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On Casting Vision

In my opinion, defining and carrying out a vision for a church should follow a four step process, of which vision is actually the third step. This process is an involved engagement of both leaders and attendees that I would lead upon my arrival at a ministry. It is a process that once engaged in well, does not have to be re-engaged with again. It only needs to be refined as different situations and opportunities confront the organization.

The four steps are:

1. Defining the Core Values (These are the things that represent the calling, character, strengths and unique composition of the organization.) Who are we?

2. Developing a Mission Statement (This is a specific statement of what the organization believes it exists to accomplish.) What do we want to do?

3. Designing a Vision Statement (This is a compelling picture of what the future would look like if the mission was performed.) Why do we want to do it?

4. Determining a Strategic Plan. (This involves the goals and action steps that will take us forward in accomplishing our mission and fulfilling our vision.) How will we do it?

A few clarifying comments about each step:

Core Values. We go to the Scripture to discover what God wants the core values of any church to be. These are the foundation, the Biblical core values. We then discern where our church is on the spectrum of accomplishing these values. Where are we in our current “living out” of the Scripture’s values? We then take time to discern different ways in which God has built some specific values into our church through its unique history, leadership, situation, location, gifting of key leaders, ministry history, and existing passions. Together these two lists form our Actual Core Values. Finally we discern before God what Biblical values we are lacking. These make up our list of Aspirational Values.

Once we have spent this time in discovery, we understand the passions, the missing pieces and the special design that God has placed within our particular local body. This picture forms not only a set of guiding values over what we do and want to do, but also a sense of how God has specifically gifted us as a church to do something unique  in our Jerusalem for Him. I call this last understanding the “Signature Strength of a Church.”

Mission. We then go to the Scripture to discover God’s mission for the church. In my opinion, our mission is presented in Matthew 28:18-20… to make disciples. This is the Biblical mandate. It is the responsibility of every church to take this mandate and put it into its own words of commitment and mission. This statement can be informed by the Core Values previously discovered in terms of the unique way God may want any particular church to accomplish this mission. But the mission for any church is always the same: make disciples.

And what is a disciple? My short answer to that is to refer to a list of five primary and growing categories of reality that can be measured in any disciple’s life: Conversion (Have they truly believed and can they successfully share their faith?) Community (Are they involved in authentic, life-giving relationships with others in the Body?) Celebration (Are they involved in a life of worship with others and instruction in the Word corporately?) Contribution (Are they advancing the Kingdom by serving in ministry and supporting God’s work with their time, talent and treasure?) and Cultivation (Are they personally growing in the knowledge of God’s Word?). These are the things we are building in lives when we say we want to make disciples. These are the kinds of efforts that our mission statement should reflect.

A mission statement, by the way, is not a statement of purpose; it is rather a statement of action, of what we intend to do, to accomplish. It’s been said that you’ll never do ministry that really matters until you clearly identify what actually matters. A mission statement helps accomplish this.

Vision. Once the mission has been Biblically clarified, a people of God need to spend time getting in touch with how the world around them could change if they began to go after their mission. This is the “passion” part of the process. It involves getting in touch with the way lives could look if the Savior came to them in salvation, the way addictions could look when they are broken, families could look when they are restored, marriages could look when they are given new wisdom, children could look when they discover grace and value, and cultures could look when they begin to be informed with wisdom, morality and justice. The list can go on and on. More than anything else, Biblical vision describes what the courts of heaven could look like when God senses the glory that rises to Him when His people boldly allow Him to express His power through them by faith.

Simply summarized, when dealing in vision, a church needs to get in touch with how people will change and how God will be glorified as a result of encountering Jesus Christ through the ministry of that local church, both in their city and around the globe. That church then needs to put its vision into powerful words, and commit the next generation of its ministry to making this a reality under the power and grace of Jesus.

A church’s vision needs to be a picture of such transformation that it takes the breath away from people, and drives a church to its knees in intimidated awareness that unless God does it, it won’t  get done. If the vision statement does not generate a sense of impossibility, then you’re not quite done with it yet. Vision deepens and draws before it’s done. And then it’s never done, until He comes.

Strategy. Once the values have been searched, the mission has been set, and the vision has been seen before God, then you’re ready for the functional goals, actions and tactics that will begin to take your church in the direction that God has laid out. Most churches actually start at this point and never enter into the previous encounters of vision. This is a mistake. It invites competition, territorial thinking, short-sightedness and all kinds of other things that stifle what could really happen, because when you simply start making plans without getting a vision, you have a governed set of actions based more on preference and politics than on a mutual calling. However, strategy that is implemented after vision is agreed upon is different. It is a strategy of goals and actions that people enter into less selfishly and in greater unity.

The elements of strategy can be regarded as actions regarding programs, people, facilities and finances that can change with the territory. They are best set out in 1, 2, 5 10 and 20 year increments, and are fully changeable along the way to better achieve the mission and vision. Personnel decisions, land purchases, and operating decisions can all be made with less division when vision is settled first.

Vision, once set, is simply remembered, never revised. Strategy, however, can be revised at any time. Look at it this way: strategy is how a ministry travels, vision is why it travels, mission is where it travels, and values are how the members of ministry live with each other on the journey.

Conclusion. The mechanics of actually leading a church to make these discoveries are not as essential. The meetings, the conversations, the way these commitments are made, the way the information about these decisions is disseminated, the way you gain buy-in among people, leadership and staff… all of these are variables that are important, but these major commitments, in the order I have discussed, are the larger stepping stones to implementing any vision in a local church. However, in regard to implementation I would add this:

In effective churches the Senior Pastor is usually looked to as the bringer, caster and sustainer of the vision. He of course does this in concert with the elected leaders and ministry staff, but most often clear vision has to come from someone, and I think that someone is the senior pastor.

A good ministry leader always  needs to be thinking in visionary terms over five purposes in a church:

Reaching Lost People

Making Mature Disciples

Building Capable Leaders

Maximizing Physical Resources

Maximizing Financial Resources

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