in terms of immediate context, whilst I would want to maintain that I am not suggesting that God is unable or unwilling to communicate in this way should He see fit (and even then I would caveat this by suggesting that this process is less likely where we have the full and final revelation of scripture in our hands – I digress!) It does beg the question though why there is no mention of it when Paul leaves his instructions to Timothy in how to shepherd well? As we have already noted, his concern is that as a pastor he watches both ‘his doctrine and his life’ and there is not a sniff of ‘knock out a decent vision statement too.’
That being said, one of the keys to pioneering, church planting ministry surely has to be a leader who has a ‘bigger picture’ for the future development of the ministry where others may only see obstacles. It does intrigue me that in Christian circles whenever somebody comes up with an idea the first instinct of many leaders is to think of 20 reasons not to proceed. The UK church is choked with terms such as: ‘Let’s pray about it’ (I don’t like it but this sounds like a spiritual sounding way to kill the idea off) or, ‘It sounds interesting but now is not the right time because we really do need to get the toilets fixed’ (that’s way too scary, let’s stick to something realistic) , or, ‘Let’s hold off for now. If it’s the Lord’s will then it won’t matter if we wait for a year or so’ ( I want to say “no” right off the bat but I am a bottler and so I will say this to get you off my back and hope you get tired of waiting for us to do something). Incredibly, in the UK , we often label this process ‘wisdom.’ I call it something else entirely. Visionary leadership (in my definition) sees past this and can not only picture something ‘bigger and better’ but, as we shall discuss in part 3, can communicate it to such an extent that people pick up the torch and run with it.
The problem with ‘vision statements’ are that they can be ‘set in stone’ and can often, ironically, kill the creativity, instinct and entrepreneurial spirit they are supposed to encourage, particularly in those people who prefer to work within a well-ordered box. For me at least, vision is a free-flowing, ever-changing thing that must take into consideration the work of the Holy Spirit in the life and work of a leader and his people. If I am sticking religiously to a set routine and plan, then the danger is that I can miss an opportunity that may present itself. One of my prayers with our team here is: ‘Lord surprise us today and keep up alert to any new direction you would want us to investigate and pursue.’
How do we get people to share the vision? That’s a key area. Some men like to ‘frame’ their vision, think it through, pray over it and then present it to their people. My process is that I like to throw ideas at my Ministry Team in all their unrefined and uncrafted glory. I like to get ‘gut reactions’ and then I like to ‘throw it around the dance floor’ before encouraging people to ‘attack it from all angles.’ We then pray about it quite specifically. Now, if the idea can come out of that process in any kind of shape then it gets a run out to the eldership and we then usually go for it. We tend to work by this process whoever has an idea on the team. I actively encourage creative thinking and I even like to run with ideas that I am pretty confident will fail, just to give my team a taste of ministry failure but also as a teaching opportunity. If we’re not failing then we’re not really learning. Courses and colleges can teach us a lot but they cannot teach us how to fail ‘on the ground.’ I sometimes wonder if the reason that so many men in our pulpits fail to connect with people in terms of sermon application is because they have been brought up in a sterile and safe church culture with a risk free approach to ministry. They cannot relate to people at ground level because they have such a limited life experience.
Malphurs says a visionary knows where they are going and I sort of agree with him and I sort of don’t. I have a big picture vision of where I would like our church to be in future years. But God doesn’t operate like that. Leaders should be open to changing direction at the drop of a hat, particularly if they want to survive in inner city church planting. My advice is to find leaders you respect. Men of good character and proven track records and learn from them. Don’t try to copy them, but just ‘get all the good stuff’ as I like to say. Learn how they operate and how thy think and what has worked and what has not. In my opinion good vision is more borne more from our failures than our successes.
May God help us serve Him for the glory and honour of His name and His Word.