In my last post, I talked about the importance of defining our churches identity. The reason for defining our identity as a church is that it will help to sift out those things that are not “us.” They are not things that we should be doing. As leaders in the church, we should not be afraid of saying that something simply does not fit into who God is calling us to be. It is right to make sure that, as a church, we understand who we are and who we are supposed to be.
Ground Your Vision in the Bible’s Words
As I was learning who we were as a church, I began to ask myself if our people really understood our vision. Did we fully comprehend what it meant to be serious about Reconciling the World to God? That was an assumption I did not want to make and then be wrong about. So, I thought it was better to question it up front and then respond accordingly.
I distinctly remember the first sermon I preached at Ambassadors. It was a chance for me to introduce myself and to help the church know that I had spent my entire life learning what it meant to be an Ambassador. The vision of the church was not new to me. Because the founding pastor was my father, I was intimately aware of the vision because it had been my father’s vision for ministry his entire life. Therefore, I may have been new to the church, but I was not new to the ideas and principles that guided the church. This was the first observation I wanted to make.
The second observation I wanted to say right off the bat, was that the vision of Ambassadors was a dangerous vision. Not because there was something inappropriate about it. The opposite was the case. There was nothing more appropriate. The problem with our vision was that it was lifted right off the pages of the Scripture. My father had not focus-grouped the vision. He had not tried to come up with any clever slogans to attract the greatest number of people. He had taken an idea that Paul had written to the Corinthian church because it had captured his heart and imagination.
The lesson here is this, the closer our church’s vision is to the actual words of God, the more dangerous the vision. And the reason for this danger is that if we fail in living up to and into the vision we claim we are only highlighting our insufficiencies in accomplishing it. And, as crazy as it sounds, this is a good thing. If we can accomplish the vision in our own power it is not big enough. The vision of our church should remind us that without God we will fail, and honestly, I would say that we should.
Moving from Identity to Vision
The next step in staying true to the identity that God is calling a local congregation to embrace is that the vision of the church must be clearly articulated. This means that we have to work hard to make sure that we know what we are telling our church members that they are signing up for.
Nobody likes to be presented one thing and then have it switched out at the last minute. If your church says that it values missions and then everything you do is about reaching families, people are going to get confused. And this confusion will eventually lead to frustration. And a frustrated church is a stagnant church. How, then, do we move from our defining our identity to articulating the vision?
There are three realities that every church needs to understand when it comes to articulating their vision to the body. When these realities are not understood, we risk confusion and misunderstandings among those who are members and those who may want to become members of our churches.
1. Your Church’s Vision is Unique… so don’t pretend it’s not.
The first reality we have to acknowledge is that our church’s vision is unique and we should not pretend that it’s not. What this means is that what we are doing is what we are supposed to be doing. It doesn’t matter if other churches or other people are saying that they are doing what we are doing. The truth is they are not.
If we do not get this, we will sell our people short on the great purpose God has called us to. It is almost impossible to sell people on an “OK” idea. People want to be a part of something great. They want to give themselves to a vision that is bigger than they are. If we are asking people to do something that they could find to do anywhere, they will.
Now, please do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about hyping up our vision in such a way that it misrepresents what God is calling us to do. I am talking about believing that if God has called us to do a certain task, then it is important enough to take it seriously and get after it with sincere passion.
Because let’s face it, if the leaders are not sold out for what the church is called to do, then it will be near impossible to get the congregation to be excited.
2. Your Church’s Vision ought to be Your Call to Action as a Congregation.
If the vision of your church causes a fire to burn inside of your heart, then you don’t even have to work very hard to make this second reality happen in your church. The more you and the leaders in your church believe in what you are doing the easier it is to get people motivated about it as well.
Therefore, it is extremely important that your vision is articulated in such a way that people feel that they are being enlisted for a task that will require all of our greatest efforts. If people do not feel that the call to action is not worthy of their time, they will pay lip service to it, but never commit to real service. The greater the commitment required the more buy-in you need to garner from the congregation. And buy-in comes when you are calling your church members to a purpose that is worth doing and to a vision that captures our imaginations.
This is the bottom line: Your church’s vision must make its way into the hearts and minds of the membership. If it does not, then you will constantly be fighting an uphill battle.
3. Your Church’s Vision does not need Defending; it needs Presenting.
The third reality may be the most difficult to accept, but one of the most important. If your church has a vision, as leaders, your greatest responsibility is to faithfully articulate and present it to your people. It is a mistake to get defensive about the vision God has given to your church. You do not need to defend your church’s vision.
When you clearly and accurately articulate your vision, that is your defense. To start defending is to concede to the premise of the questioner—that there is something “wrong” about your vision; something you missed. In order words, when we get defensive we give credence to the idea we really don’t know what God has called us to do. Stay true to what you know God is calling you to do. Otherwise, you will lose your way and get frustrated and discouraged!
Some people are uncomfortable holding the line on the vision God has given them. We don’t want people to think we are being cocky, arrogant, or whatever. So, let me help you here. At Ambassadors we are very upfront about two things. First, the vision of our church is not going to change. We have seen too much growth and too many lives changed to start listening to any voice that doesn’t know what we are doing, and who doesn’t understand how and why we are doing it. If our church’s vision is from God then it will endure and nothing will be able to stop it. If it’s not, then it won’t. It’s that simple. Outside voices will be heard, but they will have to, on balance, outweigh what we already know that God has done in our church with our current vision. If I had to pick a side, I would pick the side of the evidence we have.
Second, we let people know that Ambassadors may not be the best church for everybody. We have a vision and we are looking for people who want to learn it and become a part of what we are doing. If you have your own agenda, then that type of divisive spirit will not be tolerated. If someone comes trying to fix our church or its mission, we tell them “Thanks, but no thanks,” in a gentle but firm way.
Now, some will read the last two paragraphs and completely miss the point. And, that’s is a risk I take. But, in the end, that is your problem. If we are not going to hold fast to the vision that God has given our church, then we will never have any confidence in whether God is doing anything in and through our people. We have made the choice to stay true to what God has called us to do as long as we continue to see the fruit of changed and transformed lives.
Articulating your church’s vision is a challenge on multiple levels. Therefore, it is vital to seek wise counsel in the process of figuring out what it is at the outset. Once you have arrived at what it is that you are supposed to be doing, do that with all your might. Do not get seduced by the temptation that God is going to give a “clearer” vision later on. This is a trap.
The vision of your church is the north star of who you are, what you do, how you do it, when you do it, and why you do it. If that is constantly shifting because of insecurity or doubt you will never develop the momentum you need as a church to truly accomplish God’s will for your local body. Learn to articulate your vision because if you don’t someone else will do it for you!