A lot of the talk around yesterdays Queens Speech was about vision, and whether Gordon Brown had one, and if he did whether it was really his or just a rehash of other people's ideas. Brown has been talking for a while about setting out his vision for Britain, but, as David Cameron pointed out, we've still not really seen it spelled out. The Queens speech, being simply a list of bills to come before parliament, delivered by an apolitical monarch, is never going to come across as particularly visionary anyway.
So what is vision? Well, a few things it isn't....
1. Vision is not talking about vision. That seems to be what Brown has been doing, and I've seen it happen in other places. 'we have to be a visionary church' etc. Talking about having £1m is not the same as actually having £1m, and talking about having a vision is not the same as having one.
2. Vision is not strategy. A strategy is how you put the vision into practice, and strategy without vision is like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
3. Vision is not elitist. There's a myth that vision is something had by great leaders, who descend from the mountain and impart it to their eager disciples. Rubbish. Everyone has visions. We all have a picture of life as we'd like it to be - that's a vision. We have a picture of church as we'd like it to be - that's a vision too. Some of these 'visions' are pretty off the wall, and some of them just simply fail to be grounded in real life and relationships, which takes me to...
4. Vision is not idealism. Most towns the size of Yeovil have their church-hoppers. After 3-4 years in any one place, they get bored, or decide that the church they currently go to isn't as close to the Kingdom of God as the other church down the road, or the new Vineyard/NFI/HTB etc. church plant, so off they go. 3 years later they are at it again. Why? Because they have a vision of church, but they fail to ground it in reality, and in relationships. It is an ideal which doesn't ever let its feet touch the dusty earth.
If after 3 years you can simply up sticks and leave a church, I'd suggest that you haven't really become part of it anyway. A church is the body of Christ in a particular place, it is a relational community of people who worship God through Jesus and invite others to do the same. The kind of folk who are just looking for the best church to attend have a consumerist mentality that is light years away from what Jesus taught.
So what is it?
For examples of vision grounded in reality, there aren't many better than Churchill. His vision wasn't up in the clouds - theres nothing more gritty than 'we will fight them on the beaches...and we will never surrender!' - it is earthed in the reality of the situation (war) in the character of the people he is addressing, and it is painting a picture that people can rise to and drive towards.
Which leades on to my favourite definition of vision: 'a picture of the future that produces passion' (Bill Hybels)- to do this vision has to be attainable, but also something worth attaining. Too high a vision, and people will be deflated 'we can't possibly do this'. Too low a vision, and people just won't be inspired.
Another key thing here is integrity. If the vision isn't a picture that's owned by the visionary themselves, and if it doesn't produce passion in them, then it is manipulation. Marketing is false vision, and is manipulative: here is a picture of you/your life/your face/your experiences for you to attain to. Spend money and it can be yours. It works very well. We are fed these false visions all the time.
But genuine vision is Martin Luther King dreaming aloud of an integrated society, it is the elderly apostle John writing 'what we have seen with our own eyes and heard with our ears, this we proclaim to you' - the visionary lights a torch from the fire burning within him/her and offers it to others.
Hybels writes, in Courageous Leadership of what vision achieves - it increases energy, moves people to action, increases ownership (if people know what your church is about then they can get in on it. If they don't, it can be a very frustrating organism to be part of), and provides focus (a clearer idea about where to put our energies and where not to).
The challenge for leaders is to get sufficient time away from the immediate demands of leadership to actually work out, with God, with others, what the vision is. We can develop strategies and schemes to deal with short and medium term problems: our church is looking to employ a children and families worker, that's a strategy. Activists like me will, unless we're careful, end up with lots of schemes and strategies but no vision. Contemplatives will, unless they're careful, end up with a vision that's impossibly high, or never get round to crystallising and grounding a vision at all. Between hyperactivity and dreaming, the middle way of vision brings the dream into real life and leads to focused activity directed towards making the dream a reality.
We need to arrive at the burning bush, the picture of the future which energises us, and which we can communicate to others to release energy in the church. And to do this, like Moses, we need to leave the flock for a bit.