Living Out the Borrowed Vision

visionHow does your congregation decide what to do? If it’s a sizeable gathering, you probably don’t know the answer to that question. Somewhere along the way, someone (possibly the pastor) stood up front during worship and announced a new program. From that point on, you were clued in.

You didn’t have a part in the decision-making process, so you weren’t invested in the project. If the ensuing announcements, sermons, and promotions were appealing to you, you bought in—maybe. Even then, your big participation might have been to tell others, “Our church is doing this.” Quite often, that was the extent of your involvement.

I’m not accusing your or your church group of this kind of action (or inaction). But the sad state of affairs in today’s Body of Christ often leads to such a process. Consequently, many Christians become spectators rather than players. The larger the congregation, the more prevalent this route becomes. Eventually, it develops into ministerial paralysis for much of the laity.

vision-ahead-signUpon recognizing this downward slide, what often happens next is just as bad. When people realize they are being left behind in the mission of the church, they begin to search for things they can buy into. They see what another congregation down the street is doing and they want to do the same thing.

Borrowing the Vision

While that’s not all bad, it’s certainly not all good either. Just because the Christians across town are successful with a certain ministry, it doesn’t mean it’s your calling as well. Still, it’s pretty tempting to borrow someone else’s vision.

Borrowing the vision gets even worse when it becomes the standard operating procedure of the congregation. If we get lazy enough, we don’t even bother to explore the possibilities of ministry. We just look to another church’s program and say, “We can do that, too!”

The fact of the matter is every local expression of the Body of Christ should have its own vision. The Lord hasn’t run out of new things for us to do. The Apostle Paul once said, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared for us in advance for us to do.” Do you think he’s created some good works for his church to do in your neighborhood? My guess is, “Yes.”

The other side to that is we have been created in his image. Among other things, this undoubtedly means we have an element of creativity within us. Our God is creative–we are as well. We should attempt to discern his will for us in this area.

Grappling with the Vision

Sometimes we think visions are things that are quickly visited upon us. However, casting and living out a vision is the work of a congregation. The vision is something through which leadership and laity journey together. As we grapple with what the Lord has in mind for us, we learn to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. It’s not always easy, but it’s the way to go.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

One thought on “Living Out the Borrowed Vision”

  1. Ah, vision casting…. Pastor Dave, let me tell you why I’m not so hot on that one. Unfortunately, it’ll be a bit long.

    Let me start by saying that I believe that I believe most church leaders to be well-intended when they choose a vision for their congregation. If it were simply a matter of helping congregants keep their focus on Christ, I’d have no problem with vision casting. But, vision casting often isn’t actually about focusing on Christ, but rather focusing on and doing a human-created program or set of behaviors. Because the focus is on something concrete, logical, and — I dare say — largely secular in ideology and practice, often derived from a business model anymore — rather than the focus being on Christ, it would seem to me that any congregation could easily run into problems by casting such a vision.

    I have observed casting such a human vision to have a tendency to lead to an imbalanced use of the Scriptures: heavy emphasis on some specialty ministries, while downplaying or ignoring other portions of Scripture. When this happens, it is problematic — especially for congregants who object to the imbalanced handling of the Scriptures.

    But, Pastor Dave, please keep in mind: I’m coming from a background in which folks who did not honor the vision were essentially shunned in the congregation; denied ministry opportunities, on account of their disagreement; and gossiped about and vilified as being apostate for not buying into the church vision. So, I have sadly seen how this stuff can become ugly — when a church vision trumps Scripture.

    I believe that there is a biblical vision: Christ, and following Him, based on the Scriptures, as the Lord leads us to minister in the priesthood of believers.

    When we adopt a trendy vision, I suspect that that that probably tends to bring division in a congregation. Why? Because God created us with different gifts and personalities. Casting a vision means expecting members to follow a human program or human behaviors that benefit those whose personalities, gifts, etc. naturally thrive under such a program / set of behaviors. Meanwhile, the vision ends up ostracizing and discouraging those whose gifts and personalities do not fit with the new vision / program / expected behaviors. Hence the division — through unwittingly showing favoritism to those who fit the new vision, vs. those who don’t.

    With all due respect, I believe that God did not intend for His Church to operate this way.

    This past summer, as I was doing research on my college church’s denomination — they tend to plant congregations and recruit college kids — I discovered some rather disturbing finds. If my information is correct, then it would seem that vision casting may be at the heart of the abuse, control, pyramidal leadership and MLM-style shallow relationships characteristic of the denomination. In one document — if it is truly a legitimate internal document — they quoted Mike Breen’s / 3DM’s “Building a Discipling Culture” a few times. A few folks have blogged warnings on Breen, The Order of Mission (TOM), Three Dimension Ministries (3DM), and their LifeShapes / Huddles model. I’ve read part of the book, but I’ll grant you that I haven’t finished it yet. Why do I bring up this stuff? Because Breen and 3DM have been actively selling their LifeShapes model as a vison-casting program — by selling, I believe they want money for it — and there is some allegation that 3DM has then used the program to lobotomize / cannibalize some congregations — as in, override / take over the leadership of some congregations. It has been said that they will do this in a subtle manner, without telling the laity until after the leadership has already been implementing the LifeShapes / Huddles model. Folks can read up on this on Keith Schooley’s dissent review of “Building a Discipling Culture”, as well as on other warnings / online documentation on problems with 3DM, if they want. I’ve looked in to some of the other warnings and have so far found there to be evidence supportive of the warnings, although I will grant you that my research is incomplete at this time.

    At any rate, my point in all this: vision casting can have biblical origins but can lead to adoption of aberrant teachings and practices that can harm the body of Christ. Can vision casting have more beneficial effects than harmful? Maybe. I actually don’t know any such vision that has stuck and not caused harm, to be honest. (The harm done can be relatively mild and go unnoticed by leadership. And often when leadership doesn’t stick to the vision, the congregants end up ditching the program after a while, anyway — particularly the ones who were annoyed by it to begin with.)

    Another resource that might be worth considering: Chris Rosebrough — a Missouri Synod Lutheran brother, I think, and that’s not to say that I agree with him 100%, because I probably don’t — has had a few things to say about vision casting. At least, I think he’s the author of the “Letter of Marque” blog. At any rate, for further consideration on the pitfalls of vision casting, at Letter of Marque is a post called “Is Vision Casting Biblical?”. I think the speakers bring up some points worth considering.

    Bottom line? I believe that there’s nothing wrong with vision casting, so long as the vision is Christ, and that we’re seeking to honor the full counsel of God (the whole Bible, rather than cherry-picked verses). I do believe that any time we focus on other stuff, while it may seem to provide short-term gains, I am concerned that the longer-term problems might not be worth it.

    Just my $0.02, anyway. ; )

    Good topic! Glad you touched on this! = )

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