The “catch” of course, is how we get this vision from God. There are innumerable opinions on the subject as well as innumerable processes, some of which are almost unbearably complicated.
Should a ministry expect God to download a perfect vision into the heart of its leader? Should a group of leaders expect God to convey the same vision to each of them, simultaneously?
Is the very idea of receiving a vision from God theologically suspect? Should a group settle for a “cut and pasted” vision that is merely the personal passions of the group’s strongest leaders, jerry-rigged together?
I am convinced that God has His dreams for our ministries, just as He has for us as individuals, and that He is willing to download them to us, at least in a “fuzzy” form.
God knew the plans He had (and has) for His covenant people, Israel (Jeremiah 29:11) and He has perfect plans for individuals (Romans 12:2) which we are able to discover as we walk into them. We don’t see them clearly in advance, but when we get there we say, “Yes! Here it is. This is God’s will for me!”
God doesn’t tell us everything we’d like Him to tell us, but He tells us enough so that we can do His will today and fulfill His plan tomorrow.
It has dawned on me that vision and values are entwined. If we know a group’s actual, core values, we can project them out into the future and see the group’s vision, it’s dream for a better ministry. If a church values theological learning, its dream will be that of a church where theological learning is happening to an extraordinary degree: a miniature seminary on the church’s campus.
If, on the other hand, we already know a group’s dream for its future, we can project it backwards and discern its values. If we know that a church wants to be filled with thousands who have come to Christ through its ministry, we can project that backwards and see that it values evangelism.
So here’s what we did in a ministry I was leading several years ago. First of all, we prayed a lot, for a long time, before we did anything else.
Second, I prayerfully wrote down what I believe the church’s actual, core values to be, adding in a couple of aspirational values which I hear often. We didn’t do a values inventory, because my observation is that good people, filling out these surveys, always represent the values they know they should have as being their actual values. They’re not being dishonest, they’re just being human.
I shared these “observed values” with the church’s leaders and they agreed with me.
Next, following the counsel of my coach, Tom Burris, we had the leaders take the PETS (Pastoral Expectations, Tasks and Skills) survey, which measures what a church wants in its next senior pastor. The theory was that the survey would show us our church’s values, and it did. Again, there was no arguing with the results.
Working together on a big whiteboard, we projected the “observed values” and the PETS-discerned values into the future and discovered that we had an exciting, compelling, Biblical, heartfelt vision of what we believe God wants our church to become.
Is it perfect? Probably not. Will it need to be tweaked and refined as time goes by? Certainly. But it gives us a great place to start and a wonderful dream to pursue.