By Allen Quist & Tim Robnett
Intimacy—open and transparent intimacy—is the desire of millions of hearts today. Real intimacy is that illusive, indescribable relationship that seems just out of reach, similar to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet our Father God is offering that intimacy with him, an affectionate relationship so deep that it overwhelms every part of us, drawing us deeper into him. This is what we have been laying before you, specifically as it relates to the church and church leadership.
Throughout the book, we have attempted to paint the picture that leadership flows out of a deep, dynamic, dependent love relationship with Jesus Christ. We have described how our relationship with Christ drives our hearing (chapter 5), our love for people (chapter 6), our understanding of his guidance (chapter 7), our understanding the impact of fear on leadership (chapter 8), our ability to help others with their fear (chapter 9), and how we make tough decisions (chapter 10).
All of this is important, yet in an organization such as a church or a parachurch ministry, what we do tomorrow morning when we get up starts with purpose, mission, and vision—and that also comes from God.
There is confusion over what purpose, mission, and vision mean. For example: Two of our favorite authors, Aubrey Malphurs and Bobb Biehl, differ on purpose and mission. Malphurs separates purpose and mission. He says that “purpose answers the question about why we exist, while mission answers the question about what we are supposed to be doing.”1 Biehl considers the purpose statement and the mission statement the same. The mission (purpose) statement answers the question “Why does our team exist?”2 Both authors agree on the initial question, but Malphurs separates mission from purpose. The point is that both men are highly regarded and credible men in the same field, yet both have different uses of words to discuss similar concepts.
There is only one way we know of to deal with confusion within your church leadership. You are going to have to spend the time clarifying and agreeing on words and their definitions. What we should not do is enter into discussion having differing definitions for our words. It would be like a family conversation where the father is commenting on the number of aliens in the city (thinking “people who are not citizens”), and the child is commenting on how he or she would like to meet one (thinking “beings from another planet”).
Unfortunately, the confusion over words and definitions is all too common, and even more unfortunate is that leaders are unaware of the confusion, since most assume that their own words and definitions are common to everyone. The result can be misunderstanding or conflict or both.
In order to minimize confusion in this chapter and to be able to center on implications, we will provide a common basis for discussion by providing our definitions for the terms we use.
We draw from both Malphurs and Biehl for the opening thought— God’s purpose for our church or ministry. The purpose statement answers the question “Why do we exist?” That is a difficult question to answer. It is certainly fraught with theological implications.
If we assume that God created the world primarily to demonstrate his power, then our answer would be in light of that. If we assume that God created it to focus attention on himself, then our answer would be in light of that. If we assume that God created us out of an outpouring of the infinite love within the Trinity, then our answer would be in light of that. If we hold all three assumptions, and possibly more, then our answer to the question “Why do we exist?” would be in light of all our assumptions. A study of the names of God may be a helpful exercise to uncover our assumptions and with that why we exist. The question about purpose is not an easy question to answer, and not one we individually will make quickly. Corporately, it will take even longer, since it involves wrestling over assumptions and implications with many people. Yet it is important.
It is important to write our purpose statement and keep it before our leadership and congregation continuously to prevent a distraction from God’s purpose for us. Leaders (including great leaders) can get so busy doing ministry that they forget why they exist.
Again drawing from Malphurs, and to avoid confusion over words, the mission statement as we use it asks the question “What are we supposed to be doing, or what is our divine, strategic intent?” It will take a great deal of prayerful discussion by leadership before we come to a point of agreement and then write God’s mission statement for our church.
We have read many different mission statements and most draw from the Great Commandment to love God and to love others (Matt. 22:37–40), or the Great Commission to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19–20), or both.
Why is it important to know and often recall God’s purpose and mission for our congregation?
God’s purpose and mission for our congregation is the standard of decision making—including how to spend God’s money and where to focus the time and energy God is giving us. There are two distinct issues we as leaders face continuously.
First, there are so many good ministries to do for God. The problem is that some of those ministries may not be what God wants us to do. They may be good but they may not be God’s best. There will always be competition for our attention.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to separate the good from the best. A member with influence wants to start a ministry, a good ministry that the member has wanted to do for years. Do we as leaders let them do it? It seems like a good ministry, so why not? Because that new ministry may not be what God wants done. It may not fit into God’s purpose and mission for our church. Purpose and mission provide a scale for evaluation more reliable than personal opinions.
Second, living in urgency has become normal for leaders. Yet much of what we call urgent may not be important. In a family, it can be so urgent to watch a particular television program or sporting event that we ignore our children or spouses, who are more important. In a church, we can allow urgent but not necessarily important programming to usurp God’s important ministry of loving and growing people.
It is easy to put off what is important. “I will spend more time with God as soon as I get caught up with my work.” “As soon as I get my promotion and an increase in salary, we will start giving to God.” “I will invite the neighbors over for a meal to get better acquainted as soon as I finish the yard work.” “We will start an evangelism thrust in our church as soon as we can afford to hire someone to lead it.”
It is not always easy to separate the urgent from the important. God’s purpose and mission for our church provides a scale to evaluate what is important. Measuring against God’s purpose and mission is central to making “what is best or important” decisions.
