Monday, April 30, 2012

What's a vision?

Our Session has been talking about what the "vision" of our church is; this is a topic we intend to present to the congregation for discussion in the coming weeks. I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on what a vision is, and how it fits into the larger scheme of things.

"Vision" is often misunderstood as a top-level definition of the purpose of a church; the answer to the question "why do we exist?" This is a misunderstanding, because, while vision does speak to this question, it does so in concert and harmony with other different factors. Those other factors are mission, core values, philosophy of ministry, strategy, and tactics.


The mission of the church is the same for every local congregation: in the most basic terms, it is the growth and expansion of the Kingdom of God through the means Christ has given for the proclamation and transforming power of the Gospel: preaching and teaching, sacraments, prayer, discipleship, fellowship, and service.

The mission has its roots in Matthew 28:16-20 (the "Great Commission"), Mark 12:28-31 (the "Great Commandment"), and other key texts such as Acts 1:8, Acts 2:42-45, and Romans 10:11-17. There are many ways to articulate the mission of the church, but they all generally articulate the same thing in one form or another. The mission of the church never changes, because Christ Himself instituted it and gave it to us.

Because mission is so fundamental to the church's existence, it is often mistaken as the vision of a local church as well. But it isn't— rather, it is the foundation upon which the local church might construct its vision (and other aspects of ministry identity).

Core Values

If mission is the foundation upon which a local church is built, then core values are the architecture that give shape, style, and emphasis to the way the church's life and ministry take shape. As long as core values are consistent with the Bible, there's nothing wrong with preferring or valuing one thing over another— in the same way that some may prefer modern architectural styles, while others might like Roman or Neo-Gothic styles better.

Some core values are almost at the same level as mission— in fact, some aspects of mission may be restated in core values. Other core values may seem like they have little or nothing to do with mission, but are nevertheless are important because of what they reflect of the values of the congregation.

While mission never changes, core values can and do change; however, they are the least-flexible aspects of a congregation's identity, and whatever changes take place will ordinarily be incremental, gradual, and subtle.


Now we get to how vision fits into the picture. Where mission is the foundation of a biblical church, and core values form the architecture of it, vision is the structure of the church itself. Put another way, vision is the answer to the question, "What does it look like for this congregation to exercise the mission of the church, in light of its core values and identity?"

Again borrowing from the metaphor of design and construction, vision is made up of the building blocks that compose it. Two houses with the same foundation and even the same design will look very different when one is constructed of wood framing and siding, while the other is built of concrete and adobe. So, too, will two very similar churches look different based on the "materials" they are made of.

The building blocks of a vision are these: theology, personality/temperament, spiritual gifts, demographics, background(s), and context. While some of these overlap with mission and core values (such as theology, and perhaps backgrounds and context), there are still particular ways that they influence vision directly. Likewise, some of them are slightly different in the realm of organizations like a congregation, versus how they manifest in individuals (such as personality and spiritual gifts).

A vision statement will encompass elements of the mission of the church as well as its core values, and will also describe particulars of how each of the building blocks influences the look and feel of a congregation. It may not do so exhaustively for every term or aspect, but that is because it is still more general than it is particular in its articulation. Usually, a vision will be stated in a few sentences— three or less— and will essentially be a very descriptive paragraph.


Once a vision is identified, it is extremely helpful to a congregation for a version to be drafted that is even more summarized. If the leadership can distill the essence of a vision down to a brief sentence (or even less, like a three- or four-word phrase), this can be memorized by every member and can helpfully draw conversations back to the vision of the church. Think of this as the address of the house we've built on the foundation of mission, with the architecture of core values, and the construction of our vision.

Philosophy of Ministry

Taking the vision statement as its basis, a good philosophy of ministry will develop and explain the immediate application of each aspect of the vision of a local church. In this way, the congregation has a clear description of where their collective ministry will focus, how and why they will do what they do, and how they will evaluate new ministry opportunities as useful for the fulfillment of their vision. Philosophy of ministry answers the big-picture question of, "Why do we do what we do?" If vision is the functional construction of our spiritual house, then philosophy of ministry is its intended use— bedrooms, living rooms, kitchen, etc.

Ministry Strategy

The strategies of a church's ministry applies the vision and philosophy of ministry into particular situations and circumstances. It puts feet on the particular aspects articulated in the congregation's philosophy of ministry. It describes the answer to the question, "What will be the ways we will exercise our philosophy of ministry?" The strategy of a church will be the kinds of things that we do to fulfill the intentions described in philosophy of ministry: do we play games, read, or watch TV in the family room? And so forth.


From strategy we move to tactics, which are the day-by-day, week-by-week aspects of hands-on ministry in a church. Tactics is the application of our strategy. If strategy describes what kinds of things we do, tactics defines the particular things themselves: we play these particular types of games; we read this genre of books; etc. It addresses the question, "How does our strategy inform our daily and weekly activities and priorities?"


In summary, you can see how there is a flow of increasingly-particular articulations of our congregational identity, with vision being something at the center. Here's a way to understand this simply:

Vision schema

No comments:

Post a Comment