I like Thom Rainer’s insights into vision in the church. Rainer writes that one thing breakout churches have “in common [is] a vision that ‘discovered’ them rather than a painful search to find out God’s specific plan. Vision is a commodity in the popular press of leadership, both secular and religious. Many definitions and perspectives on leadership are built in the implicit assumption that the primary job of the leader is to generate and communicate vision. Vision statements and vision-casting are the mythical levers by which leaders move their world. I sat in a church board meeting in which the pastor very confidently announced that “God gives the vision to the pastor and the pastor gets the church to buy in to it.”
Unh-uh. Think again.
The churches that are busting loose and “breaking out” — churches that have overcome great difficulty, turmoil, and decline — are the ones who aren’t driven by vision but by the heartbeat of God expressing itself through their passions, gifts, and sensitivity to the needs of the world around them. Rainer, basing his ideas on Collin’s book, Good to Great, describes three overlapping circles: the leader’s passion and gifts, the congregation’s passion and gifts, and the needs of the community. Where these three circles overlap, the “vision” of the church becomes clear.
In a sense, it discovers them.
Vision is not something a leader gets and brings to the table as if it is a substance or energy that gets injected into the church. It is the specific picture of the specific way in which God wants to use a specific group of people at a specific point in time. God’s picture for a church depends upon the abilities, maturity, passions, abilities, and attitudes of those in the church. As a leader, the pastor can challenge members to lives of spiritual maturity and passion that God can use, but the vision exists only in the relationships of that group of people. It’s never the leader’s job to bring vision. Communicate it, clarify it, rally the troops around it — yes, indeed. But not to bring it.