Does Your Church Have a Vision?

As evidence mounts that the organized formal church is faltering (here are just two recent examples) it made us wonder if perhaps failing church leadership has anything to do with it. But rather than bemoan a lack of leadership, perhaps it is more instructive to look toward visionaries, rather than leaders. So we went to our church archives to dig up this sermon, delivered in 1995 by Johann Christoph Arnold. It was partly inspired by Arnold’s reading of George Barna’s classic The Power of Vision. Read it, and find challenge – and encouragement. (Edited for clarity and length.)

In Proverbs we read, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” This is crucial for a church. We need to have a vision of what God wants for our church and of what God wants for our individual lives. We need to have a clear understanding of where we are headed. One of our main problems is that we don’t really care where we are headed. We need to have a clear understanding of the way to which we have committed ourselves, otherwise our journey on this earth will be severely limited.

man looking out toward mountainsTo be a true pastor one needs to be a visionary. When God chooses leaders in the church, and if they respond and are faithful to God’s call, they are always effective, regardless of their lack of worldly qualifications. The first disciples were not educated; they were fishermen.

When God’s vision enters into a person’s life, it brings change. God’s vision never defends the status quo. A visionary will always have enemies, as Jesus himself told us and as was witnessed in his life and with his death. If we have no enemies, it can only mean one thing: that we are not listening to God and not obeying his will for our life.

Vision is about stretching reality to extend beyond the existing state of affairs. Vision is always needed for a church to remain alive. In a declining church the people pine after the good old days when everything went well, instead of looking to the future and seeing what needs to be changed. We need to ask ourselves what changes are needed to make our life more creative, to make it more exciting and alive. A church needs visionaries in order to remain alive. We should never be satisfied, because God is a creator, and he always wants to create something new.

It can be quite exciting to think that we weak and feeble human beings can be used by God. But it means constant, never-ending struggle. A living church will go through crises, trials, and testing – again and again. These things will always come, and they are a gift from God. Times of continued testing and pruning are essential for God’s vision. We must hold firmly to the vision and point each other to the redeeming aspect of God’s judgment.

We can never be satisfied, then, because God is the creator who always wants to change what is old and stale and create something fresh and new and alive. True visionaries concentrate on the future. The only hope for any church is to focus on God alone and to be very active in bringing God’s love in new living ways.

So vision for the church is the reflection of what God wants to accomplish to build up his kingdom. Spirit-filled leaders – like Stephen, Paul, David, Moses, or Nehemiah – are essential. Those who actively seek to fulfill God’s vision for their lives are crucial; every church needs members who have a burning desire to see God’s will done to the fullest. We should ask ourselves: do we have the desire for God’s will to be fulfilled to the fullest?

A vision from God always outlasts the visionary. Meister Eckhart, a German mystic of the thirteenth century, said that the earlier a person seeks the will of God – that is, God’s vision – and asks for strength to do it, the more productive his life will be. In Revelation we read, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for their works follow after them.” May that be true for each one of us, that we may die in the Lord, and that our works may follow after us.