Getting from here to there

Posted on: November 13th, 2012


“I know what I want my church to look like; I just don’t understand what to do next.”

That’s a pretty common sentiment among pastors and church leaders today.  Much of the confusion comes from misunderstandings about things like vision, strategy, culture and structure. Trying to achieve the success of other churches without understanding the process it requires to get there further aggravates confusion.

I have worn eyeglasses since I was 3 years old and I can’t imagine life without them.  As a matter of fact, there is little I can see at all without my glasses.  My vision has always been described as “farsighted” – I can see things in the distance well, but not up close.  Many people are nearsighted: they can see things clearly up close, but objects in the distance are fuzzy or blurry.

Leaders tend to fall into one of those two categories when it comes to ministry.  Some can see what is right in front of them – today, this week, next month – but beyond that everything is a bit out of focus.  Others have the ability to see years into the future in terms of what needs to be done, but can’t see what the next step is for today, tomorrow or next week.

That is where a carefully executed vision pathway becomes an essential tool for leaders.  It is important to ensure that our leadership culture is spiritually sound, and, emotionally and relationally healthy. Any process for envisioning the future must begin there, as Samuel Chand makes clear in Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code:  “Vision and strategy usually focus on products, services and outcomes, but culture is about the people – the most valuable asset in the organization.”

Clear vision grows more productively in the environment of a healthy culture, and defines what we will become at some point in the future. Here is where we need to understand the difference between the immediate future and long-range future. What we do today, a week from now, a month from now will determine what we become three years from now.  That’s true in every area of our life, be it relationships, diet, exercise, education – you name it.  It is just as critical in the church.

If we are concerned about our physical health (and we should be), we routinely get a physical checkup to assess our current condition. Then we may discover what changes we need to make in the near future that will determine our long-range health.

Church leaders need to assure that as healthy culture is cultivated, accurate assessment is occurring that will enable us to grasp the 3-5 year vision God intends for our unique church at any given point in time.  Then we need to take action: clearly spell out the steps it will take this month, this year and next year to fulfill that vision.

Throughout the process we are cultivating and identifying emerging leaders who need to be mentored to discover what their unique role and giftedness brings to the fulfillment process.  These renewed and emerging leaders will form the core of the church’s future.  They need to be able to see the long-term vision as they plan the next steps that will lead the church forward.

Here is where structure plays a key role, but is often overlooked.  Jesus’ principle of putting new wine in new wineskins (as opposed to old wineskins) is validly applied here.  Just as culture, assessment and vision are best created in a healthy team environment, so will ministry to fulfill the vision emerge best through teams of creative and impassioned people.  New structures, based on flexible teams with healthy leaders and volunteers, need to be created.

Vision and strategy do not serve structure; rather, the systems and structures we create need to be flexible, changeable and clearly focused to carry out the strategies to fulfill the vision.

I currently wear bifocals because both my short and long-range vision requires correction to see all things clearly. And if they are not positioned well on my face, everything becomes blurry.  They have to be ‘balanced’ in the right spot or the result will be a headache and frustration.

Let’s do our best to avoid the headaches and frustration ministry can produce by investing in a pathway that will enable us to see from here to there and act accordingly!

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