So What is your vision for this church?
I was not asked this question at my first church. I was the son of the former pastor. I had grown up in the church. I was only seventeen-years-old. They assumed I did not have a vision plan for the church. Or that I did not have vision worth sharing. So they never asked.
When I met with the pulpit committee of my present church, however, pastoral vision was a big issue. The committee had no real interest in me becoming their pastor. Yet they still wanted to know, “So what is your vision for this church?” With no real interest in becoming their pastor, I answered, “I don’t have a vision for this church. I have a vision for the church I serve in Los Angeles.”
A few months later, the church extended a call. A few months later, I relocated from one end of the country to the other. When I finally got boots on the ground, it seems the first question they asked was about my vision for the church.
A month after I moved to Jacksonville, the church had its annual business meeting. Leaders pressed me to establish my vision to communicate it to the church in the meeting. I called my pastor for advice. He began to talk to me about my six-month-old daughter. “When you brought Hailey home from the hospital,” he asked, “did you sit her down and give her the vision of the Charles family?” Of course not. “She still not ready for that, he added. “You can only love her and care for her now. You can explain the plan later on.”
He was right.
I arrived to a completed fiscal budget and church calendar. And the church was in the midst of a storm. It was not time to cast vision. It was time to preach and pray and love and wait and heal. When the time was right, I would talk more about ministry plans.
When I began to talk about my hopes, plans, and goals, it was not received well. Casting my vision to leaders who did not trust me (and vice versa) felt like giving my playbook to the opposing coach to read before the game. Every plan I shared gave them opportunity to set up their defense to block me. It felt like trusting strangers to babysit my newborn. So I just stopped talking.
During one discussion, a key leader told me I was not “curious.” He felt I did not want to learn. And that I did not seem to be interested in the affairs of the church. I had no vision, he thought. This was as far from the truth as it could be. But I understood where he was coming from.
It was not as if I did not have any plans. But my plans where overtly biblical, spiritual, pastoral. I emphasized prayer, Bible study, evangelism, discipleship, service, fellowship, and Sunday School. You know, things many church leaders and church goers have litter interest in. It was about four years into my pastorate before I started promoting strategic leadership plans. And I am glad I waited.
My simple, practical advice is that you be very careful with “vision” talk.
What is vision? Ask ten different pastors and you will get ten different answers. This has a lot to do with the fact that “vision” is a business term, not a biblical one. It reflects organizational strategy, not biblical wisdom.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”? Read that verse from another translation other than the King James Version and it will be clear. The proverb teaches that people cast off restrain if there is no divine revelation. It does not teach that people perish if the leader does not cast a vision for the future.
The faithful pastor is consumed with the mission of the church, not his vision for the church. The Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned the church to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This is what the church is called to be and do. Any strategic plan the leader develops should only serve the Christ-established and non-negotiable mission of the church. We are to make disciples for Christ. We are to proclaim the gospel to lead sinners to saving-faith in Christ and nurture them to spiritual maturity in Christ. Period. To pursue any other ministry agenda is to become something other than the church of Jesus Christ.
Of course, a wise leader makes plans. Knowing what to do and knowing how to do it are not the same thing. Pastors must prayerfully develop a strategy for a fulfilling the Great Commission in the place, with the resources, and through the members the Lord has entrusted to you. You cannot simply do what other pastors and churches and do.
God has called you to a specific place and people. And the Lord has a specific plan for that place and people. You will need to seek God, learn your people, and understand your situation to discern how your church should carry out its work. After you receive direction, you will need even more direction to know how to communicate the plan to those you lead. These are important matters.
Do not forget that you are not a CEO of a corporation. You are the pastor of a congregation. Let the church be the church! Make sure your ministry plans align with the mission of the church. Determine to do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way for the Lord’s glory. Lead your people with heavenly wisdom not worldly strategies. Write your plans in pencil and give God the eraser.
So what is your vision for your church?