What part does a God-given vision play in the trajectory of our individual lives and our churches? Let me underscore God-given vision. I am not talking about a man-made creativity, but a Holy Spirit implanted vision.
I would suggest it has much to do with the health of a church and the missional impact the church has in its community and the world. The teaching of Prov. 29:18 is hard to escape. The old King James Version says, “Without vision, the people perish.” Newer translations suggest that without a vision, the people run wild! I would contend that churches who lose their missional vision run wild! These “vision-less” churches tend to focus on the unimportant and spend far too much time fussin’ and fightin’, which destroys the testimony of the church and results in empty pews and powerless pulpits.
One of the great leaders in Scripture was Nehemiah. I have studied the book describing his leadership approach of leading a ragtag, defeated and downcast bunch of Jews to face strong opposition and obstacles to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem to the glory and praise of their God.
Essential to Nehemiah’s accomplishment was a clear vision for the task given to him by God.
If you were to take time to read the first few chapters of Nehemiah, you would see immediately the part that vision plays. Frankly, Nehemiah saw what others could not see. The Jews had been content walking over the rubble of broken down walls, and they had grown accustomed to the ridicule and invasions by their enemies.
As I travel across Oklahoma, I see pastors and churches living in defeat and discouragement. They fail to see the potential for Kingdom impact when they look at their church and their community. The church has become accustomed to empty pews, empty aisles, and empty baptisteries. For too long, they have walked over the rubble until the rubble has become common place. Blinded by today’s conditions, these struggling churches cannot envision what tomorrow could be under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Too many churches live in the past, dreaming of the long-gone glory days instead of dreaming a new dream for the current situation. The conversations center on phrases like “we used to fill this place,” or “our church used to run over…,” or “it just isn’t like it used to be.” In some cases, the community has changed, but the church isn’t dreaming of how to reach the new people who have moved to the neighborhood. Some church members quit sharing the Gospel because they mistakenly believe that “everybody in our town has already heard the Gospel.” Rather than envisioning the church full of people and full of Spirit-filled vitality, many churches long for the good old days.
Nehemiah did not ignore the rubble. In fact, he took a midnight ride through the rubble to survey the real condition of the city walls. What he found broke his heart, but not his spirit. Vision does not ignore the reality of the rubble, but sees beyond it. A leader of vision does not look at things merely as they are, but sees with the eyes of faith the way they can be. Nehemiah looked far beyond the rubble and saw new walls around the city that would protect the people and give glory to God.
When you see your church declining or plateaued, it is time to take a midnight ride around the church and the community to assess the damage. It is then time to fall on your knees in repentance for blindness and seek God for a vision to see the church He wants in your community. Then, you must arise and walk by faith.
The difference between a missional church and a dying church is vision! Vision comes from leaders who look with eyes of faith and are willing to see what others do not see. It’s time for many pastors and lay leaders to take a midnight ride only to return and envision what can be by the power of God. Which do you want for your church—a rubble pile or a wall? As for me and my house, I want a God-given vision of a new wall. Arise!