Though we love talking about ‘casting vision’, but often our ‘vision’ is just too big for anyone to grasp. It’s too wide to take in and leaves people feeling overwhelmed and even paralyzed by possibilities.
Barry Schwartz has some remarkable (and terrifying!) research about “the paradox of choice.” When we are confronted by too many options, we become anxious and our eventual choice feels like a resignation, a disappointment. I feel this way every time I dine at a deli or mega-chain restaurant, whose menus read like sprawling novels, encompassing everything from French toast to pot roast. They’ve cast a vision, but it’s so enormous that I’ve lost my appetite.
I’d like to suggest an analogy as a remedy. In recent years, I’ve gotten into photography. Before that time, I hadn’t really appreciated the photographer’s craft. Painting made sense—taking a landscape or subject and re-creating it with imagination and talent. But, come on, a photograph? You saw something and then you took a picture of it and now I’m supposed to be impressed?! Give me a break.
I don’t even have time to go into all the ways that I was wrong about this, so I will stick with one: A good photographer doesn’t just show you what you already saw. A photographer frames our vision of a scene, revealing to us what we couldn’t discern on our own.
The Vision of the Promised Land
Vision shows us the whole landscape. It’s breathtaking and—because it’s so huge—can leave us feeling like we can’t take it all in. But those who want to share a vision don’t leave it that way. Consider one of the greatest ‘vision statements’ in the Bible:
“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10, ESV)
God’s promise to the Israelites is huge. It encompasses the entirety of the good life, especially for a desert wanderer. But it’s also a utilitarian promise: he promises land and water. No pie in the sky here. Verse seven has that lovely chiasm: land and water followed by water and land.
But God doesn’t stay huge and stark. Look at verse 8, which begins to sketch out the abundance with concrete nouns: wheat and barley, vines and fig trees and pomegranates. It’s a vision with some flesh on it, a vision that can be tasted and smelled and felt. Verse 9 then fills in the emotional resonance this vision offers—total comfort and satisfaction. This is what it’ll feel like when you’re finally there. And the last verse brings the vision to its ultimate end: faithful devotion of the people to their faithful, loving God.
Do you see how backwards this progression is from our approach? How many churches begin with the grand, abstract mission statement: Loving God and Loving Others or Becoming Faithful Disciples. These are crucial, core identifiers for you—you’ve got to know this to know where you’re heading. But in casting that vision outward, it’s hardly the most helpful first thing someone can hear about you.
“Is It True?”
Because people walk through your doors with one essential question: “Is it true?” Just by walking in, they’ve admitted that there is something in their own lives that is lacking, some part of the narrative by which they’ve been living (a narrative of ‘consumerism’ or of ‘the American Dream’) that hasn’t lived up to its billing. And so they walk in thinking: Is it true that this place has a different way, a way that actually leads me into new life?
And we have to recognize that this question has a frame to it, a frame that fits the dimensions of everyday lives, of habits and routines. Think of this Renoir painting—this detailed, human scene that beckons our eyes.
And so if we give people these panoramic landscape visions, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t quite seem to ‘lock in.’ They don’t quite see how they fit in this vast expanse you’ve dropped on them. Instead, we need to frame our vision; in short, we have to give them a photograph.
This is a place where your children will be valued and loved. This is a place where you will make relationships that will support you in your suffering. This is a place where you will learn how to pray.
We must give them these pictures that meet them in their present needs. These messages aren’t a betrayal or a distraction from your vision—these are framed snapshots that require an artist’s careful consideration to draw the viewer’s eye to that particular point that meets their needs.
Canon David has over 35 years of local congregational ministry, diocesan and national involvement, leadership, and ministry experience and is the founder of Leaderworks. He was the founding Rector/Pastor, Christ Church, Plano and currently serves as the Strategic Leader and Dean, Diocese of C4SO.