As a Michigan church launched a strategic planning process, the pastor asked the elders to rate on 1 to 10 scale how united they felt they were in their ministry vision. Their average score was 2. After the consultation, their answer was 8.
Many churches our team consults with ask for help with vision. In these churches we find not the absence of vision, but competing visions. Why? I suspect that many of us want to recreate our own best previous experience of church. Since we all have different experiences, it’s not surprising that our preferred futures can be all over the map. Our decision-making can look like the man “who flung himself upon his horse, and rode madly off in all directions.”*
Lack of clarity can
be frustrating but it’s more serious than that. It can paralyze a ministry and even
allow ego-driven controllers to have an outsize influence, creating a toxic
A clear shared vision does at least three things:
- A clear vision disarms controllers. Bullies thrive on fog. In fact, crafty bullies often create chaos because chaos makes it easier for them to get their way. Following the Michigan church’s consultation, the elders’ new clarity led them to decide to install theater lighting in their worship space. A major donor told the pastor, “If you install that lighting, I’ll leave and take my money with me.” The pastor’s response was pitch perfect. “We’ll miss you, Joe.” Joe left, but six months later he was back and became one of the drama ministry’s strongest supporters.
- A clear vision simplifies decisions. God had powerfully used a church’s clothing closet, even birthing a new church through it. Over time, though, the ministry began to flounder. The leaders considered, “Is this ministry just part of our past, or is it also part of God’s preferred future?” Because they had great clarity about their vision, they all easily agreed it was okay to let this ministry go.
- A clear vision brings alignment. A youth pastor told his associate pastor, “I believe the vision our leaders have spelled out is admirable; I just don’t think it’s possible.” Fortunately, this youth pastor soon resigned, and that church has been wholeheartedly pursuing—and accomplishing—their shared vision for several years led by leaders who are all aligned–pulling in the same direction.
The prophet Amos asks, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (3:3 NLT). If we are not to be “riding off madly in all directions,” there is no substitute for discerning God’s vision of a preferred future and coming together around it .**
- What fallout have you seen from the lack of a clear shared vision?
- How is your church or ministry benefiting (or could it benefit) from a deeply shared clear vision?
*From the story by humorist Stephen Leacock, “Gertrude the Governess.”
**For thoughts on discerning shared vision, see chapters 8 and 9 of our book The More-with-Less Church (Hall, Bowman & Machmer, Baker 2014).