February 17, 2020

Where there is no Vision…?

future-vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .”
– Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Proverbs 29:18 may be one of the most misapplied verses in all the evangelical church today. Many a church leader has used it to spiritualize his strategies and blackmail followers into supporting his entrepreneurialism. Vision statements are cast. Mission statements are crafted to serve the vision. A list of values is composed to serve the mission. An array of programs is developed to serve the values. A stable of leaders is recruited to serve the programs. An army of volunteers is inspired to assist the leaders. – Jared Wilson

Strange things happened when the church I used to pastor renounced vision. It used to be a church that thrived on vision. There was the annual seeking of vision from God, then articulating the vision and then the vision casting, along with banners and meetings and reminders. Vision was its blood. Then the church gradually let visionary thinking go… People really loved the visionless way of doing church. It was more authentic, real, raw, spontaneous, relaxed, gracious, open and stressless. People felt free to be who they were without having to conform to the church’s vision or mission statement. Even visitors remarked on how unusual the church felt. They loved the spaciousness. – David Hayward (Author of “Without A Vision My People Prosper)”

I must admit that I have a different take on vision than the above quotations. It may be that vision has been so tied to numerical growth in so many cases that it has become a dirty word. My own experiences have been quite varied.

In the first church in which I experienced a vision “process”, I was at the stage of life where I was newly married, about to graduate from Seminary, and serving as an Intern (student) Pastor at a church in Regina, Saskatchewan. The leadership of the church was trying to get a sense of where they wanted to be/go as a church, and so they set a process in place where the elders of the church interviewed every family of the church. When the interviews were gathered, the same theme was presented over and over, and a remarkable consensus emerged. The church wanted to be a safe place where hurting people could find healing, both spiritual and physical. One of the ways that this was facilitated, was that after every communion, the elders made themselves available to those who wanted prayer. It was amazing to see how God started working in people’s lives through those times. This church certainly had a vision, but it was a vision that was not related to numbers, but about ministering to those who needed our help.

Fast forward a year.  My wife and I had moved to Hamilton, Ontario.  We were helping out with a church plant in a neighboring community.  It was an interesting situation, in that many of the key people in the church did not live in that community, but had decided to be a part of the church plant for a variety of reasons.    The church drifted from rented facility to rented facilty, six different venues in total over four years, before finally closing its doors.  I was there for most of its life, and never really got a strong sense of who they wanted be as a church.

Fast forward six years.  I know had three kids and was helping a small Pentecostal church plant in my home town of Dundas, Ontario through a pastoral transition.  A fairly diverse group of individuals, including myself, were named to the Pastoral search committee.  Although we were a small church, the search committee had really been put togther from a cross section of the congregation and we did not know each other very well.  Our first step was to determine who or what we wanted to be as a church.  Again a consensus quickly emerged.  We wanted to be known as a church that had a heart for worship.  (I don’t want to get into a debate here about what that means.  We knew what it meant to us.)  Secondly, we wanted the church to become more of a family.  We didn’t know each other very well.  Our church was without a Pastor for over a year, though the denomination did help us appointing a retired minister to preach every Sunday.  When the new Pastor arrived, he found a healthy church.  We had grown together as a congregation, and were united in our vision to be a worshiping community.

Fast forward another three years.  We felt that God was calling us to help a church in another neighboring community.  Two years later and I was serving on the Elder’s board, and on yet another Pastoral search committee.  There was certainly a strong vision for where people wanted the church to go.  In fact, there was two of them!  I have never experienced such a divided elder’s board.  The search committee was split down the middle too!  We were presented with pastoral candidate after pastoral candidate.  None could get the necessary votes to even be presented to the congregation as a candidate.  The denomination even offered us a previous District Superintendent (think Bishop) as a Pastor. He too was turned down.  Our numbers dwindled away until we were down to 17 members.  The church district ended up stepping in and dissolved the elder’s board.  They appointed an interim pastor, and nine months later with the advice of a regional church committee chose to close the church.

