5 Problems With Top-Down Vision-Casting – And a New Testament Alternative

SauronHave we been doing vision-casting wrong?

I think so. For maybe a generation or more.

I was at a church conference not long ago where the leader spent all his time trying to convince the assembled leadership team to get behind his vision for the group. They like the leader, but very few of the pastors were buying into it.

Top-down leadership is not leadership. Leaders don’t convince followers to support the leader’s needs. Leaders are committed to meeting the followers’ needs.

Some of my worst disasters in ministry came from me trying to implement my vision, only to find out that my vision was something no one else shared. They might have even agreed that it was a good idea – for me. But it wasn’t theirs.

No wonder they didn’t get behind it.

And no, I do not believe the alternative is to do a better job at convincing the group of your vision. If the church doesn’t get behind the pastor’s vision, maybe the pastor’s vision for them isn’t God’s vision for them.

For example, NewSmallChurch.com is part of a vision God has given me. It was birthed from experiences in the church I pastor. The congregation fully supports me in it. But I don’t push it as God’s vision for them, because it’s not. It’s God’s vision for me.

 

How We’ve Been Taught to Cast Vision

Here’s the way vision-casting is usually taught and practiced.

  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
  • The pastor preaches about the vision
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
  • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly

From the top. Down to the bottom.

Here are some problems I see with that way of casting vision.

 

5 Problems With Top-Down Vision-Casting

1. It’s more Old Testament than New Testament  

When we talk vision-casting, we tend to use Old Testament images and stories. Moses going up, then coming down the mountain. Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones. Elijah and the still, small voice.

There’s nothing wrong with teaching from the Old Testament, of course. But it’s not the best model for how Christians hear from God. The Day of Pentecost changed the top-down, lone-wolf prophet model for hearing from God. Acts 2 does not give us a picture of Peter hearing from God in private, then coming to the disciples with the vision. It shows the Holy Spirit descending on the entire church, with Peter being the spokesperson to the community for what the entire church experienced.

The church gets the vision from prayer-soaked time in God’s Word. Then one of the leaders speaks that united vision to the community. When was the last time you heard that in a vision-casting message?

Speaking of the Old Testament…

 

2. It usually rests on obscure and/or questionably interpreted bible passages

There are two default passages used to promote the importance of top-down vision-casting.

The first passage is almost always taken out of context. What I quoted isn’t even the entire verse! The whole verse reads “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18 (emphasis mine).

When the last half of the verse is included (a bare minimum for biblical integrity) it’s about keeping God’s laws, not vision-casting. Not to mention, it’s one of the few times modern church leadership teachers ever quote from the KJV because if you quote it from any modern translation, it sounds very different.

  • Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (NIV)
  • Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law. (NAS)

In the Habakkuk passage, the best we can say is that it has something to do with the importance of writing things down when communicating a message. But it has little, if anything to do with casting a vision.

These passages are slim biblical support for something we’re told should be used as a foundation for everything a church body does. Too slim.

 

3. It puts all the weight on the pastor

In Acts 2, Peter did not bear the weight of the vision. He spoke in the company of the apostles (“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd…” – Acts 2:14), based on a vision the entire body received together (emphasis mine).

We’re not Moses on the mountain. Jesus never intended for pastors to live on the top rung of some self-created ecclesiastical ladder. Or, to use different imagery, as the foundation upon which everyone else’s dreams and visions rest. Instead, we’re called to live as an under-shepherd with the sheep. How many pastors are stressed, burnt out and overwhelmed by a burden we were never meant to carry alone?

 

4. It doesn’t factor in the dreams and visions of church members

When I go to a church leadership conference, it’s not to find out what the leader’s vision is and how I can help them fulfill it. I go to get tools to help me fulfill the vision God has given me for my life and ministry. I think a lot of people would come to our churches if they could get that help from us.

