Recently, I was at a small social gathering and engaged in some good discussion with a most delightful couple. Now they are members of a very popular megachurch here in Dallas and the husband had just attended the men’s conference that this church hosts annually. As he recalled the highlights of this conference, he spoke most insistently of the importance of having a vision – a vision for ministry, a vision for home and family, a vision for calling, and the need to engage his wife in the vision. This seemed to be the theme of instruction for this conference.
This is nothing new. I have heard it before. Vision is a highly touted concept that is common in most evangelical, megachurch type circles, especially those with Charismatic leanings. Basically, it is about having insight into how your gifts and callings will play out in life. It is having a divinely inspired picture of your life painted for you so that you will know your direction and how to proceed. It is knowing how God will use you as an individual and corporately as a ministry. In fact, if you go to many non-denominational church web-sites, especially Charismatic based ones, the idea of vision is typically embedded in both the mission statement and specific ministry endeavors.
I think this is an interesting concept and one that preaches quite well. It makes sense, I think, that for whatever God has given us, then he would give us direction of how that will be played out. I do not have an issue with vision per se. But I do get concerned when highly popularized terms become buzzwords for establishing our Christian mission. I get concerned when mass appeal leaps onto concepts that may sound really dynamic but may not be loosely rooted in a Scriptural mandate for Christian living and God’s desires for us concerning kingdom pursuits. I personally think that vision has taken a life of its own as it ridden the wave of mass appeal in the same way that purpose and destiny became popularized with Rick Warren’s A Purpose Driven Life. The concepts, I think, begin to overshadow and can even substitute for a Scriptural prescription for direction for life’s activities and more importantly, how we carry out the missions in our local assemblies.
Now I am not saying that vision is insignificant and that we should just toss the whole idea out. I believe that leadership of churches structure their specific mission on the direction of a church based on a particular vision. I’m sure vision played in some way into the development of the Credo House, which has now come to fruition. I am reminded of a former church that was founded on the vision of a multi-cultural congregation in the midst of historically segregated ones and that vision has actualized as the ministry has grown. My own church indeed has a page devoted to a vision statement, which essentially describes the churches’ mission.
So while I do agree in part of the concept of vision, I think there is also a problem with the hyper-utilization of concept. I also have some difficulty reconciling its current and popular usage as applicable to individuals as well as churches, with the foundation for Christian living in context of the complete witness of Scripture. Moreover, I find formulation for mandating the need for vision built on a somewhat troubling grounds, as follows:
Problem #1: Troubled Hermeneutics
Some have built the concept of vision around Old Testament concepts and Scriptural formulation. Prophets continually were given a vision by God for direction for His people. Predominantly, passages such as Habakkuk 2:2-3, are promoted as giving credence to the Lord providing visions to us so that we will make record of it and move towards that goal. This demonstrates that God wants for His people to have a vision and be able to move into that direction. Another verse commonly used to support the idea of vision is Proverbs 29:18. Promoters of the vision concept have pointed to this particular passage indicating that we would be lost without a vision and therefore, having an idea of what picture God would paint for our lives becomes necessary.
The problem is that the vision that God gave to prophets has no meaningful basis for the New Testament Christian nor does it relate in anyway to how we should proceed with a kingdom agenda in the church age. The visions that were given to prophets were part and parcel of how God related to His people and revealed Himself to them. Consider Hebrews 1:1, that God spoke through prophets and in various ways. This is how God made Himself known authoritatively and the desires that He had for His people Israel, as a redeemed nation. This is equally applicable to the passage in Proverbs. The vision really means revelation and refers to God’s revelatory word such as we now have through the 66 books of inspired texts. So the passage is really saying where there is no word of the Lord present, the people cast off restraints. It would be the same as saying in the present day context, where there are no Bibles or Biblical instruction, the people cast off restraints. So the vision spoken about in the Old Testament was synonymous with God’s authoritative word concerning His people and is not synonymous with God painting a picture so they would know which direction to run their everyday lives.
Problem #2: New Testament Inconsistency
When God made Himself known through His son, Jesus Christ, He introduced a new way of how His people would relate to Him through the internal working of the Spirit bearing the presence of God and the testimony of Christ within each believer. Previous to Christ, the mechanics of divine relationship of God with His people was centripetal in that the nation of Israel would draw focus on God. The mechanics were changed under the new covenant reversing the movement to centrifugal action, consummated in these words from Jesus to His disciples “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)
This became the church’s mission. Not just to go out and gather people for the sake of adding numbers but to make disciples, which are followers and learners of Christ. The church comprising the body of believers, now becomes the means by which discipleship is accomplished. The mystery of Christ, previously hidden, is now revealed through His faithful apostolic and prophetic witnesses (Ephesians 3:5) who provide the foundation by which this revelation is conveyed to a lost and dying world (Ephesians 2:19-22). The body of Christ, comprises many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) and each member contributes significantly to the growth of the body, as Christ is formed and reflected, and the body is built up in love, building on the apostolic and prophetic foundation. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Because it is one body but many members, so each believer is to utilize His gift for the work of ministry, as I Peter 4:10 indicates ‘as each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. I love what that says, utilizing our gifts in harmony not only serves one another, but essentially becomes a marker of the grace provided to us. That’s why I think its pretty significant for each believer to be cognizant of how they are gifted and how they will contribute to carrying the missio Dei, as prescribed in Matthew 28:19. That, I believe and see in Scripture, is the New Testament prescription for carrying out God’s kingdom agenda.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that God’s picture of how His plan unfolds is carried out through the body of Christ that utilize their gifting effectively for the work of the kingdom. Our contribution to this work is centered around gifts not vision. I also have reason to believe that since gifting is provided to us through the Spirit’s workings, it is quite possible that the gifting can shift as God deems necessary. After all, it is His plan that is unfolding, not ours, as he brings all together according to the council of His will (Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11).
I further am convinced that since it is His plan and not ours, that He can orchestrate events as He sees fit. Therefore, while we can have a picture about how our life will square out, even according to the gifting, I believe God can disrupt our plans and appropriate our gifting towards scenarios we may not even have envisioned. I am reminded of James words in his epistle,
Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ (James 4:13-15)
In conclusion, the problem with vision is not that we should not have it but that we keep it in its proper perspective. For it is not the vision that is to be promoted but Christ, as Paul identifies in Colossians 1:28. And everything given to the body of believers, individually and corporately, is to serve that purpose, as His body grows up in Him, contributing to each other needs, so that we accomplish the very work initiated under the New Covenant, to reconcile God’s creation with Himself. To be sure, our local assemblies will address this mission in varied ways in context of the communities and their specific needs. This will take a certain foresight and program design. But care should be taken so that the lines of vision don’t get blurred with the church’s actual mission, lest vision become more important than Christ and instruction be consumed with vision instead of Christian doctrine. That would be a huge problem.