I could give other examples, but in general my experience has been that when a church unites around a meaningful vision, good things happen.  Where there is no vision, or there are competing  visions, the church struggles. So, I tend to agree with the proverb: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

Why am I thinking of this at this time?  The church we know attend is holding a vision retreat this coming weekend.  I have decided not to go into details, because I am not really soliciting advice about what we should do as a church. I do ask that you pray for me, and for the group meeting, that we would seek God’s will, and listen to each other with open hearts and minds through this weekend.

I would however love to hear of some of your own church visioning experiences, both good and bad, so let it rip!

Comments

  1. We see ourselves and the world the way we (it) actually are.

    We see our Lord as a forgiving Lord, to sinners, as they actually are.

    And we envision a time when we and will the world will be made whole again..in His new creation.

    And then we live.

  2. Mike, I once read, and I’m not sure in which version or translation/paraphrase, the the word “vision” substituted with “oracle of God, a word from the Lord”. For ME that put a whole new spin on that verse. Up till that time I had always thought that the “vision” was something that I came up with, as if it were MY responsibility to make some grand plan for some God glorifying effort or scenario.

    Today, I just see “vision” as something God reveals in me, something that I discover in the midst of my journey! It is not something that I come up with, or a group of people determine because it sounds good or Godly, it is a complete GOD THING! His voice, His direction, His plan. Not something that is determined in committee, and it DEFINITELY isn’t a “plan for success!

    I was struck with your testimony about the group that had no pastor for so long but yet prospered. I believe it was because your group just wanted to be a “worshiping” church, in other words: glorifying God, which is really why we are called to gather ANYWAY!

    Our task is to gather, worship, glorify God, and then let His spirit reveal itself in us. “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me”.

  3. Patricia Stewart says

    All that comes to mind is the old celtic hymn, “Be Thou My Vision . . . O LORD of my heart.” Perhaps a church that does not fix its eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith is one that has truly lost its Vision. Or at the very least is in danger of looking in the wrong direction for the Hand of God to be at work. Just a thought.

    The vision of my church is for the body of believers to be actively engaged in providing every man woman and child repeated opportunities to see and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A lofty “vision” to be sure. Is it being accomplished? Yes, from then pulpit. But we ARE the church and somehow this great privilege to be a Light bearer in dark places hasn’t left many of the pews or the “small groups” we are encouraged to join. I suspect that most folks feel (uncomfortable) inadequate when talking about their relationship with Jesus. Yet, God’s work and God’s plans are always God-sized and require God’s hands.(Often not found in programs and formulas . . .) Few take to heart this statement from Jesus: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

    Seriously, do we ask the LORD whose heart He is drawing to Himself before we start sharing our faith story? I suspect we cast that pearl of great price before swine at times. Does any church instruct its members how to be sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit? God’s Word tells us what His plans and purposes are – to unite all things in Heaven and on earth in Christ – this will be the ultimate expression of His glory in the Universe. And we, members of His Body have been invited to have a role in this mission. Somehow I think we have forgotten where our marching orders come from. My thoughts today.

    • Rick Ro. says

      ->”All that comes to mind is the old celtic hymn, “Be Thou My Vision . . . O LORD of my heart.” Perhaps a church that does not fix its eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith is one that has truly lost its Vision. Or at the very least is in danger of looking in the wrong direction for the Hand of God to be at work. Just a thought.”

      And a mighty good thought, Patricia!!! Amen!

    • Well said.

  4. Richard Hershberger says

    The examples you give show that things work better if everyone is pulling in the same direction. You won’t get any argument from me about that. Nor is it a bad idea to have some process for discussing this. If you want to call this “vision” that is fine by me, too. Where I arch my eyebrow, and possibly even give a “harrumph,” is with “vision statements.” The genre strongly lends itself to meaningless pablum. You seem to be implicitly acknowledging this with regard to “a church that had a heart for worship.” I haven’t the foggiest idea what, if anything, that means. If the discussion was helpful to you, that is all to the good. But the conclusion of boiling the discussion down to something that would fit in a single Tweet results in a bumper sticker full of gibberish. This is part of why the “What We Believe” or “About Us” pages of church websites tend to be so useless, as they tend to borrow heavily from such vision statements.

