Be Thou My Vision

It’s easy to get in survival mode. I was talking to a friend of mine who also pastors a small church. I asked him what his vision for his fellowship was and he said, “To preach the whole word of God and survive.” While staying true to the Gospel is vital (and becoming more rare), survival is not an option. God isn’t glorified by just keeping the doors open. I know it feels like its the best we can do sometimes, and there have been season where I’d tell you that’s our greatest victory, but when it comes to vision we need focus and direction or all we’ll ever do is survive.

Typically, we cast a vision to grow a bigger church. When you’re small, that’s what you want to do, right. We set before our congregations a direction we think will attract attention and put butts in the seats. We set a “target group” and think of ways to lure them into our building and plug them into our vision. We want members to buy in to our vision and contribute to our mission. What if we took a different approach. What if the church (leadership) bought into God’s vision for our members and enables/empowered them to fulfill their own calling?

What if the goal of church leadership was not to build a bigger church, but to equip, encourage, and empower the saints (the church) to make a difference in their world…whatever that may look like for them? Leaders don’t like that idea because it means less power and direct influence, and feels chaotic. Rather than one narrow, rigid vision, the vision of the church becomes to enable each member to fulfill the vision God has for their life.

This is where God is leading at my church. At first I felt a little like Lord Business from The Lego Movie wanting to keep everything orderly, categorized, and structured in a way that makes sense to my mind. What God began to unpack for me was a bigger picture that was more beautiful, diverse, and powerful than anything I could have come up with by talking to the city council or my leadership team. …I’m putting the Piece of Resistance on the Kragle.

We need be a church that makes a difference. Really, that is the extent of our vision at FCC. The church–the people of God–need to have an impact in their communities or we are not at all Christ’s church (his people, his bride, his presence in this world). The way we intend to do this is by engaging, encouraging, and equipping a generation of change makers. We want to help our members discover the fulness of their identity in Christ, and then discover their life’s ministry by identifying what James Glenn calls their “holy discontent.” What are those issues, problems, or that brokenness that you see, and it unsettles you? Andy Stanley asks two vital questions to address this: 1) who are you? and 2) what breaks your heart? As we identify these areas, we will connect people with like passions and encourage them to prayerfully dream about how they can make a difference and affect change in that area with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Then church leadership will invest resources, time, and energy into partnering with our members to make it happen. This just seems so much more biblical. I wish I’d come up with it. Rather than inviting the membership into my vision to build a bigger church (institution), the church (the people) empowers each individual member to fulfill the vision God has for their life.

In the book of Nehemiah, our hero hears a report about the condition of Jerusalem. His heart is broken and he is compelled to make a change. Knowing God, his character, and his promises, Nehemiah is convicted (convinced) that the state of affairs in Jerusalem is not God-honoring, it’s not okay, and he is compelled to make a difference. He needs to make a difference. Not “need” like “I need to start working out again,” but rather ‘need’ as in “I need to breathe.” This is what we mean when we say “we need to be a church that makes a difference.” Our very lives find expression and meaning in fulfilling the purpose and work of God in and through us. That work is so much bigger than any one plan or direction, and we can do more as the church (Christ-centered community) that we can as the church (institution). If your vision as a leader doesn’t leave room for God’s vision for people, then your vision is too small…and self-centered.

We cannot build a resort with every Christian amenity that keeps people on our campuses, fat, happy, and comfortable in a powerless and trendy version of Christianity so sedate that enemy hardly takes notice. We need to live in the world: engaging the broken, lost, wounded, and rebellious–secure in the righteousness, truth, and love of Christ–encouraging them with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We, corporately as individuals, need to make a difference in our communities and the leadership of the church needs to return to a servant-leadership mindset and shepherd God’s people into God’s calling for their lives instead of trying to compel them with a slick sales pitch into our purpose.

The church, like a tiger, is beautiful, powerful, and dangerous. We’ve caught that tiger by it’s toe and rendered it largely ineffective in it’s intended mission. There are butts in the seats, but there’s no real transformation. Maybe we need to loose the restraints of ministries and programs and set the tiger free to find its own way, led by the Spirit rather than a business model. It means letting go of some power and influence, but personally, I think that’s a good thing! I’m excited to see what God does in and through our fellowship in the coming months and years. And maybe more churches will catch this greater vision along the way and we’ll see transformation on a scale that can only be a work of God. I’ll keep you posted…

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