One bizarre element of this time of year is doing Christmas services whilst actually planning the church programme for the spring; it isn’t easy to decide on Easter message titles whilst everything around you cries out ‘Merry Christmas’. But within a week or two people will once again be asking ‘what’s your vision for the church, what’s your vision for the year ahead?’
The trouble with the vision thing is that it presupposes the answer to the challenges we face is to work harder towards some defined goals. As if one big push and somehow the world would be different and the church filled with new converts. Too often the idea of vision is captive to notions of, on the one hand, entrepreneurial activism and vision inflation (if we think big, believe big and act big, then God will give us success) and, on the other, late 20th century management strategies. In both cases vision is often reduced to a series of shallow slogans which are full of spin but empty of substance.
Yes I do want the future to be different: it would be pretty depressing if church life remained the same as it is now. And I’m sure that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in the church to draw it towards its God given completion and perfection, just as the Spirit is working throughout creation to reconcile it to God. I also believe that perfection is itself a dynamic reality not a static entity. It grows out of relationship with the triune God, who is a God of relationship, creativity and partnership.
But I wonder if imagination is a better word than vision for what the church needs. I recognise this might be seen as playing with words but imagination opens up alternative visions; scripted by God rather than human beings (though I’m sure my plans are very good); imagination points to creative possibilities rather than seeking to label illusory certainties.
Imagine what it would be like if we could find ways of articulating the thirst for a deeper appreciation of God’s beauty, habits that enable us to live out meaningful community as the people of God and approaches to life which encouraged people to journey with Christ.
Imagination might allow us to have hopes and dreams that reshape our lives, offer fresh possibilities and lead us towards new life enlivened by the Holy Spirit.