    That being said, vision statements are mostly harmless, in the same way as are business mission statements. Read a business mission statement and find a commitment to customer satisfaction: but what business doesn’t claim that? Same with church vision statements. No church is ever going to put up “We are a spiritually dead community dedicated to maintaining authoritarian power structure.” These statements are things organizations do because other organizations have done them. They don’t mean anything.

  5. You’ve touched a nerve with me with this article. Right now our church’s vision is to spend a cool couple million on a new building. Oh and God is also pruning our church too. Guessing the pruning is intended for people who don’t support the building campaign.

    Yay vision.

    • Joseph (the originial) says

      …and yet that very ‘earthly’ building campaign is spiritually couched in some ‘kingdom expansion’ justification…

      that’s why many, many years ago I decided I would never give to a building fund/campaign, especially those where you are urged to seek God for an amount that will be given in 1-year, fill out the pledge card/form, and then in a quasi-anointed time, get up out of your seat/pew and slowly walk forward down the main aisle to deposit said pledge card into the BIG basket at the foot of the stage/podium/elevated platform area to prove your steadfast dedication and implicit ‘trust in the LAWD’ that sure enough, He will be blessing you (extra $) to make your pledge…

      oh yeah…God is way pleased with that!!!

      Lord, have mercy… 🙁

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I would never give to a building fund/campaign, especially those where you are urged to seek God for an amount that will be given in 1-year, fill out the pledge card/form, and then in a quasi-anointed time, get up out of your seat/pew and slowly walk forward down the main aisle to deposit said pledge card into the BIG basket at the foot of the stage/podium/elevated platform area to prove your steadfast dedication and implicit ‘trust in the LAWD’ that sure enough, He will be blessing you (extra $) to make your pledge…

        You missed “slowly walk forward down the main aisle” in front of everybody — including your Pastor/Dictator and Gossipy Backbiting Church Ladies who’ll note Who Didn’t.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        There are building campaigns and there are building campaigns. I worship in a two hundred year old building. A building campaign in this context refers to some combination maintenance and renovation. Even a good slate roof has to be replaced every half century or so, and it doesn’t come cheap. Unless you go down the house church route, such issues are a fact of church life and must be dealt with. I intend for my church to continue long into the future, and I don’t want the members of, say, 2050 muttering about the corners that were cut in the 2010s, and the unnecessary problems that resulted.

        Then there are building campaigns for anticipated (i.e. hoped for) growth, or because while the current building is large enough, it lacks some of the amenities for us to experience God in comfort. If I found myself attending a church with those sorts of building campaigns, I would look for another church.

        • Richard,

          I totally agree. I’m all for pastors taking a good salary home to provide for their families, and maintaining the property and taking care of it, to be good to the congregation and the neighborhood. Unfortunately we’re “anticipating”growth with this move and building so that it’s more convenient for everyone. So, yeah. Not good.

  6. After being involved and in many cases leading the development of strategic plans for my university, both the main and the branch campuses I’ve served in, local public school, and my church, I have come to the realization that the process of creating a vision, mission, purpose, core values, strategies, goals, objectives, tactics, et cetera et ad nasuseam, is a necessary waste of of time. And yes, I realize the paradoxical/oxymoronic nature of what I just wrote. Let me explain…

    On the one hand, without a strategic plan no one feels good about themselves or the institution. In this case, the nature of Proverbs 29.18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” rings true. But on the other hand, after spending countless wo/man hours, both for committee members and input from constituents/stakeholders, you wind up with a document everyone loves, is proud of, is hailed as the key to success (as spelled out in the strategies, goals, and objectives)–and is ignored. Even when the best of efforts are employed to pay attention to the document (e.g., tying budget requests to objectives) the document is ignored. It’s like the family matriarch everyone adores but no one visits except on the obligatory holidays, birthdays, and of course, her funeral.

