Pastors aren’t immune to confusion.
I recently ran into a young pastor from the West Coast who was giving me a church update. He was stuck in a fog and his church was in the emergency room.
He’s been at the church about a decade, but in recent years, church attendance has been declining. Member giving no longer covers the church’s expenses. The clock is ticking.
Worst of all, members are burned out. Sure, they’re still coming. They’re even volunteering. But they’re volunteering out of a sense of obligation (or simply out of habit).
They’re not attending or serving out of any sense of vision. And that’s the problem.
Wanted: Organizational Vision
One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Proverbs, and one of my favorite proverbs is 29:18—“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
When Proverbs says “vision,” it means the kind of message that a prophet brings. But I think the principle at play isn’t limited to Old Testament prophets. The truism is also that people need a compelling vision to pull them past today’s reality and into tomorrow.
We need to imagine. Imagine what could be. Imagination can be a fertilizer of hope.
Pastors and other religious professionals are often great at creating a theological vision and pointing people to eternity, but they also need to create an organizational vision.
People need to see a compelling picture of what they’re working toward before they can do their best work. As businessman and writer Alvin Toffler said, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things so that all the small things go in the right direction.” It’s true in businesses, but it’s also true in churches and non-profits.
Who are we as a church (or a non-profit)? What are we about? What are we aiming to do? These are hard questions for a church and its leader to answer, as the recent StartUp podcast found out.
One writer said, “Your small group is destined to die a slow, complacent, even cordial death without direction.” The same can be true of a church.
Theology contributes to this organizational vision, to be sure, but it takes more than theological constructs to create organizational momentum. I’m not saying God doesn’t control the organization. But I am saying that standalone tenets of truth probably aren’t enough.
Accordingly, pastors cannot simply think about challenging and maturing individuals in their faith. Telling people to believe more, study their Bible more, apply the gospel to their lives more are truth tenets that individuals can latch on to. But churches (and non-profits) must knit individuals together in a way that moves the organization forward.
Theological truth and theological transformation must be deposited into an organizational vision.
Organizational vision, as this article points out, then pulls the people together and forward—encouraging unity and fostering risk taking.
How to get started
The author Peter Block said, “One’s vision is not a road map, but a compass.” In the same vein, perhaps I can help point you in the right direction as you think about crafting an organizational vision for your people.
- Ask the “What if” question. What is the impact you dream of having? Spend some time with your key people brainstorming an answer to this question.
My young friend and I imagined together. What if you made the driving vision to hand this church off to the next generation? What if your church became a voice for collaboration and reached out to three or four other surviving churches about pooling resources? What if your big goal was to transform the neighborhood surrounding the church?
- Create some tailwinds. I’ve written about the concept of tailwinds elsewhere but the short version is that you need some momentum in your favor. Do you have signs of any tailwinds? A few highly bought-in volunteers? A new housing complex in the neighborhood? Financial support from another church in another part of the country? Uncommon favor with the local business community? How do you position yourself in front of those tailwinds? Are there other tailwinds you need to answer your “What if” question? How do you chase those down?
- Make the vision clear. One of the Old Testament prophets, a man named Habakkuk, received a vision from God and instructions on how to use it—“Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it” (Habakkuk 2:2). Most of the time, your people must learn it to own it. So, communicate it regularly and in clear, memorable ways. Leaders (including pastors) often are clear in their own mind about the vision, but for some reason it just doesn’t implant in those around them. Get the vision clear in your head and then transfer it to others. That kind of inspirational transfer could very well create a movement around you.
Jonathan Swift said, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” As a leader, you must get the vision out of your head and into the hearts of your people.
As for the church I opened with, I don’t know if they’re going to make it, to be honest. But they won’t go down without a fight. The people are unifying behind an organizational vision. And that’s what it takes