It is difficult to evaluate anything from God’s view, let alone remember God’s purpose and mission when self-interest is clouding our view. Think honestly for a moment about how many decisions we make without consciously considering God’s purpose and mission. Think about how many ministry decisions are made because of concern about things other than God, such as fear of what people would say. It is a normal, real struggle—a struggle godly people have. Naturally, pride wants people to pretend the struggle does not exist.
Just knowing God’s purpose and mission for our church is not enough. Purpose and mission must be the standard of all ministry evaluation. Leadership must remain constantly vigilant, guarding against making decisions based on anything other than God’s purpose and mission.
Vision is an extremely difficult word to put into a concise definition, or to ask with a simple question, but let us try with this question, “What is the clear, unique, and inspiring word picture of the ministry God intends for you for a period of time, which will be consistent with his purpose and mission?” To develop this definition, we are providing what we believe are the key ingredients of a vision.
1. A Vision Comes from God
In the New Testament, the word “vision” is used for some form of communication from God, such as when God told Ananias through a vision to go pray for Saul (Acts 9:10–12). There was also the time that Cornelius had a vision when an angel of God visited him (Acts 10:3). Then there was Peter’s vision in Joppa (Acts 11:5). In the New Testament visions, they came from God and he told someone to do something.
Today believers say things like, “I believe God has given me a vision for the lost, or to go to a particular country.” Other people have been reading the Bible and sensed God was leading them to do whatever it was they were reading. In many ways, when a Christian reads the Bible and gets a real sense from God that he or she should stop doing something that is wrong, or start doing something for God, that person is receiving a vision from God. It might not be as dramatic as Peter’s vision, but it is just as much a specific directive from God. A major tenant of the Christian faith is that God communicates to us through his Word. Although it may not be a dream, an angel, or a voice, it is still God communicating with us.
The beautiful thing about vision is that we can check a vision against Scripture to see if it in any way disagrees with what it says. The implication is that the vision we or our church follows ought to be the one that God has given.
2. A Vision Is Uniquely Ours (Church, Ministry, or Individual)
In each of the visions written in Acts, the vision was unique for one person or a group of people. It was unique to Ananias, Cornelius, and Peter. It was unique to Paul, Luke, Silas, and Timothy when the Spirit called them to Macedonia and prevented them from going to Bithynia. Paul had been the one to see the vision, but it was uniquely meant for all of them to do one thing and not to do another thing. That does not mean that other people or groups might not be called to Macedonia, but it does mean that on that day and place, the call was uniquely for them.
There are two implications about how our church chooses ministry direction. In her book When the Soul Listens, Jan Johnson quotes pastor and author Peter Lord:
When God has blessed others by using certain methods, we sometimes presume that we should use those same methods. We don’t realize that God blessed that way for others because that’s the way he ordered them to do things. Nowhere is this more common than in church programs. One church prays and receives an answer—a specific method of carrying out a certain order of God. They are richly blessed because God blesses what God orders. Then another church, seeing this blessing, copies the program—because they believe God is blessing the program itself. They fail to realize that what he is really blessing is obedience. And they never stop to ask him, “Father, what do you want us to do?”
Please do not shortcut the time of prayer, study, and discussion and simply settle for what some other church has done (unless you have been given the same vision after your time of prayer, study, and discussion).
The second implication is that we as individuals or our team will be hearing from God from time-to-time about what it is he wants us to do or stop doing, as the case may be. We state that last sentence emphatically. We both believe that a significant reason many churches flourish is because they stay sensitive to God’s dynamic and unique leading.
3. A Vision Needs to Be Clear and Provide Direction
In each case where vision is mentioned in Acts, the vision became clear to the recipient, and God provided specific direction. The examples in Acts reflect the time following Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had begun his new work.
Since that time and throughout the centuries, God has been providing vision to his saints, leading them with clear and specific direction. God was leading Paul as he traveled throughout Asia and Europe. God has been providing missionaries with the vision to go to all parts of the world to share the good news. Most of us who are reading this book are in leadership roles because God gave us the vision to do it.
As we write our vision statement, be sure that it is clear, that it is easily understood, that it uses words that are not ambiguous or jargon. The goal is not a statement that is clever or alliterates well. The goal is clarity.
Also, as you write your vision statement, be sure that it provides words that give direction to your church, not just words that are clichés or high-sounding intentions.
4. A Vision Will Provide Energy and Be Inspiring
I (Allen) can testify that nothing gets me as fired up, energetic, and inspired as stepping into something that God has given my wife and me a vision for. Mary and I left our careers and stepped into trusting God day-to-day for not only our cash flow, but also what he has had us to do. Mary and I decided that we were not going to force ourselves into (or even accept) a specific ministry if God did not give us the vision for it.
Since that time, it has been one thing after another. We had the vision that God wanted us to attend seminary, which we did. We believed God wanted us to move back to Olympia to start a planned giving program in a church, to help a number of churches with budgeting and other financial management issues, and to help my father in the last months of his life, all of which we did. All the rest of the ministries in which Mary and I are involved, including this book, are ministries we did not come up with on our own, though they are consistent with our dreams.