    So, with regards non-ecclesiastic institutions (my university and the community organizations I am involved with) I say, let’s strategize–visionize, missionize, purposeize, goalize, objectivize. blah-blahize till we all drop dead from exhaustion. You’re damned if you don’t and you’re wasted if you do. Better to waste away and die being thought of as someone who did something–even if useless–than to be damned as a strategic heretic.

    With regards the Church, however, I have come to the conclusion that such processes, well intentioned though they may be, are worse than a waste of time; they are outright detrimental. They fog up the gospel, confusing not only law and gospel but law, prophecy, wisdom and gospel in one toxic mix. Good riddance, I say.

    Hmmm… I should put all this on PowerPoint.

  7. I have experienced three different types of “vision: –
    The shared common identity goal: this tends to be good and healthy and necessary
    The top-down agenda: this tends to be very unhealthy in multiple respects
    The shared future state: I have seen mixed results from this. Because it lacks an identity component, it can end up being very materialistic and impersonal. However, I have to admit, I have seen this work very well in one inter-denominational church.

  8. I remember a vision casting experience that led the church body (where we attended) to see what God’s heart for that church was some years ago. It was a process whereas many meetings had been prepared to talk among ourselves. There were many of these times together with the purpose of what would become a start of a school that was open to all with Christ-centered wisdom that drove the education process. The school since has become a high school and has been a great impact upon the community around. Sure, there have been bumps and struggles as one would expect. The building has become a place whereas many organizations have used the facilities for community meetings and college evening classes. I think that God has been involved from the beginning and I hope that it will have a greater influence in so many lives. Even though we now attend another church, we still relish that we were with this vision casting process that has been good.

  9. cermak_rd says

    It does seem as though some kind of process that arrives at a consensus of what the people gathering in the religious institution want out of said institution is a good idea. Certainly it’s going to make it a lot easier to hire clergy since the search committee will know what to look for in candidates.

    Where I am skeptical of vision casting (aside from the gag reflex over that turn of phrase) is when it is the top down idea of the one head honcho at the top (usually the pastor) and pushed onto everyone below. Granted, no one has to stay in such a church, but it still seems a bit unresponsive.

  10. I remember in my graduate studies, there was a class (I forget exactly which one) that had us do an exercise in writing a vision statement and a mission statement for our personal ministry calling. For most of us, this was very difficult because we didn’t understand the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. I’ve noticed that most churches don’t know the difference either, and often use the terms interchangeably.

    According to my professor, the mission statement is the goal, function, job description, etc. of the ministry while the vision statements have to do with what we see in our mind’s eye as the ministry fulfills its mission. At the time I wrote mine, I was in between congregations, but in the early stages of my postulancy to holy orders. And these were both personal mission and vision statements for my ministry rather than statements for the parish itself. I’d be interested in re-doing the exercise several years out, now that I’m on staff at a parish and serving as an ordained priest. At any rate, this is what I came up with back then.

    A Personal Ministry Mission Statement
    I desire to be used of God to share his Gospel with his Church through the teaching and preaching of the Scriptures and the celebration of the liturgy and sacraments.

    A Personal Ministry Vision Statement
    I see lives changing as Christians embrace the Gospel both for personal salvation and for personal growth in their relationship with Christ.
    I see congregations grow as the Gospel brings the people together in unity.
    I see people healed physically and spiritually as they celebrate Christ in the Eucharist.
    I see skepticism give way to joy as people discover the tremendous gift of the early Church’s liturgy and sacraments.
    I see disciples form as understanding in the Gospel gives people the foundation they need to meet the challenges of spiritual formation.
    I see communities coming together in unity over a common Gospel, common liturgy, and common love for Christ.