This may be one of the primary reasons for the growth of New Age, Find-Your-Inner-Vision books being gobbled up by otherwise Christian people. People want to know how to dream their own dreams, like Acts 2:17 says they will, but that’s seldom what they get at church. What they usually hear is what I heard at the above conference. “You’re here to help me fulfill my vision for this group.” So they go elsewhere and receive unbiblical advice, instead.

The reality is, if church leaders will see our role as helping others find and fulfill God’s vision and purpose for their life, people will put their lives on the line when we need them to help us.

 

5. It requires constant selling

The three most-taught principles of vision-casting are “repeat, repeat, repeat”. I’ve been told constantly that if I don’t remind people at minimum of once a month about the vision, they’ll forget it.

That’s a problem.

Any vision that needs to be sold to me that constantly … I don’t know … maybe it’s not God’s vision for me.

There’s nothing wrong with repeating principles. That’s a basic tenet of teaching. But when God puts a vision on a person’s or a church’s heart, you can’t shake them from it. When someone has truly bought in to a vision, they couldn’t stop thinking about it if they tried. They don’t need constant, obsessive, exhausting reminders.

 

A Possible Alternative

One of my primary roles as my church’s pastor is to help people discover and implement the vision God has given them for their lives.

The job of pastors and teachers is “…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12). Now that’s a passage which is neither obscure nor taken out of context.

Shouldn’t part of that preparation include inspiring them to hear from God for a vision for their own life and ministry? But how can they dream their own dreams if they’re constantly pushed to give time and money to support the pastor’s vision instead?

It’s a basic premise of leadership. Leaders don’t ask people to support their vision. They ask “how can I help you reach your vision?”

 

Small Churches Are Especially Suited for This

I believe much of the emphasis on top-down vision-casting has been the result of our big church leadership obsession.

It’s hard, if not impossible, for the pastor of a large number of people to design and implement ministries that allow for people to dream their own dreams. When a group reaches a certain size it requires more singularity of focus – one vision, with the parts all fitting in to it. That’s not bad. But it’s not the only way to do it.

For a community of people to allow individual visions to thrive, then see God meld them together into an only-God-could-do-this moment, the group needs to be smaller. The pastor needs to be flexible. And the people need to be taught how to hear from God through his Word, so they can dream their own big dreams.

I’m not the first person to note that there were 120 believers worshiping together on the Day of Pentecost – that’s Small Church size. But when they allowed the Holy Spirit to use them in this way, they had seriously big impact.

A community of believers, worshiping, dreaming and working together as guided by the Holy Spirit speaking to and through everyone. Now that’s a vision worth writing down and running with.

That’s my vision for how to cast a vision. What’s yours?

 

So what do you think? What are your thoughts about vision-casting in the church? (Feel free to disagree with me. I’d be disappointed if someone didn’t.)

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(Sauron photo from wojophoto • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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34 thoughts on “5 Problems With Top-Down Vision-Casting – And a New Testament Alternative”

  1. I personally am striving to adaptively use an “apostolic core” model of visioning and identifying purpose. I believe it is indeed a principle aspect of the pastor (priest’s ministry) to be open to the Holy Spirit’s direction and wisdom relative to the direction and allocation of often limited small church resources. There is a call process that often comes with unbelievable and unachievable expectations from a congregation. Nonetheless, I believe that there is a New Testament, “rabbincal” precedent for the person exercising leadership to gather a small and dedicated group of believers together to study scripture, pray with one another, and mutually seek God’s guidance with the “rabbi” (pastor or priest) facilitating the conversation/activities. It is here that the work gets fueled and moved outward. It is also here when and where the priest or pastor learns whether or not stakeholders are engaged with the small church’s purpose as the sacramental and congregational leadership understand it taking shape. It is in this sacred space where I completely concur with your statement that God encourages pastors/ministers/rabbis/priests to “help people discover and implement the vision God has given them for their lives.” All ministry, in my opinion, is contextual and best predicated upon determining what talents/experiences/hopes/fears the gathered community and its leaders bring to the table as they seek to deepen their discipleship, enlighten their faith, and (as we Episcopalians say) go out to do the work God has given us to do. I personally believe this work, prayer, and play happens in an expansive manner with the pastor striving to be open to God’s guidance, incarnationally and prayerfully.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful and inspirational post.

