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So You're Not A Visionary
There it is again, that word. If I hear it again, I think I’m going to scream.

The word is “vision,” its kissin’ cousin, “visionary.” These are the modern mantras of leadership. A leader must be a visionary, a “vision caster.” He must know where he’s going and how to get there. He must get the people he leads to buy, appreciate, and otherwise get onboard his vision.

But what if you’re a leader...who’s not a visionary? I used to believe that a visionary was by definition one who stayed on the cutting edge of society, alert and ready to catch the next cultural wave. I’ve always had a problem, however, seeing the wave, let alone catching it! Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago, Mel Gibson made a movie, “The Passion of The Christ.” Chances are, your congregation bought rolls of tickets, climbed aboard a bus (or a fleet of buses), and went to see the movie. Why? Christian leaders considered the excursion to be a fresh means of deepening faith and a culturally savvy tool of evangelism. After all, our generation is visually oriented, having grown up on a steady diet of TV and movies. It was the visionary thing to do.

But I didn’t have the vision. Somebody else thought of it, not me. How depressing!

Then there was the time our church bought another building. We definitely needed it. The benefits of having another building were obvious. But I didn’t suggest that we buy it. I hadn’t even thought of us buying more property.

Then there was the M.O.P.S (Mothers of Pre-schoolers) ministry. Wonderful program. It’s not only been a big help to the young mothers of our community; it’s exposed them to the Gospel. Sure wish I’d thought of it!

About now you’re wondering whether this is the church custodian writing. Nope. This is the preaching minister writing. And now you’re asking, “What in the world are you, Mr. No Vision, doing in such an important position of church leadership?” Believe me, I’ve asked myself that question many times!

What Is Vision?

What is “vision,” really? If it’s being able to see where you’re going, I must confess that often I can’t. Neither do bats, I’m told. Yet somehow they manage to get where they’re going—even in the dark. God gave them the ability to do so. He’s done the same for all the people He’s chosen to lead. “Blind as a bat” is but one way to describe many of them!

Take Moses, for example. Was this a man with a vision of liberty, aching for a chance to tell old Pharoah, “Let my people go?” As a matter of fact, he argued with God over his qualifications for the job (Exodus 4)! As it turned out, Moses did what God told Him. He led Israel out of Egypt, went where God told Him to, and did what God told Him to. But that’s just the thing. God or somebody always had to tell Moses what to do and when. The poor guy couldn’t even figure out that he needed help in settling the people’s quarrels (Exodus 18).

The list of the shortsighted goes on: There’s Gideon, Barak, and Samson (Forget “blind as a bat.” “Dumb as an ox” seems more appropriate for Samson). In the New Testament, there’s Peter. Some might call Jesus’ right-hand man a man of vision. Yet Peter couldn’t see God’s plan for Gentile-inclusion. God literally had to give Peter this vision—to force it on him, if you will — in the form of a sheet full of animals (Acts 10).

If vision is a prerequisite for leadership, then God doesn’t always pick good leaders! But who is the source of all leadership? “Vision” is a quality rarely applied to God Himself. Yet, surely He who searches the heart (Romans 8:27), to whom the “secret things” belong (Deuteronomy 29:29), who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) is the True Visionary. God knows where He is going, where in fact all things are going. His, then, is always the Vision. If a Christian leader can see clearly enough to follow the Lord, is he not then a visionary?

Two Types of Vision

I distinguish between two types of vision: “quantitative” and “qualitative.” “Quantitative” vision is the ability to see opportunities in the natural world. For example, the Quantitative visionary sees buildings where there were none (Donald Trump is certainly this type of visionary.) He can see opportunities to advance his cause using the newest technology or media. (Think Bill Gates and Microsoft.)

Spiritual leaders also can possess this kind of vision. Seeing the need for a part-time secretary in a small church qualifies as quantitative vision. In the business world, the means to make this kind of a vision reality are quantifiable: greater efficiency, greater productivity, better goods and services. The effect of such vision is measurable in the quantity of customers or income it produces. Likewise, when the local church leaders see the need for attractive landscaping or for posting clear directional signs, that vision’s success may be measured in higher attendance.

I believe that quantitative vision is good, even necessary, for a church—provided that it is linked with “qualitative” vision. “Qualitative” vision is the ability to see opportunities in the spiritual world. It’s good when a church enlarges its worship facility so that more people can attend. It’s better when that church is so captivated by God that it wants more people to experience Him in worship.

Wise church leaders acknowledge the “liquid” quality of vision. A quantitative vision is like water, hard to hold onto. As people move into or out of town, as a church’s constituency changes, its particular needs and therefore its vision must change. A qualitative vision, however, isn’t subject to the circumstances of the natural order. It sees a city, a glory beyond this present world. Such a vision might be cast in the prayer of Paul “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power to us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

I admit it. When it comes to knowing when to buy, when to build, when to bus a bunch to the big show, I’m usually clueless. But I have a vision nonetheless. What I see captivates and energizes me. I see the Big Picture, what God is doing as revealed in scripture: Through His Son Jesus Christ, He is saving a people, transforming them into His image, enabling them to grasp the fact that this is His world and He is in it. I see a people walking in ever increasing glory, a people brimming over with power and love, the tread of whose feet fairly shakes the earth! I see a great people walking in the glory of God.

Combining Visions

This is the vision I’ve cast for the congregation God brought me to. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, some are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. A heavenly vision needs earthly support. How will the vision of glory become a reality on earth? Thankfully, people who’ll help me answer that question surround me. Elders, deacons, staff and members combine their dreams and visions with mine so that the body of Christ is built up.

Isn’t this the point of Paul’s great treatise on church-anatomy? “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17) Surely “vision” must encompass not just an eye but also an ear — hearing the voice of God, the cries of people in need. How, then, can “vision” be the province of one man? It can’t be, any more than the body of Christ can be one member!

The visionary named Joel foresaw a day in which “young men would dream dreams and old men see visions” (Joel 2:28). With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter declared that the day of such visions had arrived. Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic Community in Los Angeles, suggests that the preacher’s job isn’t so much to cast a single vision for the church as to encourage others to dream their own dreams and see their own visions.1

The combined result under one head, Jesus Christ, should be explosive.

So, what do you know? “Vision” isn’t such a bad word at all. As a matter of fact, when we see it through the eyes of God, it’s wonderful!

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Gary Robinson is Preaching Minister at Conneautville Church of Christ in Conneautville, PA.

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NOTES:
1. From a recording of his sermon, “Get Real About Your Leadership.”

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