    • Paul’s personal vision statement, as spoken to him by Ananias (Acts 22:14)
      “The God of our Fathers has appointed you to [a] know His will, and to [b] see the Righteous One, and to [c] hear an utterance from His mouth.”
      Paul’s ministry vision statement, verse 15: “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.”

      Timothy’s personal and ministry vision statement, given to him by Paul in 2 Tim. 2:22
      “Now flee youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace,with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.”

  11. AnnieOly says

    The thing that frustrates me about the way this verse is usually quoted is that it leaves out the context, and subsequently, the real meaning.
    Here are a couple of other translations of the whole verse:
    NIV – Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.
    New Living Translation – When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
    I cannot see how the meaning from those two translations are even vaguely related to the vision casting that happens in today’s churches – am I missing something?
    Just for fun, here’s the Aramaic to English translation – In the multitude of the evil ones a people is breached and he that keeps the law is blessed.

    As far as vision casting experiences, anywhere I’ve seen it used it felt very corporate and not of the Spirit. Establishing an identity as a church – that on the other hand seems like a healthy thing to do.

  12. I was gonna sit this one out. This whole post is as Prot as a midweek Bible study followed by a ladies’ potluck dinner.

    A Cathodox parish, when it is opened has one purpose and one purpose only – to be the The Church™ in that geographical location. For us Cathodox, the Church is fractal. or like the set of real numbers. Every part of it is as infinite as the whole. If being The Church includes community, there better be community. If bing The Church includes service to the poor, then there better be service to the poor. You get my drift.

    I hope we patch up our little tiff soon. Then there won;t be any reason for posts like this.

    • David Cornwell says

      Amen to your entire point. But don’t bet on it.

    • But Muley,
      You and I both know the Orthodox don’t have the Holy Ghost, so they don’t count. Just ask the pentecostals

  13. Final Anonymous says

    Imo churches would be better off discarding the “vision” rhetoric and focus on listening to the Holy Spirit, discerning the will of God, which I’d bet more often comes as a still, small voice than a polished PowerPoint after months of wrangling over all the details.

    Really, it doesn’t have to be that hard, and if it is, we’re back to running a business or a great community group, and Jesus and the church are on the back burner and secondary to our real purpose (ie “vision”).

    “But without a clear-cut vision and mission statement, our church will close!” Well, maybe God means for it to close. Or maybe He means it to stay open and minister to the 17 elderly people still coming. I understand the concept of “He added to the numbers daily” but when we make that the only or highest focus for each and every congregation, we’re treading dangerously close to a prosperity mindset.

  14. Years ago I attended an American Baptist church with a pretty charismatic pastor. He liked quoting this verse. Eventually, they built a large new church complex to replace their beautiful historic one in the downtown area, with insufficient parking, youth meeting blocks away, etc. It was supposed to become a one stop shop for christians from cradle to grave, including schools and child care, a health club and senior housing. They started a high school which eventually built its own facility. The preschool closed after lawsuits drove the cost of insurance too high. They never managed to start the elementary portion. None of the rest happened.

    After that pastor left, the church just kept shrinking. Now they are leasing out portions of their oversized facility, in order just to do basic maintenance. I don’t know whose vision it was, but if it had been God’s, I don’t think it would have failed so badly.

    My current church has a mission statement, involving transformation. The problem is, there is no way to measure it. Many of us think that God has been transforming us in ways large and small for years. Yet, as a church, we stink at evangelism, which the current leadership wants to promote to get more butts in the pews. We are better at service. Many of us saw our church as a healing and accepting congregation, but the current leadership does not support that. Some of us think it’s great that we are holding our own, numbers wise, despite losing up to 20 older members a year. But the leaders keep making changes that hurt us, in order to bring people in.

    The current pastor has never asked us what we want, or how we see ourselves. He just seems disappointed that we have failed to become the kind of evangelical juggernaut that he envisions. Again, it would appear that it is his vision, and not God’s. On occasion, we have asked for a time to pray together and seek God’s face about one thing or another, but it never seems to happen. I wish that all pastors would realize that listening to the members of the congregation is just as important as telling them things, perhaps even more so.