I mention dreams. As a side note, I believe that most Christians today are afraid of dreams. I do not mean the dreams you have when you sleep, though I do not discount them. When I say dreams, I mean what it is that you enjoy so much that you would choose it if the choice were left totally up to you. Tim and I believe that God’s vision for us is something we would choose, if we had all of God’s information and perception. We have had the privilege of living out the dreams God has given us. And many of us have the same testimony. Hasn’t it been inspiring?
5. A Vision Is for a Season (Project, Day, Month, Year, Decade, or Many Decades)
The shortest vision I (Allen) ever had was the vision to help two men intending to do evangelism and education in Africa. They needed someone to come along side to help them put together a business plan so their organization could be approved for a 501(c)3 nonprofit status. That one only lasted about a month. But God’s vision for them in Africa will likely last for decades.
6. A Vision Is Important (Prevents Distraction by Unimportant Things)
Like purpose and mission, vision acts as a standard to measure choices of things to do with money and time. There will always be competition for the money and time that God entrusts to us.
If God has given our church the vision to reach the students of a nearby university, then God will be expecting us to put a great deal of the church budget and ministry time of the congregation and leaders into reaching those students. If another ministry opportunity comes along, one that God has not placed on the heart of our church, and we remember the vision God gave us for this current season, we will have no difficulty saying no.
In Joshua 1, God gave Joshua a great short-term vision—defeat Jericho. The Lord reminded Joshua that he was about to give them this land and stirred them to get ready to receive his gift. God described even the specifics of what it was they would be receiving and how nobody could stand against them. God reminded Israel that he would be with them all the way. What inspiring words to get them energized. Then God told them he was going to amaze them and would bring Joshua glory—another word picture to inspire them.
After they crossed the Jordan, God provided more of the vision. God was going to give Jericho into Israel’s hands, including the king and all the warriors. Would we not like to know in advance that God was going to give us victory in the battle we were about to fight for him? Would that not inspire us?
There are some interesting observations to make about the vision of defeating Jericho.
First, God did not reveal the specific Jericho vision until it was time to act on it. And then he revealed only a piece of the vision at a time. It would seem that God does not need to keep his children informed far in advance of what he intends for us. We might conclude that he intends to keep us a little bit in the dark. We could draw the implication that God wants his children to trust him and to live with faith on a day-to-day basis. Our pastor, Matt Hannan, compared Joshua’s taking the Promised Land with the development of the Christian life, a life filled with surprising adventures (vision).
The second observation about the vision of taking Jericho is the difficulty or even impossibility of the vision. Jericho was a seemingly impenetrable fortress. Surely, there was an easier first city. This cannot be what God wanted. Wait until we get to chapter 13 when we address the unbelievable plan God gave Joshua on how to defeat Jericho. But for now, the vision of defeating Jericho is overwhelming enough.
I (Allen) recently returned from teaching in a church in a small city in Ukraine. This church has been receiving aid from churches in other countries. I asked the pastor what he would say if God was to give him the vision that within five years that church would no longer need any outside support and in fact would be supporting its own missionary in another city in Ukraine. The pastor said, “Wow! That would be a Jericho to us.”
Why should leaders today not embrace Jericho visions? I wonder how often God intends for his churches to have a Jericho vision, but it never happens because leaders keep the right to make the final decision because fear rules in their hearts (review chapter 8).
What is it that drives church leaders to recoil when facing a Jericho vision? It could be any number of causes.
Fear is a paralyzing emotion. Lack of trust in God limits our view of our true resources. Lack of support from other members of the congregation isolates us at the time we need interdependence. Conflict in the congregation destroys our motivation to go the extra mile. Modern rationalism erodes the faith needed to step forward into a greater vision.
We might fail with a Jericho vision, but, perhaps, it would be worth it.
What are we doing in our church? Are we in a safe church, safe because we are never stretched to a Jericho vision?
It may be time for us leaders to have some scary yet honest discussions about why our church exists. We may need to get into Scripture and into serious prayer and discover God’s purpose and mission again. We may need to take a hard look at the needs of our community, both physical and spiritual, and embrace a Jericho vision.
I have heard it said that all churches have a Jericho, something challenging, even scary, that God has placed on the hearts of the leaders. If we already know what our Jericho is, the only question that remains is what will we do about it?
The common thread through this chapter and the entire book is the leader’s dependent, love relationship with Jesus Christ at the center of leadership and the recognition of Christ’s sovereignty in all matters of his church and our individual lives. Leading the church in the light of God’s purpose, mission, and his vision for our church is no different. Leadership’s obedience to the purpose, mission, and vision is to flow out of that love relationship, an intimacy with Christ that grows from a daily walk with him.
The vision and the plan are two sides of the same coin. (The coin is the community of people in a dynamic relationship with Christ.) We addressed the vision in this chapter. The plan, which we will cover in chapter 13, asks, “What are the specific measurable steps needed near-term to accomplish his vision within the context of God’s purpose and mission through and in us?”