A. Vision: Its Essence
Vision is the ability to perceive that which will or may come to pass. But when thought of biblically, it becomes more than just ability. It implies power; power to move people toward a desired end or a coursed-out destination. Success, biblically speaking therefore, is the very essence of vision. Thus, the Preacher says, Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18a KJV).
Each believer must have only one overwhelming desire – to be found faithful. At his journey’s end, the believer would want to see just a one-man welcoming committee – – the Lord Jesus with a smile on His face and arms invitingly stretched out.
Isaiah’s vision transcends time and could only be experienced supernaturally according to the sovereign will of God. I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple,” declared Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1 NIV). The Apostle Paul’s description of the exaltation of Jesus bears similarity to the words used by the prophet: God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). Again in Acts 7:55, Luke writes, Stephen full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus at the right hand of God.
Capturing the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ exalted and lifted up is what the people of God need amidst our present rugged individualistic and pragmatic society so that we can guarantee success to our mission and fulfillment for every Christian soul.
In elaborating about the importance of having a vision, T.M. Moore, in his workbook The Work of Ministry writes,
The Lord Jesus Christ understood the power of vision for motivating people to ministry. Throughout His earthly ministry He held out for His disciples a vision of God’s Kingdom, a grand scenario, based on Old Testament images and communicated in everyday terms, that captured their imaginations and swept them up into His cause (1995:69).
Author Robert D. Dale in his book To Dream Again puts it this way,
Jesus had a dream of God kingdom. He taught and lived his vision like young men in their late twenties. Jesus kingdom dream was the organizing and motivating fact in his life. Over 80 times in the Gospels Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God. Virtually all his parables centered on the kingdom vision (1981:33 and 37).
For centuries the Jews had been waiting for the promised Messiah who was to establish God’s kingdom on earth. From out of a seemingly insignificant village suddenly comes a seemingly insignificant man preaching that the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is within you, He even boldly proclaimed. Jesus and his teaching of what the kingdom of God is like captured many of the people’s attention and the devotion of those who believed in His words. The kingdom message so captivated the disciples’ imaginations that it filled their consciousness from the time they first met and heard Jesus until the moment when Jesus was about to go back to His Father’s house (Acts1:6).
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus said something which was never forgotten by those who were close to Him, And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:3). Angels reiterated this thought of Jesus’ return, Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). And teaching on the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul touched on this same thought also, For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Many other references may be found with regards to the coming again of the Lord Jesus and how his people ought to live in anticipation of this glorious event when He is back and exalted to the highest place and given the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. This manner of national living produces kingdom builders – – believers who are given to faithful service in the Father’s vineyard. No doubt, the kingdom vision of the Lord Jesus exalted and lifted up amidst his faithful and watchful people who are fully given to God’s work is what churches need in today’s world. This vision of the exalted Christ must be explained to the entire church by church leaders in a clear and concise way.
B. Vision: Its Purpose
Believers are easily distracted because they are never sure on how to respond to culture. Understanding just what it means to be in the world but not of it seems difficult. At the same time, the world seems to know exactly how to make the believer’s head spin.
Being spiritual and living in such a way is often the goal of every believer. The problem is consistency. Clarity of vision helps believers maintain their equilibrium and minimizes loss of time, energy, and resources when spent in matters unrelated to their main purpose in life. Vision helps believers avoid falling by the way side or being led astray by some philosophy of life into an enormous nonsensical cul-de-sac, be it having a secular or religious form. Vision keeps believers unified and focused on what is important in life even if they do not fully understand every facet of their faith. Vision also makes it easier for the backslidden to get back on the right track. Vision provides spiritual direction.
C. Vision: Its Contents
In the Spring of 1973, a lonesome soul wandering at the Potomac Park ask God for the reason for his existence. Recently promoted to a high position in a large urban renewal corporation, this young executive was already living the American Dream. A hard working productive wife, two children, a suburban house, and a sporty car completed the dream scenario. For all intents and purposes, he should have been a happy man by that time. Instead he found himself walking alone, too many times lost in his wandering thoughts. More and more, he found himself being pulled in two opposite directions—corporate life or family life. Both demanded more time and energy from him which he did not believe he had within himself to give. The news of the death of his beloved mother drove him finally to seek answer from the one he believed had the answer. He knew God was up there somewhere. When he was not in the park after work he would be in a bar in the company of even more miserable creatures.
Being educated and trained as an effective accountant, he developed the bottom-line mentality. But during that period of time, he couldn’t figure out what the bottom-line of life truly was. He came to America with a vision—money, lots of money. He did not find satisfaction although he had more than what his family actually needed; and he was convinced that more will come if he just keep his vision of a successful life. He started to doubt what he believed – – that the bottom-line of life is financial freedom. Finally, he turned to the God he prayed on Sunday mornings. His quest which took three years came to an end when he read Christ’s words in Matthew 11:28-30.
The search for meaning or purpose must not cease until one finds it in the person of Jesus Christ. Nothing else should matter and nothing else will once a seeker sees God’s beauty in the face of His dear Son. Only then can the deepest longing of a thirsting soul be satisfied.