    • David Cornwell says

      In a small town where I was pastor, the church up the street from me hired a new pastor, who turned out to have bipolar disorder. When he was feeling good, and on an upswing (which could last for several month), he refused to take his medicine. In the process he started a building renovation project, came up with all kinds of building plans, including buying an entire block of homes, purchased some land, got arrested in a protest, and in the end caused major chaos to town, church, and family. It was a wild ride. I was in the church the other day for the first time in many years, and actually the church looks pretty good because of the improvements he made.

  15. I believe we need vision, but I tend to think more of who do we want to be rather than what we do.

    So I think of things like a safe place where we can practice authenticity, where we are challenged to grow in our walk with God, where there is a strong sense of community. And yes, a worshipping community

    The numbers game I am not sure about

  16. John M. says

    I belonged to a now defunct Church whose vision statement was, “To be an ever- expanding group of passionate followers of Jesus Christ”. About a decade later and I still recall that phrase. It always felt like we really focused on the ever-expanding portion too much, and maybe didn’t know what passionate meant, or maybe what being Jesus-shaped looked like.

    Anyway, I think I get what Mule is saying above, and I generally agree with Mike Bell. You better serve the reality you face where your are with love and compassion, and a less divisive view of what “Church” means would be grand.

  17. dumb ox says

    The Hebrew word for “vision” is Chazown (Strongs 02377), which has the idea of prophetic wisdom. In essence, the people perish where they and/or their religious leaders no longer seek nor proclaim the God’s word.

    The vision casting I have seen in churches has had more to do with the zeitgeist – yet another manifestation of the pragmatic, growth-focused marketing/business culture syncretized with the faith.

    There is nothing wrong with planning, budgets, etc. These are demonstrations of good stewardship.

    But chasing visions can be idolatrous and lead away from God’s will.

    As stated in Hebrews 1:1: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son”. The perfect vision is Jesus.

    As Jesus warned, bad vision is due to myopia – the eyes not focused on one thing. If a church seeks is constantly seeking a vision, my question is it truly focused on Him.

  18. Danielle says

    I don’t care for the language of “Vision” and “visioning.” Do we not already know what the church is? Isn’t our purpose the same as it was yesterday? What are we finding? Are we sure this isn’t just hyperbolic language that confuses a proposed measure with the church’s mission? If we’re discussing our mission, shouldn’t we be reminding ourselves of the nature of the life we already share, not looking to discover something new?

    That said, I can get behind “visioning,” if by this we mean to remind ourselves of our mission and create specific, practical plans for living it out.

    I’d be interested to read about examples that fall into the second category. In my very limited experience, during my evangelical years, the “visioning” language was ubiquitous and generated enthusiasm — usually for new programs or ideas. I haven’t heard it much in the mainline, where the congregations I’ve attended have been small and are usually quietly maintaining whatever programs they have going. These are usually practical and worthwhile. They’ve also been limited by funds and congregation size, and the congregations have a hard time attracting people who aren’t already dedicated. It would be nice to see more places where the evangelicals’ enthusiasm is paired with the less flashy business of being together and being in the world. I suspect there are examples of this in evangelical and mainline Protestantism. It would be nice to see them get more press time.

    • Danielle says

      “I suspect there are examples of this in evangelical and mainline Protestantism.” That should read:

      “I suspect there are many examples of this in evangelical and mainline Protestantism.”

      (I meant the comment to be more optimistic than what I typed!)

  19. Bridget says

    The only “vision” casting I had been familiar with is of the top down kind. It has never been good. The body was never involved with determining the vision – only the carrying out of the vision, or getting out of dodge by choice or by boot. Needless to say, the word brings up yuck.

