Yesterday afternoon, a group of pastors and church leaders gathered in my church and discussed the purpose of a long-range strategic plan/vision statement for our denomination. Now, we did not discuss the specifics of this plan per se, but rather we discussed the necessity and reasons behind such a vision. Most times, when we think about this sort of long-range planning, we think of the vision statement as a looking glass. It is a way of seeing the future that we envision (or that we think God has envisioned) for the church or organization. We look at it in the same way that we often view Biblical prophecy. It is a statement that speaks of a future reality that we are destined to live into. We “discern the Spirit” like an oracle as she/he gazes into the looking glass, awaiting spiritual clairvoyance. Then we put pen to paper as the ideas flow and when all is said and done we have this nice, concise statement of the future reality that is ours for the taking. Sure we’ll have to work hard for it. We’ll have to remain very committed to living it out. But it is something chosen for us from on high, so we MUST follow it…right? That’s how it works, isn’t it?
What if that’s not at all how it works?
What if a vision is more like a monocle? It doesn’t give us a glimpse into the future, but rather helps us see the present better. And maybe even helps us see where we are going more clearly. For a church or denomination, maybe a vision simply helps us see more clearly what God is already doing rather than pointing us toward a specific future. Maybe that same vision will help us see God at work in our churches and denomination more clearly in the future as well. Maybe that is what it is truly for. Maybe it is less about strategic planning and more about opening our eyes.
If that is not what it is about, then maybe it should be.
Making a vision that somehow defines our future for us seems more like an attempt to put the Holy Spirit in a box. It confines God’s work to a set of principles and goals. But a vision that opens our eyes to see what the Spirit is doing seems far more helpful. The problem with this version is that it also opens us up to the unexpected, just like in the story of Peter and Cornelius. The Spirit works in the margins and when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s work, it means opening ourselves to the world that exists in the margins. That is perhaps not the “happy” vision that many people and organizations desire. But it IS God’s desire. And isn’t that what this whole ministry thing is about?