On my bookshelf are at least a dozen church books on vision. Written by some of the outstanding authors in church-related publishing today, each of them describes a “vision” for the church — build your church by small groups, become a church of influence, raise your church’s standards, grow from the inside out, focus outwardly, and so on. Plus, I have a bunch of books on leadership, and most of those talk about the leader’s responsibility to cast the vision. But for the small church, vision is an overblown concept as it is presented today. Here’s why I have come to this conclusion:
- Vision can replace mission as the focus of the church. God’s people are people on mission. While there may be a vision of a desired result ahead, like getting to the Promised Land, mission is the on-going, day-to-day focus of the community of faith.
- Vision often is the product of one person’s thinking — the pastor. I attended a seminar recently, and the presenter said, “A function of pastoral leadership is vision.” I would tweak that statement by saying that the pastor creates the atmosphere in which the vision of God can emerge, but there are not many voices out there in support of God’s vision for the church coming from God’s people.
- Vision is an ego-feeder. The bigger the vision, the greater the pastor. From time to time, I have been afflicted with what I call the “Moses Syndrome.” Symptoms of the Moses Syndrome are: thinking that God only speaks to me, that no one is tuned into God’s plan for the church but me, and that no one gets it but me. Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, which is the reversal of the Moses Syndrome.
- Vision often does not connect to the church’s shared memory and history. In my experience, my vision for the church has usually been “let’s change it, fix it, get past it, or remodel it.” But our strongest and most common practice, communion, is a call to remember the work of God in the past, present, and future. The future of God is connected to the work of God among His people in all their history.
- Vision is usually about how a church can be bigger, not better. I haven’t seen much vision-casting about how a church can be more faithful or authentic. The emerging church conversation is an attempt to address the issues of authenticity and faithfulness, in my opinion. Bigger isn’t bad, but it isn’t the only vision option out there either.
Okay, so I’m vision-bashing a little bit here. But I’m also learning that the small church has a story, a history, a shared memory, and that the future of God is among the people of God. Does this mean we just all drift along like leaves in a stream? No, but it does mean that we are constantly in conversation within the community of faith about what God is doing, where God is taking us, and how we are participating in the mission of God. And that conversation is not a monologue.