Updated: Sep 13, 2020
On August 15, 2019, sixty ministers and laypersons came together at Spring Hill OFWB Church to discuss and digest information regarding how we might develop a “pastoral vision” for our churches.
According to authors Stetzer and Dodson in their book, Comeback Churches; the first key to revitalizing a dead or stagnant church is visionary leadership. But what does this mean? What is vision and how does it relate to leadership? How do vision statements and mission statements differ? How do we develop a pastoral vision?
For this discussion, we relied on two books, the aforementioned, Comeback Churches, and George Barna’s, The Power of Vision, to give all of us a few practical ideas that we might use in vision development. We were seeking common-sense responses to the pastoral issues that we deal with daily.
What does a “Pastoral Vision” look like? According to Barna in The Power of Vision, that’s a good question…and a lot of people don’t know what it means to have a vision. We all need to understand that there are many visionaries that aren’t leaders; but, there are no leaders that aren’t visionary. Your congregation needs and expects you to “lead” them. So, you need to know where you are going!
While there are many definitions given in all of the leadership books that we read, I like to think of vision this way: if it is a personal vision, I might ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In other words, where do you see yourself in ten, twenty, or even thirty years? The vision that you have of what you want to become will provide you the direction you need to decide your future.
If you are not sure what you want to be when you grow up, you will find yourself at a loss and accomplishing very little in life. While our vision may change as we age, it is still vital for us to continue to grow emotionally and spiritually. We can only grow when we have personal goals and expectations to which we hold ourselves accountable. If you just want to “pastor” a church, well, there you go…you are a pastor. But, if you want to grow the church spiritually, into what God would have it to be, there must be a progressive plan.
So, using that same logic, I would ask you regarding your pastoral vision, “What do you want your church to look like spiritually when it grows up?” What, in your mind, will be the characteristics of a spiritually mature church? And, will the community in which you pastor, be able to see those characteristics? If you have no goals or expectations for your church, that is exactly what they will reach…no goals and nothing unexpected. But, if you start talking about what the church is supposed to be, then you might be getting somewhere.
There is a difference in mission and vision! Mission has to do with what we do, to whom we are doing it, and how we are doing what we are doing. For churches, our mission is very simple; to carry out the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19–20a, Jesus tells the disciples (that’s us) to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” You will notice that He tells us what to do, how to do it, and to whom it is to be done. Our mission statements should reflect these very same attributes.
But, vision is a little different. Vision is what we want all of that to look like when we are successful! Vision expounds upon those attributes of mission and moves us toward new heights.
As a coach, I knew how to play basketball, and I knew that I wanted to coach basketball. I could do that at whatever level I chose to pursue. But, my vision was that I would become a college basketball coach. That meant that I would have to do the things that I needed to do to prepare for that and then put myself in the right network to lead to that happening.
My professional vision for the team was that it would be a championship team. So, again, I had to do what was necessary to make that happen. Interestingly, my vision for my teams had much to do with where I was coaching. When I was coaching at the college level, I could recruit players to the vision that I had for my team. But, at the high school level, my vision was obviously influenced by the players that I had at the school since recruiting was not allowed.
I see this same paradigm is relevant to our new program of Church Planting and Renewal. There must be two distinct visions. If I am starting a new church, my vision for the church will be influenced by whom I wish to attract to our congregation. If I am pastoring an established church, then my pastoral vision will be influenced more by the current situation within that church.
Stagnant Churches must change their mindset. In a study by Leadership Journal of 761 respondents from thirty-one churches that been revitalized, they found that the first factor in revitalization was helping the church see themselves honestly. “Turnaround leaders distinguish between obvious symptoms and underlying problems. The first step is helping the congregation admit there is a problem, and find the underlying (foundational) causes.” (Stetzer and Dodson 38)
Barna suggests that “vision for ministry is a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants and is based upon an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.” (Barna 28) These are very important requirements for vision that Barna brings out over and over. Let’s look at these three points as well as one more that he adds:
First, you must know yourself—“Much of the process of capturing His vision for your ministry relates to the refinement of knowledge. As the writer of Proverbs points out; “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly” (Proverbs 13:16). One of the most important types of knowledge you can possess is knowledge about yourself: how He has created you and how you perceive the world in light of your abilities and character.” (Barna 73)
There are many wonderful personal evaluation tools that help us to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Until we know these, we will never be able to address our personal needs nor will be able to understand the needs of our congregations. Social personality profiles are also extremely helpful in understanding how to communicate and manage the issues of the church.
We must also know about our ministry environment. It is imperative that we analyze our church and our community if we are to meet the needs of the mission field outside our doors. Building a new church and restructuring an older more traditional church will require different methods and tools. Strategic planning that includes all constituents is crucial and helpful in casting the pastoral vision.
We must know God personally if we are to lead His church. Barna ( 82) states that “You cannot know His vision for your ministry unless you first know God.” God never fails and when we allow Him to lead our work, we can be assured of success. We reach Him through studying the Holy Scriptures and lots of prayers. Patience and discernment are vital in understanding God’s guidance for us as pastors.
Finally, to truly lead a church we must constantly verify the vision. Transparency and inclusion is always the best way to work within a group setting. Listen to those that have been successful. Don’t become discouraged when things don’t work out exactly as planned. Always be sure that the leadership team of the church is one hundred percent on board before you bring your vision before the larger group. And, as a very wise leader once told me, “Never vote on anything until you are sure of what the outcome will be.” Do your homework and cultivate the crop that you want to see.
In summary, our churches are seeking strong leadership. I can think of no time in modern history that the Protestant church has been under more stress. But, we also have a wonderful opportunity to reach an ever-growing unchurched group.