Over the last few decades, everyone has been aiming at 2020. So many churches and organizations looking to clarify their goals and objectives set a 2020 (20/20) Vision. Organizations set goals to plant a certain number of churches by 2020 or raise up a certain number of leaders. Individual churches looked ahead to 2020 as the year by which they would do … well, fill in the blank. Well, we are here now! It’s 2020 and all of those grand vision promises are coming up due. For some, 2020 will be a year of celebration and gratitude. For others, it could bring sheepish discouragement or anxiety.
The challenge that every church has is to reach the people around it. That must be a key part of our mission and vision together rooted in the Great Commandment. For example, in our own tribe, the mission statement of the Anglican Church in North America is to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. It’s fair to look at that and ask, how we are doing. Are we growing and reaching people? Wise leaders and organizations will take the opportunity in 2020 (20/20) to review, refine, and set out their vision for the next phase of work. I want to help us have that conversation together and think it is vitally needed.
Have We Stalled?
I was reviewing the most recent stats submitted to the ACNA Provincial Council in 2018 and honestly, it is hard to say how things are going. In 2018, the number of congregations increased from 1037 to 1062. That is a net increase of 25 congregations amidst some closures and new congregations. Membership, as reported, went from 134,593 in 2017 to 134,649 in 2018. Average attendance went from 88,031 to 88,048. You can find the report on the ACNA website. But can those numbers be accurate? What about the new churches that have been planted. Frankly, I know of individual parishes who have seen a greater increase of members and attendance than our Province as a whole.
I know that some parishes are doing well, but I also know that many of our congregations have stalled out; some are on a plateau. Many are even in decline. Irrespective of the statistical data, we need to be asking honest, hard questions together as a movement right now. We need to think about the vision God has given us and our mission to reach North America with the transforming love of Christ.
Over the last few weeks, knowing this, I have begun thinking anew about the idea of Vision and coming up with some questions for us to address:
- How should we think about Vision?
- What does a Vision do for a Congregation?
- If God has given us a Vision, what should we do with it?
- How do we implement the Vision as Rector or senior ministry leader?
- What does it mean for Staff and Vestry to be aligned to the Vision?
- When do we know when it is time to tweak and pivot as the Vision goes along?
Over the next few weeks, I want to explore these questions with you and invite you into a conversation. Let’s think about Vision together. Read these posts and leave comments. I’ll respond as I am able. I think this is a critical issue for Church leadership. I also think there is a lot of accepted wisdom around Vision that is pure jargon and fluff. Let’s separate what is helpful from what is not together.
First up, I want to talk about what vision is and what it does for a congregation. Let’s get going:
What is Vision?
There is no shortage of books, articles, and blogs about having a vision, getting a vision, leading with a vision, discerning a vision, and being a visionary leader. If you begin to plow through these resources, you will quickly realize there is little consensus about the subject. Vision is so nebulous that it is often shorthand for something else – a plan, a dream, a goal, or maybe even a hallucination! How do we know? When a leader stands before a group of people and declares what God told him or her to say about the future direction of the church, who is to say that that is right; that THAT vision is the one to follow?
The Bible tells multiple stories about different kinds of visionary leaders. Moses, for example, is probably the best example of a Visionary leader from the Old Testament. He is the instrument that God used to lead the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt into the land of promise; into Promised Land. And the Vision that Moses saw was crystal clear to him. He couldn’t know all there was to know; or what would be revealed when they arrived in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moses never entered into the land which he ‘saw’ and sent people to enter.
Moses is a clear example of a visionary leader under God; one who could describe and delight his people with the clarity of what he saw for their future together. He describes what the collective future could and should look like and where the collected people of God could and should go. For me, that’s how I think about the idea of Vision: A Vision is a description of what the collective future looks like and how the collected people of God can move forward together. I like that. It makes sense. It gives a framework to show the power of vision is and how it can be used. It is an imagined future that applies to the people gathered, or the members assembled, or the collected group. And it is also directional. It tells a group where they should be heading.
Sometimes, we have the visionary clarity of Moses and have been given a glimpse of the Promised Land. But there is also another reality at work in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. There was a leader who didn’t have a clear vision but was responsive to the leading of God. God didn’t give Abram clarity. God just told him to go! While Moses had a picture, a hope, and a destination, Abram did not. His mandate from God was as simple as it might have been vexing. “Go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) Do you see the difference? Abram was called by God to go to a place that would become evident; he would be shown or told later.
Sometimes a visionary leader has a clear picture and guidance like Moses. Moses was able to point to the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Moses and the people received manna and water. They received the “rules of the road” at Mt. Sinai. But Abram didn’t have this at all. He was given the Vision slowly, yet still very clearly. He left Ur out of obedience to the command to go…but he didn’t know where he was going. (Genesis 12:1) And when he got to the place that he didn’t know was the place, he kept going. He stopped for a moment in the land, but he was afraid of the famine and kept going. In fact, many of Abram’s mistakes (and there were many) might have been avoided if he had stayed where he was most uncomfortable and restless. Indeed, returning later to the place he had passed over, God gives him a magnificent night-vision that would animate him for the rest of his life. He saw the millions of stars in the sky and God confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that he would be the father of as many people as he could count stars in the night sky. That is a vision! God doesn’t always give us vision in the same way. Yet, we are called to be obedient and responsive to the vision he gives – rather than make one up on our own for the sake of having a vision!
(Look for “The Rector and the Vestry”, a new publication from LeaderWorks by David Roseberry. Available here at Anglican Compass by March 15, 2020.)
There are many visionary leaders in the Old Testament, but we can focus on these two as we move into this iconic year, 2020. Each of these leaders were drawn by and relied upon a vision. For Moses, he had an image of a land he himself would never see, but he could describe it; and well he did in Deuteronomy 8. And Abram had a picture of his vision too. The scene he saw that night must have taken his breath away. A multitude of people would come from his seed. The thought of how this could take place was as unbelievable as the promise itself. But he believed the Lord, and the rest, as they say, is history!
As we move further into this New Year of 2020, all believers would be wise to stop and deeply consider where they are going and what vision they are following. The world promises one vision of the “good life” that centers around being happy and acquiring enough possessions to buffer us against any form of unhappiness or inconvenience. But instinctively we know there must be more to a vision than meeting my current or future needs. The Bible warns us against this kind of meaninglessness. Instead, we can look to Moses whose vision was the controlling passion of the last third of his life. He was compelled to keep going and lead others toward the vision that God had given him. Abram was given supreme confidence that, while he was then childless, his future progeny would change the world.
Remember, my hope in writing this series of blogs is to help our entire province look at the mission field around each congregation. How can every congregation respond in faithful ways to reach out and help new people come into the church and come to know Jesus Christ as Lord?
So, what is a vision? It is a calling from God to go to a place that He has placed into the heart of the leader. Sometimes leaders and their people ‘know and go’ like Moses. Sometimes they ‘go and know’ like Abram. But they know. And they go.
Do you or does your church have a ‘know/go’ vision?
In the next post, we will look at how to communicate a vision.