  2. I am just trying to lead the people to do the work of the church in the way that we are best equipped and most suited to do it. I am trying to learn our strengths and weaknesses and help us play to our strengths. I guess I haven’t thought that much about vision lately. I want our church to do the work of the church in the way that we do it best because I believe that’s when we’ll be most effective and have the greatest joy.

      1. Have we missed the point of the article? Vision is joining God in what he is doing. That is the “work of the ministry”. Leaders must not decide this on their own (top Down). Knowing what God is doing in the lives our the people we are discipling and helping them join God in what he is doing is the key Isn’t talking about what we toss and don’t toss wine skins? Isn’t the article about the new wine?

        1. I hear where you’re coming from, Marti. Here’s what I meant by that turn of phrase. The way most people discover how they can join with what God is doing is by experience. As we do the work of ministry – often by trial and error at first – we learn what works for us, our calling and our gift-mix, and we learn what doesn’t match that. Then we keep doing what fits how God made us and we toss what doesn’t.

          For instance, after doing some street evangelism when I was younger, I discovered I don’t have that gift. But when I did pastoral ministry, it bore fruit. So I tossed what didn’t work and kept what did work, by becoming a pastor.

          Thanks for asking your question. I hope this clarifies what I meant to say.

      2. It’s possible that I am way off base here, but I think this whole issue can be boiled down to one simple point. Our vision should be an extension of Christ’s mission. Plain and simple. Do what Christ has called the church as a whole to do and that solves the problem. Of course there are minute details based on things like church geography, language or demographics, but those things shoudn’t change our core mission.

  3. Great post, Karl. I think you’ve hit upon not only how to help our congregations recognize God’s vision and move toward it, but also how to save ourselves from pastor burnout. I’ve often used the story of Moses needing Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms as a metaphor for what the church leaders do for me. But now I’m wondering, “Why are my arms the only ones getting tired?” I love your emphasis on a New Testament, community-oriented model!

    My 10-year-old church is going through our first building project. It’s a modest addition to our current building, but we still need to interview and hire architects, etc. I realized early on that I know nothing about building anything and I had no extra time for all the required meetings, so I turned the entire thing over to my laypeople. They are meeting tonight with the architect they hired to see the first draft of his design. I won’t be at that meeting. It’s a little scary and definitely counter to everything-I’ve-ever-been-taught-about-church-leadership, but I trust these people. And chances are, some or all of them will be at the church longer than I will be, so why should my opinion be the one that “wins?” I gave my input on what our needs are, and they are finding the best way to meet those needs within our budget.

    1. Laura, your comment is so right on both points. Why are the pastor’s hands the only ones being held up? I wanna be Aaron or Hur for others, too!

      I’m so happy to hear about your leadership decision on the church building project. That takes guts. In the long run, it’s more likely to lead to a healthier church and a less stressed pastor. I look forward to hearing how it progresses.

  4. I still believe in top down if it’s from the real top–the Holy Spirit. After 40 years of reading books and attending church growth seminars none of it really worked for me. It just contributed to burn out. Here’s how we came to our current vision:

    Three years ago my wife and I were sitting at a sea side restaurant when we noticed the only other person there. When I saw her, something inside of me said go pray for her. My wife confirmed my feeling and we went and asked if we could pray for her. She burst out in tears and said, “How did you know I wanted prayer today?”

    Over the next two months my wife and I tested this new found idea–praying for strangers. We told no one and between us or by ourselves we prayed for over 100 people in those two months. Not a single person turned us down for prayer.

    That birthed a new mission: 1) Every person I see has a need 2) Every person with a need needs prayer 3) God will send me to some of them.

    Some of the people we prayed for came to church. People in our congregation started asking us what was up. Other’s started doing what we were doing. Soon…others in our congregation were praying for strangers. Not a week goes by now that we are praying (the congregation) for strangers and neighbors.

