Saturday, May 22, 2010

Is Vision a Bad Thing?

Tim Chesterton has an alternative take on the role of vision in church life:

'Where there is no vision, the people sigh with relief and get back to loving one another'.

Tim's been reading some provocative posts by David Hayward on vision, and why it's bad for the church. However, in one of those posts is the line: "What would it be like just to gather, worship, pray and teach the scripture, and love one another?" That, if I'm not mistaken, is a vision: a picture of the way things should be. Yes there is a danger in churches being dragged off course by one or two people having a strident 'vision' which everyone else has to conform to.

But if a whole church community can agree on their picture of the way things should be, on what they are working towards, then I can't see how that's a bad thing. Jesus is constantly setting before people a picture of things being different: the Beatitudes, the Lords Prayer, John 17, the parables etc. A church without an agreed vision is in danger of ending up going nowhere, or at the mercy of whoever prays the loudest. Like it or not, we all have a vision: a picture of how we think the church ought to be, a picture about which we are passionate. Ask people to describe their ideal church, or the most memorable act of worship they've taken part in, or the most enriching community they've been part of, and you're not often short of material.

Yes it's wrong to take business ideas wholesale and just drop them on a local church from a great height. But shying away from any shared picture of the kind of church you want to be, or the reason you exist in the first place, seems like deliberately closing your eyes when it would be better to open them.

PS comments on this may take a while to appear, as we have a church weekend on at the moment.


  1. You're not supposed to disagree with me; that's not part of our agreement!

  2. I think the point is that the origin of the vision for the church is not the local priest, it is the great commission. We can run with Jesus' vision(s) for the church, we just need to be extremely circumspect about our own. At least, that's the lesson I'm pondering at the moment.

  3. Exactly, Sam. The early Christians don't seem to me to have wasted a lot of time sitting around asking 'What is God's vision for my local congregation'. They had been given the great commission, and they got on with it.

    Plus, as my new pastoral mentor Dave Hansen says, 'The evangelism you don't plan often works better than the evangelism you do plan' (see the early part of Acts 16 for an example).

  4. Just getting on with it is just not happening.

    Here, where there is little sign of vision, the people are weary, bickering and (in many cases) apparently perishing.

    Regaining a sense of vocation (is that term preferable to the hackneyed managerialism 'vision'?) seems essential. Without the leaders holding to a steady course plotted against up-to-date charts we are just being battered and bruised by this fleeting world's changeable and chancey winds.

    Contextually instantiating the Great Commission isn't going to happen here without thought, effort and changed/rechanged/recharged hearts. That prayer fuelled thought will lead to a vision of how the GC could look in our local context, and yes, it's only a mapped out course and not either the actual journey as undertaken or the journey's destination. But we are a tool using species, and we create tools when they can help with tasks.

    A sketch map scribbled down on the blank side of some recycled junk mail will be limited in scope and missing details, it may be error prone (dodgy handwriting means barely legible road names) and replete with smudged fingerprints and blackcurrent juice cup rings :)

    But I prefer such maps over ending up lost (duh!) and think that they have some other merits too:

    They abstract from more complex, less wieldy and/or more precious sources what's important for the particular purpose in hand
    They're not precious and are subject to easy revision/replacement according to changed circumstances
    It's fun to doodle

    You could draw similar analogies for the practice of highlighting routes on maps printed from online sources which can have portions blanked and replaced with other pertinent info cut'n'pasted (bus time tables, addresses, 'phone numbers, ...).

    Don't dis the tool per se - if it's useful, use it; if not, don't. Warnings about misuse of the tool are, however, acceptable. Just, please, don't over do it; they are sometimes the right tool for a job.

  5. Spot on Talisker! "Just getting on with it" is not working here either. There are so many things that can distract and divert us from the Great Commission - and you can see that in the history of the early Christians as recorded in Acts and in the NT letters. Paul and others are constantly having to pull churches back from things that would sidetrack them, things that are not actually following Jesus.

    I have seen leaders with visions that have damaged people, both individuals and churches. I am uncomfortable (to say the least) with approaches that focus on measures and targets. But an approach that has no vision and purpose will eventually rither drift or split as individuals expectations are revealed to be at odds.