At a large church conference I attended a few years ago, one of the megachurch pastors explained to the audience the importance of vision. As a means of discerning who should be on staff, he explained that he will invite his staff members over to his home for leadership training and will purposely keep them up late into the night so that they aren’t as guarded in what they say. According to this leader, as soon as he sees one sign of disloyalty to his “vision” for the church, the staff member will be fired immediately.
I don’t know about you but that sounds like a cult, not a church.
This pastor (as well as virtually every other vision-casting book I have read) justifies this approach by claiming Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” They then conclude that the “vision” being spoken of is a well-thought out plan that steers the direction of an organization.
Yeah, that’s a great point except that’s not what Proverbs 29:18 says in it’s context.
It’s frustrating to me when pastors of all people exploit the Scriptures to back up their ideas. Proverbs 29:18 says (In the KJV since that is how all these books quote it) – “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Anyone who understands the English language is able to discern that the “vision” is referring to the clear revelation God has given His people through His word (i.e. the law). Not the vision of a charismatic human leader trying to create momentum for his church.
As a church planter, many of the leadership books I read urge me to cast vision for my church. Generally, this consists of listening to God in a subjective way to receive a specific vision for the church, create a plan to implement this vision, and then motivate the people of the church to support the vision. These books usually explain that if someone does not support the “vision” God has given me as the Lead Pastor, that person needs to leave and find a different church.
All of these teachings seem to be rooted in Scripture. The authors usually cite the famous leaders of our faith: Moses, David, Nehemiah, the Prophets – among others. One of the things I have noticed is that these books rarely spend any time focusing on New Testament leaders because the process of one man receiving a vision from God for a large group of people is seemingly absent from the pages of the New Testament.
Why the difference?
Answer: The Holy Spirit.
Sound doctrine matters and here’s why – Moses, David, Nehemiah, and the Prophets are not first and foremost examples for modern pastors to follow. Instead, they are shadows that point us to the Great Shepherd of the Church – the Lord Jesus Christ. The only one with authority to cast an unbending vision for the life of your church is Jesus Himself and He has done this in the Great Commission (see Matthew 28). When we foolishly lift pastors up and put them on a pedestal as the one who receives vision from God in a Moses-like way, we commit a grave sin against the priesthood of all believers.
For those of us in the Church, there is only one priest that stands between God and man – the Lord Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I do not have an elevated standing before God to receive a special vision for my church nor do I have inherent authority to motivate (or manipulate) the congregation to get on board with MY vision. I often tell Renovation Church that the only authority I have as a pastor is derived from when I accurately and faithfully expound the Scriptures.
But here’s the thing – I actually DO think it is important for a church to have a strong vision. Our vision must be rooted in the Great Commission and explain how we are going to fulfill this commission in our local community. The more Biblical way of accomplishing this is not putting the burden of “vision casting” on a charismatic leader. Instead, the members of the Church who are filled with the Holy Spirit should each play a role in discerning the vision God is giving the church while making sure it is rooted in the Scriptures and the historic Christian faith.
Karl Vater, in his excellent blog for small church leaders, explains a much more attractive alternative, “Shouldn’t part of that preparation include inspiring them (congregation) to hear from God for a vision for their own life and ministry? But how can they dream their own dreams if they’re constantly pushed to give time and money to support the pastor’s vision instead?”
What say you? Do you disagree with me and think the New Testament describes the practice of one person receiving a special vision for the entire community of faith? Or do you see other ways we can more faithfully practice the art of vision-casting that empowers the entire church? Please leave a comment as I’d love to hear from you!