    It was several months before the actual vision statement just showed up. “Available to God — Available to Others.” At 68 years old–I then wrote a ten year plan based on that vision and our mission. When I get to 78 I’ll see if its working! 🙂

    1. Mike, 1) those conferences and seminars never worked because you never worked them, and 2) that’s just weird to pray for strangers. So there. Everybody knows that Mike…

      Can you tell i relish sarcasm? 🙂 We attend and attend, fail and fail, and become certain we are failures… I’m so glad Karl is challenging all this stuff out loud!

      Hey, I love what you said here about finding out God’s vision for YOU. We swerved into a similar statement “Authentic Relationships with God & Others 24/7”. Our church has lived out that passion. I would like to see passion replace vision. Because what we are passionate about, no one has to tell us to do – we just do it.

      1. “Authentic Relationships…God and Others” that is so good. You ‘swerved into that eh?” 🙂

        I vote for ‘passion’ over ‘vision.’ The drive for a mission statement and/or vision using the current pop-methods is guaranteed to produce them. But after all that work they usually sit on the shelf.

  5. That is a great article Karl. Vision has to be shared with the people and they have to have equal buy in and ownership. If they are going to work with us it has to be their vision as well. I agree 100%

  6. thanks so much…have different vision ‘stuff’ required by others, but haven’t felt like it was much more than paperwork. what works is the actual passion for ministry that I see my people living, but it’s harder to put that in words.

    1. You’re welcome, Judi. These are hard feeling to express. Especially when almost all the go-to advice seems to be in the opposite direction. I’ve always thought the work should come first, the words should come last.

  7. Thanks for this post Karl. Lately this has been on my mind as well. I am to Equip my People for the work. I agree, my role as Pastor is to teach them how to have a vision for their life, family and personal ministry and fulfill the calling that God has given to them, as they grow closer to Jesus.

  8. I think it’s helpful to share my vision and then be willing to throw it out the window. Sometimes casting out the wrong vision gets to the core of the right vision (I learned that in a Creative Ministry Conference by Leadership Nexus from the then Senior Vice President of Marketing at Disney World). Sometimes its just easier to tweak something that may have some good bones but doesn’t quite fit than it is to come up with something from scratch.

  9. This is representative of some of my thinking for a couple of years. I work with a ministry whose vision is to sustain the vitality of the Pastor’s call to their ministry. One of the culprits of “burnout” is what i refer to as the BRICK WALL. Pastors pray for vision, go to conferences and learn about leadership (always w/ an emphasis on vision) and come home and don’t apply it.They encounter the “brick wall” of resistance to change and then “give up” on this new vision or emphasis. I concur w/ the article that the vision should be discovered jointly. Perhaps one of the reasons of the Holy Spirit falling on all flesh in the New Covenant is because the Old Covenant roles of Prophet, Priest, King ceased. Now the body, all of its parts, is deemed essential, why not include them in developing vision. What a concept, those with the gifts (distributions of ministry Eph. 4 style and the other gift passages) chiming in on the development of the vision. When this happens, its already an “owned” vision and doesn’t need continual selling. Discovering why God has assembled the particular people with particular gifts and releasing them to do the Lord’s work…sounds Biblical to me. I think that this could also be done jointly w/ other churches??!!! Bring 8-10 churches together w/ 10 participants each. Work through what God has done already in their midst, do a critical assessment of the current reality of the church (individually) then dream about possibilities…with that many people in the room nodding their heads, momentum can be achieved.

    1. I love that approach, Greg. People want a buy-in with the vision. And the best way I know to get that is when their passion, heart and vision is allowed to flourish with ours.

  10. A thoughtful post Karl. It invites us into thinking about our own ministry and the context. In the early part of my ministry, when I was part time and also going to seminary full-time, I found out that the most fruitful activity I could do was to be a spiritual director enabling the ministry of the laity in the two very small Methodist congregations I served.. After graduation, and moving into a full clergy position and serving a single congregation I found my self in role of vision casting, whether than in spiritual direction. I found little fruit produced through that role. Then last year, I was given a second congregation to serve, which limited my time, I found I could move back to the role of spiritual director, and again enable the Spirit led ministry of the laity.

