In Which I Hate Myself But Write Anyway

I'm really sick of reading stuff about church vision. When I click a link and start reading, only to find that the seemingly benign title is actually another [Blank] Steps to a More Visiony Vision piece, I hit the back button with the kind of catlike dexterity born of having to click that danged button so often—that is, with vigor. So naturally, this is an article about church vision. What I'm saying (and in my best dad voice), is that this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. Ok? Ok.

A good place to start would probably be to answer the question of why am I so sick of hearing about church vision. The short answer would be to say that much of what is category-tagged on a blog as "vision" is really just pragmatism of the worst sort. The long answer would be the rest of this article.

So, with every asterisk I can muster, it is a fact that a shepherd needs a strong, theological vision if he (and this particular pronoun was chosen quite deliberately) wants to lead the flock of God into the green pastures of spiritual salubrity. You'll hear no argument from me on that contention. But there are three general ways to go about constructing this vision, and two of them are excellent if you want to screw everything up. Additionally and before you say anything about it in the comments, I know that I am liberally mixing my metaphors below, but do so with the hope that you will eventually get over it. That said, if vision is a meal, here are the three basic varieties:

1. White-bread and sugar-free peanut butter vision: This is what it looks like if you don't plug a destination into the GPS. You're just wandering around, sheep in tow, like Wendell Berry without the farming skills. Maybe you get to a green pasture, maybe not. Who knows? You definitely don't. This is what happens if you haven't answered the big questions of what a church is supposed to do in the first place and what sort of means God has appointed for you to do that. There's no such thing as a church with no vision at all any more than there is no such thing as a car without a steering wheel. No matter what, something is in the driver's seat.

2. Thin Mints and Kool-Aid vision: This is what happens when pragmatism is at the wheel. Thin Mints and Kool-Aid might get the kids to the dinner table every time, but you won't need a degree in pediatrics to figure out why everyone's sick in three weeks. Stop. What I'm saying is that lasers and light shows, flat-design and worship songs about things on fire, or parallax websites complete with pithy, one-sentence identity declarations are not vision. Neither are cleverly alliterated how-to sermons, iPad giveaways on Easter, Herschel-backpack-wearing pastors with Macklemorian haircuts, or rockin' worship bands. Some of these things aren't even bad things—though some of them definitely are (looking at you, churches with Easter giveaways). Heck, I even have a Macklemorian haircut. What I'm saying is that none of these are what you would call a strong, theological vision. Most of this kind of stuff, if not done in the right spirit or with at least some kind of biblical justification, is just bald pragmatism.

3. Choice meats and good wine vision: This is what happens when you discover God's vision for his people in his book, then set your compass bearing for it with prejudice. Now we're getting into some rich, nourishing feast kind of territory, the kind of table that both draws the hungry and sustains them. And notice what I'm saying: We don't determine vision; we discover it. And you don't discover it, say, in a blog post about it. You discover it in Scripture. Anything else is like digging for fossils in a plastic-bottomed, backyard sandbox. An implication of this, immediately apparent, is that churches don't get to decide, for example, that their primary (be sure to see this word) thing is communitarianism. Or social justice. Or even just getting really big. Why not? Because that's not God's primary thing for the Church. Yes, communitarianism can be the outflow of a biblically discovered vision, as can all the other things I just listed, but it's downstream—and vision is definitionally upstream. God is the visionary, not you.

So get a vision. A theological vision. A biblical vision. Get your doctrinal ducks in a row, complete with footnotes and cross-references and opinions on those really big secondary things (like Calvinism and Continuationism and Complementarianism), then set your compass bearing for it and throw up every sail you've got. The wind may be there or it may not be, but you're not the decisive controller of the wind anyway, the Holy Spirit is (see John 3:1-15). Put out a feast—a choice meat and fine wine and good bread (the bread of life!) kind of feast—and drive people to the table again and again. When they want to wander off into some hardscrabble territory looking for different food, go get them. Bring them back. Whack them with the shepherd's crook if you have to (just kidding, kind of). Get them to the green stuff.

@@ We don’t determine vision—we discover it. Anything else is digging for fossils in a plastic-bottomed sandbox.@@
— Tweet This!

But know this: When you put out a feast, cockroaches will climb out of the walls and scutter out from under the stove. They'll creep out of places you haven't looked in years—and if you can't tell yet, I'm talking about sin. All of the sudden, people will be mad because you don't do fill-in-the-blank ministry anymore. They might not agree with every finer point of your theological vision. Some will leave. They'll lash out. But so long as you've done the work, discovered the vision in the text, and put it in its biblical proportion, keep going. Why? Because you were never supposed to be all that popular anyway. Being disliked is positively good for you, trust me. Do you think sheep always love the hand of the shepherd? Or to come at it from a slightly oblique angle, do children always love the leading of their parents? Ask my kids if you don't have any of your own. They'll tell you all about it.

The rich feast of a strong, theological vision may bring the pests of sin to light, but what a grace that is! Now you can squash them with the steel toed boot of grace instead of suffering them to hide in the walls and chew on the wiring. So set that table, get out your Raid, and feast the flock.