A positive vision?

Following some of my earlier comments I’ve been having some more thoughts about vision, partly prompted by a book Lyle Schaller. 

The premise is that most ministers spend the majority of time focused on front line tasks. Preparing sermons, pastoral care and the basic organisation / administration required to keep the church going.


Some ministers go beyond that and become goal orientated, seeing the various tasks as ‘means to an end’ and planning towards specific outcomes. Given that most competent ministers have a certain amount of discretionary time each week the goal-orientated minister uses the 20% discretionary time for goal development.


By contrast some ministers are vision orientated. Rather than simply formulating and seeking to attain goals they seek to identify and fulfil potential within the church. In contrast to the goal-orientated minister who needs build consensus support for their goals (with the result that the goals tend to be less challenging and less ambitions) the vision orientated minister sees goals simply as tools to help the church flesh out the vision.


Looked at negatively this is simply the reduction of vision to management technique or a means of manipulating people. It is a church related way of describing the difference between a transactional leader and a transformational leader.


But perhaps it also points us to something worth considering.


Most theologies of ministry tend to focus on the task orientated elements of ministry. Even people like me who seek to articulate an ontological rather than a functional theology of ministry tend to focus the implications of our theology on areas of worship, preaching and pastoral care. And, having done that we can then feel free to deplore the language of goals, management and leadership wherever it creeps into church life.


But if being a minister is to be an agent of the risen Christ; given to the church for the completion (perfecting) and edification of the saints and to build the unity of the church as the body of Christ then some ministers, at least, need to see and be engaged in the wider picture.


Perhaps this is also a question of what we understand by faithfulness to God. If we see our faithfulness to God primarily in terms of core church practices: attending to Scripture, the sacraments and the sanctification of souls there is a danger that our field of view will become overly narrow. By contrast, if we see faithfulness to God in terms of God’s glory we will also want to be attentive to God’s justice and compassion, the wider people of God and God’s plans for worldwide reconciliation.


Against this background vision is not such a dirty word. It is a way of encouraging people to become co-workers with God, looking for opportunities to be examples of Godliness and instruments of God’s grace to those we come into contact with. Yes, it can become too tied to contemporary leadership studies but it can also be the outworking of a prophetic imagination. Yes, visionaries can be manipulative, authoritarian and self-promoting but they can also help the church to look beyond the walls and out into the world, seeing their lives against a cosmic backdrop so that God’s people might live for the praise of God’s glory.


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