    This does not say that it doesn’t at times become difficult as the sub-shepherd. Sometimes there is dryness in a congregation when they have entered into a wilderness experience. Then prayer and waiting on the still voice of God is the best ministry.

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  12. Karl Vaters – the following response was written to one of our deacons on a church leaders’ online forum. He posted your article and asked for thoughts on it. So, I apologize that it will read like I’m talking “about” you instead of “to” you. I appreciate your article and value the discussion it raised for us. Hopefully my comments won’t come across as harsh – because I didn’t mean them to be.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Interesting article and, I think, some valuable thoughts to consider. It never hurts to reevaluate from time to time.

    Having said that, one of the problems I have with articles like this are the assumptions they seem to be working from. Often these assumptions are not clearly stated but they color all of the arguments made. This author revealed a key assumption in sort of an off-handed statement. He said:

    “Here’s the way vision-casting is usually taught and practiced.
    • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
    • The pastor preaches about the vision
    • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
    • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly”

    The key assumption, I think (based on the rest of the article) is the last phrase in first bullet point: “The pastor gets a vision for the church through … the latest church leadership conference.” The assumption is that visions that are developed and implemented “top-down” didn’t actually come from God but from the will of man. While I think that does happen, it’s a huge leap to speak as though all “top-down” vision isn’t from God. I know, he never directly says that, but he does make statements like, “Top-down leadership is not leadership.” This statement is true IF you accept his explanation of “top-down leadership”: leaders convincing followers to support the leader’s needs. He also describes “top-down” as “MY vision” and “the PASTOR’S vision” that “isn’t God’s vision” [emphasis added]. If ANYONE in the church is doing their own thing instead of God’s thing it’s a big problem. Obviously it’s an even bigger problem if the pastor is doing his own thing instead of God’s thing.

    That brings me to the bigger question that I think needs to be asked and answered: “Is this (what we’re calling) ‘vision’ in line with what God has given us as a church to do? If it’s not, it should be abandoned immediately! But if it is, what’s the problem with how God chooses to bring it to our attention?

    We need to think about what we mean by “vision,” too. Theologically I think we would balk at the idea of God regularly giving “visions” to people that are binding on them over and above God’s Word. The day of “visions” as God’s means of communicating is past (at least until the tribulation period when He once again works through the Jewish people). So, what do we mean by “vision”?

    To understand what we mean by “vision” we should talk first about “mission.” Our “mission” is what God has told us in His Word that we are to be doing (things like preaching, praying, worshiping, evangelizing, and all of the other components of making disciples revealed in the Bible). We have summarized this with our Surrender, Grow, and Tell statements. It transcends time and culture. The mission revealed in the scripture is non-optional for churches. Vision is different. Vision is the result of asking and answering the question, “What does this mission look like in our time and culture? How do we view the mission in our context? What is our vision, i.e. our understanding, of the mission and how we accomplish it in our location?” The answers to these questions will inform our practical decisions related to carrying out the mission. “Vision” helps us to “see it,” to see what we’re doing and where it’s taking us so that we can consistently make better decisions.

    Why are we concerned about “vision”? Do we have to have one? I don’t know if that last question is even the point because I would assert that there IS a vision whether it’s identified or focused. If someone wants to say, “We don’t need a vision. We’re just going to carry out the mission as it’s revealed in the Bible and do it as the Spirit leads.” Well, guess what? Your understanding of how to carry out the mission IS YOUR VISION for ministry. So, a better question is, “Does our vision of ministry (identified or just in practice) help us carry out our mission effectively?”