    But – I do believe Jesus set the vision for His Church, and if one looks at Jesus’ words they will find clear direction. (You might need to leave your current church to realize this though.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The only “vision” casting I had been familiar with is of the top down kind. It has never been good. The body was never involved with determining the vision – only the carrying out of the vision, or getting out of dodge by choice or by boot. Needless to say, the word brings up yuck.

      Like Fritz Lang’s take on the Tower of Babel:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlfvBgBDpm0

  20. That verse has zero to do with church building. It is about prophets and seers and mystics who can go beyond to see what could not be normally be seen. That is the crux of any fruitful church endeavor. Seeing the face of God, not building structures.

  21. Thanks for some great comments! I am afraid I haven’t had time today to respond to them individually, but may do so in a future post.

  22. This is timely, Mike. Thanks. My church is actually just getting going with a new Vision. New head pastor last year, first sermon series preached was out of Nehemiah (aka the building program book of the Bible), and in the last month he recently revealed his/elders/staff’s vision for the church going forward for the next 7 years: basically multi-site but with “people reached” goals attached as well.

    In some ways, it’s good…it’s a church that has been around for a long time, and despite planting numerous other churches (with one satellite campus, soon to be the #2 out of several more), it’s become stagnant. I’ve always been on the inside circle of every church I’ve been a part of, either on staff or through family, but this time around only hearing things through friends who work for the church, and I’m definitely picking up some disagreements or resistance from people, mostly from old guard (for better or for worse).

    My surprise is how…obvious this has been. First sermon series, I called it, I immediately knew where we were heading. And I saw the rhetoric start ramping up, the mood and focus of messages switch, an emphasis on stretching and reaching out, growth, etc. So when the final public announcement was made, it was only the particulars that were new, the rest was obvious. I know there is nothing wrong with wanting to grow a church, even in the name of reaching more people…but just how blatantly obviously it was gives me mixed feelings. I need to know more, and be assured people won’t be “dragged behind the bus” if they question or think things could be done better.

    On the flip side, my previous church…I know several families were asked to leave because they did not fit into the Vision of the church/ministry. It was primarily focused on students and the local university campus, and when you start getting married and having kids, your attention turns to them. Which, if that is the church you were first saved at/through, and essentially grew up in, can be discouraging for many to be asked to leave because you aren’t on mission anymore. There was no place in the church for families, essentially, unless you could devote half your time to them, half to the Vision.

    So it’s a mixed bag.

    Side comment – my church is saying that they really believe they can reach our city for Jesus. Sure. I visit my friend’s church 20 miles away…same message, we really believe we can reach our city for Jesus. I listen to a podcast from a church in the northern suburbs…same message. It appears every church is standing alone, and every church will be the one to reach our city and nation for Christ, if we really all just believe. If we really all just pray. If we really all just do what the pastor/bible tells us to do. If we really all just invite 2 people to church who invite 2 more people who build this pyramid.

    That…that’s a discouraging thing to realize. And I don’t know how we can even fix it.

    • Also, the new emphasis on doubling down on law and 90’s church mentality is a big warning as well. I don’t hear grace or Jesus in sermons anymore. I’ve given thought to leaving, but I care 1000% more about the men and women in my small groups than I do the rest of the church, and I won’t leave them. Just wish I didn’t have to hear the rest, even if I dismiss it as soon as it is done.

  23. I’ve NEVER had or seen good fruit from the “Vision” thing.

    The only “vision casting” that I see Jesus inculcating is, “Follow me.”

    Therefore, if you want to say that the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us to imitate the Samaritan in his sharing of the passion and near-death of the man who fell among thieves—if you want to read his selfless actions as so many ways in which he took the outcastness and lostness of the Christ-figure on the ground into his own outcast and losing life—then I will let you have imitation as one of the main themes of the parable. But please note that such an interpretation is not at all what people generally have in mind when the subject of imitating the Good Samaritan is broached to them. What their minds instantly go to is something quite different, some­thing that is utterly destructive of the notion of a grace that works only by death and resurrection. Because what they imagine them­selves called upon to imitate is not a mystery of lostness and death graspable only by left-handed faith; rather, it is a mere plausibility— a sensible if slightly heroic career of successful care-giving based on the performance of right-handed good works.