Having a vision of fame or fortune is suicide. The only vision worth having is Jesus; and we must see Him exalted and lifted up in the midst of His faithful and watchful people who are fully given to God’s work.
As mentioned, inherent to a vision is its purpose. Purpose requires planning. Planning includes objectives setting, programming, budgeting, and evaluating results. There can only be one purpose — to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. From man’s point of view, glorifying God includes worship and service accurately interpreted into man’s upward call which is worship, his inward call which is the edification of the saints, and his outward call which is outreach to neighbors that translates into witnessing, salting the earth and lighting the world.
Objective setting describes the end result of a vision. The objective in Genesis 1:26 was the creation of man in the image of God. The objective of Genesis 11:4 was a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens. In James 4:13, the objective was to make money. An objective answers the question “What must we do to accomplish our purpose?” But take note, objectives can either be good having been borne of a good purpose (to glorify God as in Genesis 1:26) or bad one, having proceeded from an evil purpose (to glorify man as in Genesis 11:4 and James 4:3).
Programming determines courses of action that lead to the attainment of set objectives. It is a systematic approach toward the accomplishment of desired ends. It answers the question, How are we going to accomplish our objectives? Genesis 2:7 tells us how the Genesis 1:26 objective was to be accomplished – – form man from the dust and breathe into his nostrils the breath of life. The Genesis 11:4 objective was to be accomplished by using thoroughly baked bricks, instead of stone, and tar for mortar. In James 4:13, the goal was to be reached by spending a year in X city and engaging in business.
Budgeting expresses programs in terms of time, labor and materials. It answers the question, How much would we need in order to accomplish what we had set out to do? In his plan in Genesis 41, Joseph included a time table. He had seven years to accomplish his goal. His plan required commissioners, grain gatherers, food storage facilities, custodians and security guards. It required a tax system.
Evaluating compares end results against set objectives. It should not be confused with measuring which compares results with a standard. Evaluating, in effect, is a safeguard mechanism against inefficiency or ineffectiveness.
D. Vision: Its Realization
Church elders are raised by the Holy Spirit to serve the people of God. They are to care for them (1 Peter 5:1-4), guard them (Acts 20:28), watch over them (Hebrews 13:17), feed them (John 21:15-17), and direct their affairs (1 Timothy 5:17). The Holy Spirit instructs church elders not to lord it over those entrusted to them but to be good examples to the flock. Church elders would do well to continually exhort the believers to fix their eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and behold him (John 1:29). The flock though will not follow unless the elders lead by example. Church leadership is empowered by the Holy Spirit and gifted for the sake of the whole flock. They can and must lead but they must lead in all humility. Without their effective leadership, the church’s vision may never be realized.
In reference to leadership, James F. Cobble Jr. in his book The Church and the Powers writes, The power that comes from God is not to be used for personal gain, political advantage, or social recognition. Such power is not revealed on the customary fashion through the pomp and circumstances; rather, it is most clearly evident in humble service (1988:17).
Church leadership is a sacred trust. If church elders lose sight of an exalted Lord, the church will drift at best. Sheep will always tend to wander away and that is the reason why the shepherd’s rod and staff are comforting to them. Without shepherds the people of God will lose their way in the highways and byways of this unreal world and scatter. Their enemy, the devil, knows this only too well. He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Church elders cannot afford to sleep on the job. They must keep the vision alive if they expect the body of Christ to grow in unity and maturity.
Just as there is a need for a blueprint when building a house, the local church needs to have a written plan in building the body of Christ, qualitatively and quantitatively, in order to ensure success. The ideal situation is to get every member of the church involved in some capacity during the planning process. Before decisions are made, consultations and deliberations must take place. Church elders would do well to listen to Proverbs 15:22, Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they will succeed. And also to Proverbs 28:18, Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance. The entire congregation should be encouraged to participate during the planning process through active solicitation of suggestions and observations about anything and everything deemed relevant to victorious Christian living. Realistically, not all opinions given will be helpful but for the sake of sensitivity no one should be ignored.
The Church’s vision of the Lord Jesus exalted and lifted up in the midst of his faithful and watchful people who are fully given to God’s work should never change. Sure, it may be restated or interpreted in order to meaningfully speak to different cultures and times. The purpose should never change. Objectives may be fine tuned. Programs may be revised, reconfigured or overhauled based on practical considerations. It is in the plan execution and program implementation process, however, that the church leadership will need a steady supply of wisdom and discernment just as those Joseph acquired during the seven abundant years when he prepared the entire land for the coming seven years of famine.
In drawing the Church’s blueprint, attention must be given to the four essential parts of the Christian life as mentioned in Acts 2:42: a) Worship (the breaking of bread), b) Bible Study (the Apostle’ teaching), c) Church Community Service (fellowship), and d) Prayer Meeting. The goal of victorious Christian living is why the preparation of God’s people for their works of ministry is important and the focus of Ephesians 4:11, and why the practice of individual gifts is emphasized in Romans 12:6-8.
Early on in the planning process needs assessments must be conducted and enlistment to church service must be undertaken.
