“Vision” is an essential component of effective organization, and, therefore, is necessary for a healthy church. So much has been said about “vision” in both secular and religious contexts, that the concept has become extremely slippery and an excuse to import all manner of ideas and behaviors.
I will begin with a simple contradiction—a paradox—that I hope will become clearer by the end of this short article:
Vision is everything—vision is nothing.
Vision, mission, purpose, objective, etc, are often used casually and in contradictory ways. The staff of the Great Rivers Region has settled on written definitions provided by Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) in order to standardize our language. According to Senge:
Vision is a picture of the future we seek to create. A statement of “our vision” shows where we want to go, and what we will be like when we get there. It gives shape and direction to the organization’s future.
Purpose comes from the Latin “to declare.” A purpose statement declares the fundamental reason for the organization’s existence. What are we here to do together?
Values describe how we intend to operate, on a day-by-day basis, as we pursue our vision. A set of values might include how we intend to behave with each other, our customers, our vendors, and our community.
Goals are milestones we expect to reach soon. Every shared vision needs not just a broad vision, but specific realizable goals. Goals represent the activities and events to which people will commit themselves.
Others define and use these words differently, so it is important to ask what a particular writer/speaker means when they say “vision.”
Also, an autonomous vision is impotent. Vision, purpose, values, and goals (VPVG) make up an integrated whole. This is an important contributor to the “culture” of an organization.
To be powerful, VPVG must point in the same direction. The business word for this is “alignment.” It is all too common (in both churches and businesses) that enormous energy is spent polishing a grammatically perfect (and politically acceptable) “vision statement.” The group goes on to announce with great fanfare that, “We have a vision!” And then, nothing happens!
Most likely, the reason nothing happens, is that VPVG are not aligned—they are at odds. They do not inform and influence one another.
Further, vision, purpose, values, and goals are “incarnated” by the structure of the organization. The intent of organizational structure is to give “flesh and blood” to the dreams contained in vision, purpose, values, and goals. Vision that does not manifest itself in organizational structure is doomed.
God must be the ultimate source of vision that leads to an effective organization and a healthy church. But God can use many conduits for that vision. Indeed, as Baptists, we believe in the priesthood of the believer. At least one of the implications of that, is that anyone can be the conduit of a vision from God. From a leadership perspective, a Pastor must affirm and proclaim a vision, but that does not mean that the Pastor is the sole, infallible source of vision for a church. In fact, if the vision is only the Pastor’s, then it is a reasonable question to ask, “Is this from God?”
Although leaders play an important role in describing and affirming a vision, they do not function as the sole origin of vision. Recent studies in business have described at least three alternative sources for vision.
External models: Some organizations discover a vision for themselves in watching and analyzing how others, comparable to themselves, are succeeding. This is one role of “benchmarking.” The strength of this source is that it does not require a church to create everything from scratch; it benefits from what others have learned. The weakness occurs when churches simply try to “copycat” what is happening someplace else.
Management teams. Highly integrated, top management teams can be an effective community of envisioners. No one person is the origin of the vision; all have contributed something. The resulting vision is not just a patchwork of opinions and compromise of individual purposes. It becomes a cohesive whole. It may emerge as an epiphany, where all the team members say, “Aha! This is it!”
I happen to like this approach, and think it is very New Testament. The film The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain (based on a true story) has an “aha moment” when the vision captures everyone.
External consultants. Sometimes someone from outside the organization can help uncover and clarify vision. This may be as low key as a facilitator for discussion; but may also be as detailed as a formal study with a written report. It is important to have knowledgeable, skillful consultants, who are understanding of, and sympathetic with, the purpose of the organization. They must be willing to invest the time to know you and your context.
The point is, be willing to look for vision that comes through whatever conduit God chooses to use. Your janitor may be the visionary! As Pastor, your job is to “test” the vision for its godliness, then become its greatest spokesperson.
Finally, there is the hard work of making the vision real in purpose, values, goals, and organizational structure.
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
Permission to copy for noncommercial use is granted