    What is wrong with that? Quite simply, it blows the Good News right out of the water. For if the world could have been saved by providing good examples to which we could respond with ap­propriately good works, it would have been saved an hour and twenty minutes after Moses came down from Mt. Sinai. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteous­ness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:21-22, KJV). Do you see the problem? Salvation is not some felicitous state to which we can lift ourselves by our own bootstraps after the contemplation of sufficiently good examples. It is an utterly new creation into which we are brought by our death in Jesus’ death and our resurrection in his. It comes not out of our own efforts, however well-inspired or successfully pur­sued, but out of the shipwreck of all human effort whatsoever. And therefore if there is any ministering to be imitated in the Good Samaritan’s example, it is the ministry to Jesus in his passion, as that passion is to be found in the least of his brethren, namely, in the hungry, the thirsty, the outcast, the naked, the sick, and the im­prisoned in whom he dwells and through whom he invites us to become his neighbors in death and resurrection (see the parable of the Great Judgment, Matt. 25:31-46).

    But that dark invitation is so far removed from the glittering generality of salvation by imitating good examples that I think now, perhaps, you can begin to see what I am getting at. Neither the Samaritan nor, a fortiori, Jesus is an example of some broader, sav­ing truth about the power of human niceness. Jesus is an example of nothing of the sort. He is the incarnation of the unique, saving mystery of death and resurrection. We do not move from him to some deeper reality called love or goodness that will finally do the trick and make the world go round. No human virtues, however exalted or assiduously practiced, will ever make that cut. Love, as we so regularly mismanage it, is the largest single factor in making our personal worlds go down the drain: psychiatrists’ couches are not kept warm by patients complaining of the depredations of total strangers. And goodness, as we so self-interestedly define it, is the mainspring of all the really great evils of the world. The extermina­tion of six million Jews, for example, was done precisely in the name of a perverse vision of goodness—of a totally Aryan society that would bring in the millennium just as soon as the non-Aryans were weeded out. Rather, we move from the disasters of our loving and the bankruptcies of our goodness into the passion of Jesus where alone we can be saved. Niceness has nothing to do with the price of our salvation.

    Besides, as everyone knows, nice guys finish last. Good Sa­maritans are sued with alarming regularity; and if one of them does manage to stay out of court, he probably goes home and loses all the benefits of his goodness in a fight with his wife over putting some deadbeat’s expenses on Visa. Scripture hath concluded—locked up—all under sin. The entail of our sinfulness cannot be broken by good examples, even if, per impossible, we could follow them. Quite the contrary, the Gospel says clearly that we can be saved only by bad examples: by the stupid example of a Samaritan who spends his livelihood on a loser, and by the horrible example of a Savior who, in an excruciating death, lays down his life for his friends.

    Give me that and I will let you have the Good Samaritan as a model for behavior. But example me no nicer examples. The troops have been confused enough for two thousand years. We don’t need even another minute’s worth of sermons about good works.

    Robert Capon

    At some point we will be forced to grow up and realize that our “visions” of/for success is totally counterproductive to The Kingdom. Whenever I see a church body spend time asking themselves “What should we be doing and what are our goals” I know from experience that group of people are actively avoiding the only mission that Believers have been given.

    ‘Let us also go and die with him.’ (Thomas the Doubter)

  24. I enjoyed the article, I use to be in senior leadership at a Fortune 200 company. Vision was an important aspect of creating strategies to promote the goals of the organization. My thoughts regarding the power of a vision and really bringing home this verse in Proverbs was when I read the book Made to Stick. Many times we want lofty visions/vision statements to show how smart, holy, creative we are. A vision should be a map to where you want to go, constructed in a way that EVERYONE in your church can recite it and make decisions based on it.