E. Vision: Its Dissemination
The Tower of Babel building crew was doing well, humanly speaking, until communication broke down. A good communication system can never be over emphasized. Church elders in particular should be aware at all times that our God is not a god of confusion. Every member of the church must be aware of the church’s plan. Each one must be aware of what is expected from him or her and how members are knitted together in the overall scheme of things. In other words, they must see the big picture and how each of them fits in its particulars. Also, every Church activity should be explained in a clear way so that it may be undertaken in an orderly fashion.
Communication jump starts the planning process. Written administrative and operation reports covering the immediately preceding year are obtained from every church member overseeing an area responsibility, and then analyzed and interpreted. Programs evaluation, justifications for renewal and reasons for discontinuance are made in writing for future references. Sources and applications of resources are clearly delineated and financial reports prepared for the examination of interested parties. A Vision and Purpose brochure clarifies the church’s reason for being and will help keep a local church focused and unified.
F. Challenges and Cautions
As Christian individuals and churches continue to struggle with the proper response to culture, we would all do well to remain adequately informed about the fast changing world around us so that we do not lose contact with it and get lost in and around it, and thus, be rendered ineffective.
In the chapter of emerging trends, Cobble writes:
Technology has altered both the conduct of daily life and relationship between individuals and institutions. The primary forces which now regulate human life are not easy to define or change. They are made up of complex network of structures that transcends national boundaries and affect the life of both individuals and social systems. Religious systems are very much a part of this network… All structures are constantly changing in terms of their effectiveness because the environment is constantly changing. The dynamic relationship between the institutional nature of the church and its environment requires on going adaptation mandating structural change if the church is to remain effective in its mission (1988: 161).
Robert E. Slocum in his book Maximize Your Ministry has this to say about this concern:
If the church is to be effective in our changing world, we as Christians must become effective. To be effective, we must be familiar with the terrain were God has placed us. But how can we be at ease with this assignment? Our world is being irreversibly transformed into an age of high technology with all the accompanying wonders and terrors. Our world is outfitted in the trappings of the “high-tech age” (1990: 61-62).
Such is our world today but as Slocum warns, Those who withdraw from the world are, in effect, abandoning the world Christ came to reached and reshape (1990: 61-620). I could not agree more. Christianity ought to take culture and fully utilize it for our own purposes to the glory of God.
It is encouraging to read the interesting insights of some of today’s church leaders and the direction they suggest for the church to take. Let us consider a few:
Jim Peterson in Church Without Walls says that the way to go is to revive the old apostolic team concept.
Of the apostles, we know most about Paul and his activities with his team. They were aggressive, focused pioneers who cross cultural and social boundaries for the sake of the gospel. They did not preach and run. They lived with the fruit of their efforts until those they reached could not only care for themselves, but also assume the holy trust of keeping the gospel flowing among their compatriots. That is the function we need to recover! In fact, if we do not, we will fail this generation (1992: 206-207).
C. John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church believes that the ministry of small group is the answer,
It is my view that such groups today can become the powerful instruments of the Holy Spirit for both internal revivals in the local church in its missionary expansion… I also believe that small groups can become the vehicle for the harvesting unbelievers in our time (1986: 162-163).
Slocum agrees with Miller, and has this to say,
I want to focus on a special kind of small group experience that is unique in its effectiveness. There is a great difference between a small number of believers simply getting together to study or do a project and a functional small group that promotes the health, spiritual growth, and the ministry of the members. To capture this special element of effectiveness, I will call these groups by a special name—a cluster (1990: 271).
Slocum goes on to describe his cluster idea.
This small group laboratory is for the developing of the heart. It is a place where one can risk being Christ’s person and still be safe from the hostile responses from the world. It is a place where each member of the group is willing to accept the need for confrontation, affirmation and vulnerability, the three things when added together make up for the equation for growth.
Finally, this statement from Cobble is worth including here,
Congregations must explore ways through which they can guide the intrusion of technology into the life of the church and utilize it in positive ways, rather than finding themselves in the undesirable position of responding to changes over which they have no control and which potentially undercut important values and goals essential for effective and fruitful congregational life (1988: 167).
It is clear that churches must adapt to the fast changing technological world. A higher demand for more creativity and new methodologies in delivering services will no doubt put more pressure on both church congregations and leadership if they expect to reach today’s societies. This is precisely the reason why a church’s statement of vision and purpose becomes even more mandatory. It is not hard to imagine how vision and purpose can easily drown in a sea of information and technology.
The time is coming when the way churches conduct their ministries will take forms we hardly could imagine acceptable today. It should not be of great concern as long as the vision of the Lord Jesus exalted and lifted up in the midst of his faithful and watchful people who are fully given to God’s work remains. As long as the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying him forever remains. As long as worship includes the breaking of bread and the singing of hymns and spiritual songs. As long as regular Bible studies are not neglected. As long as fellowship include church community service. As long as prayer meetings are held regularly. As long as service to non-believers include the proclamation of the Gospel, witnessing, salting of societies and lighting of the world. And as long as everything is done according to the whole counsel of Scripture. This way we can be sure that we remain effective transformers of culture, no matter what changes take place around us.
Conrad Jun Tolosa © 1999