    Assuming then that a clear vision is helpful in carrying out our mission, where does it come from and how do we get it? Like everything we do, coming up with a vision should be the result of prayerfully seeking the Lord about how He wants us to look at the mission in our specific context so that we can make the best possible decisions about carrying out the mission. I suppose a good vision would also be encouraging and maybe even inspirational by helping people envision a successful outcome.

    For example, our vision as stated back in 2008 (without all the explanation):
    “Within the next twenty years we envision every person in the greater Worcester area having a genuine opportunity to experience a personal, growing, and overflowing relationship with Jesus Christ. We also envision an ever-increasing number of people in our state, our nation, and the whole world having the same opportunity.”

    We use this vision to focus our efforts when making mission-related decisions. Is this going to help us provide a genuine opportunity for people to know Christ (not just be saved, but the whole personal (surrender), growing (grow), and overflowing (tell) part of becoming a disciple)? If yes, then we do it as God enables. If no, then we don’t do it.

    Something I haven’t said, yet, is that I think it’s clear to us that there are lots of ways to do the mission. God has given us some specifics, but most of the details He’s left up to us. Again, this is where vision helps us make good decisions.

    And just in case someone is wondering, we should be making ALL of these decisions in the context of prayerfully seeking God for His wisdom and Holy Spirit direction in our decision-making. To seek to carry out the mission with or without a vision, no matter how awesome a vision is, is a fool’s errand.

    So, how did we come up with this vision? The idea of having a vision that would help us be more focused and effective at our mission probably came from books and church leadership conferences. But interestingly, all of the ones I read or attended said the same thing: you can’t get your vision from someone else’s ministry; you need to seek God for a vision tailor-made for your ministry. It did seem at the time like it was the pastor’s responsibility to be about the business of discovering and communicating the vision. However, there was no sense that this was somehow separate from the church and what God was doing in it and in our community. In fact, understanding those things was a key part of coming up with a good vision.

    I had an ongoing problem with this because we didn’t have a vision, I wasn’t “seeing” one, nothing was popping up from the congregation, and the church was looking to me to provide Godly leadership. I agonized for several years about the “vision thing” (me and George H.W. Bush!) and finally just chilled out about it. “God, if you want us to have a vision for ministry, You’re going to have to give it in a way that makes it clear it’s from You.” I kept leading, trying to make wise leadership decisions and helping the people see what God’s Word said about our mission and trying to come up with ways to accomplish it. It was pretty piecemeal and lacked a clear, coherent, unifying understanding of how to do it all and how to make decisions about it. In other words, we lacked vision. There was no upswell in the church about a vision and no clear direction for me. So, I just waited on God and trusted Him regarding our decisions.

    Then, one day in the first half of 2008 (I don’t even remember the season, much less the day), I was doing some general reading about long term planning and short term goal setting to accomplish the long term plans. I don’t even think the book was specifically Christian, nor did I read the whole thing. I was sitting in my office at home reading it. I closed the book at some point and got up to go do something else. Suddenly I had an awareness that God was saying something to me about a vision for our church. Something I’d read in the book about a “preferred future” captured my thoughts. I grabbed a piece of paper (I think it already had something written on it, like notes for a sermon or something) and a pen and it all became clear. Right then and there I wrote the vision statement I referenced above. After a couple of years of unsuccessfully agonizing over trying to come up with a vision statement, and a few more years of being resigned to not having one, there it was in front of me. I believe God brought me to this in this way to make it clear that this wasn’t something I’d come up with out of my own mind or imagination. I’m not saying it’s a revelation, or that it couldn’t be tweaked (I think I did reword it a little to make it clearer). I am saying that I am confident it’s the result of the Lord’s working.

    I shared it with our ministry leadership team shortly after that and the response was positive and we had a sense that God was giving us a tool He would use to guide us in our decision-making about the mission. And we’ve been working with it ever since.

