You need some sense of where you’re going long term—that could be supporting missionaries, it could be sending people to pastor elsewhere, it could be planting churches or sites, it could be growing until you’re of a size to do a particular thing (though I’m wary of this last one, because growth soon becomes its own goal; growth is only good when in service of other goals). These are all valid, other things will be too, and they are a unique vision in the sense that not every church will do the same things with their limited resources.
It’s common these days to expect a church to have a specific vision, often expressed in a pithy statement about what they will or won’t be seeking to do in their location. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a mission statement—which sometimes is the same thing, but at least in business speak isn’t—though these are more common in churches that drew on a slightly older stream of business insights.
Is this a good idea? I’ve gone on record as thinking that lots of churches in the spaces I move in have missed what the church is for, and think this can be symptom of the same thing.
However, we should distinguish carefully because there is, I think, a good and a bad way to do this.
My late friend Zoltán Dörnyei was a Professor of Psycholinguistics who later in his life completed a PhD in Theology. One of his interests was the place of vision in the Christian life, due to his work on the importance of ‘mental imagery’ in acquiring a second language.
The scriptures tell us that without vision the people perish (Proverbs 29). In order to go anywhere and do anything, you need vision. In other words, to do something you have to first visualise it. Zoltan would teach that you needed to both appreciate the benefits of the thing you are considering and consider the costs of failure.
In church life, if the body is going to do anything—and we mean here acts as diverse as witness to their friends, move to a new venue, give their money, volunteer their time, support a project helping the poor, make friends who aren’t like them, and many more—then the elders of the church will need to articulate a ‘vision’ of why this is worthwhile as well as the potential costs of failing.
This isn’t business speak, it’s clarity and ‘leadership’. It’s also not anything super-fancy, for all you can be better or worse in how you go about it. By vision we mean simply painting a picture with words so that people understand why they might choose to take some concrete actions.
We can’t function without this, for all it can easily stray into manipulation—which is true of much of what we call leadership—where you make the vision sound compelling so that people are more likely to take those actions. That’s a tempting thing for a pastor to do, but honesty is integral for Christian leaders in these matters.