    Did the church readily embrace the whole idea? A large number did, a significant number either didn’t or didn’t really understand either what it meant in practical ways or why we even needed it. However, it wasn’t like we were going to put it to a vote. We trusted God and pressed ahead. We’re still growing in our understanding of how to flesh out the details, how we provide a genuine opportunity in our communities, etc. And we’ll keep working on it. But one of the things it’s brought clarity to is this thought: in order for an opportunity to know Christ to be genuine it must also be known. So, we have tried to make decisions with that in mind. For example, a recent decision influenced by that is to live-stream our services because it has the potential to reach into places where we have no physical presence.

    I shared that long story about how we came up with our vision to point out that I think the author of the article would say that this is a “top-down” vision, and therefore not legitimate for our church; that’s it’s MY vision, NOT THE CHURCH’S, and therefore it’s NOT GOD’S vision. I have to disagree with Him.

    I think the bottom line is the answer to this question: was the Lord the One who led the church to the vision, whether through the pastor, through a leadership team, through the congregation, or any combination of those things? God doesn’t do the same thing the same way every time in every place. We know that about so many things. Why wouldn’t we expect it to be the same with this?

    Finally, let’s apply this to our current situation of moving to two services and adjusting our discipleship processes to be more effective and also supportive of a multiple services format. These decisions have been shaped by our vision. We believe it will make us more effective at providing a genuine opportunity for people to know Christ – immediately because of two services, and long term because of the greater effectiveness of an improved discipleship process. Who is supposed to make decisions like these? I think we could make a pretty strong biblical argument that it’s the elders of the church who “rule,” i.e. make decisions like these. I believe it’s a good decision and one I’m praying that the church will wholeheartedly embrace and run with.

    There is one thing I would do differently if I was looking at these recent decisions again. I would have communicated with the church that the pastors were feeling strongly led by God in this direction, and that the leading seemed urgent, and then asked the church to join us in prayer as we made our decision about what it seemed like the Lord was leading us to do. I I wish I had done that, not for the sake of getting “buy-in” but because I really do believe that the whole church is the body of Christ and has a role to play in seeking the Lord’s direction for us. I don’t have any concerns that we’ve reached a wrong conclusion. The very reason I failed to think of this earlier was because of the confidence we had in the Lord’s leadership and the sense of urgency we had. Nonetheless, my intent now is to include the church in seeking the Lord about such major decisions in the future. I still think that, biblically speaking, it is the responsibility of the elders (pastors) to make key leadership decisions including whether or not the congregation should be included in the decision-making process on a specific issue.

    I think the author of the article would still struggle with that because it still means we’re carrying out a “top-down” vision. I disagree with him. I think he sees it that way because God has given him a different vision for his ministry, and I’m not going to accuse him of getting his ideas from men and not from God. Hmmm … imagine that.

    1. Wow that’s a lot, Walt! I’m glad that this post of mine was able to spur such an important conversation among your church leaders.

      I’m especially thrilled and in full agreement with this paragraph: “I think the bottom line is the answer to this question: was the Lord the One who led the church to the vision, whether through the pastor, through a leadership team, through the congregation, or any combination of those things? God doesn’t do the same thing the same way every time in every place. We know that about so many things. Why wouldn’t we expect it to be the same with this?”

      I wish I’d written that.

  13. Pingback: Do It First, Write It Later: A New Approach to Mission Statements

  14. It’s wonderful to read a article that shares my perspective on Pastoral Vision Casting. I’ve been in Pastoral Ministry for 16 years. And up to a year ago, I carried the burden and pressure of casting a yearly vision because of so many pastors who hold the position that if a pastor does not have a vision for the church, he is destined to fail; and the church will have no direction. I discovered two thing with this strong position many pastors hold: Number one, like stated in your article, I too observed how this position regarding vision casting was based on Proverbs 29:18 and Habakkuk 2:2 taken out of context. The second thing I observed concerned churches that have had a tenure of different pastors. With each new pastor came a different perspective or vision regarding the ministry of the church. I believe that a church who’s mission and vision is based on God’s universal mission and vision for His church will not change with each new pastor. With that said, congregation members must understand God’s Universal Vision for the church as highlighted in the Word of God. I understand that each local church may have it’s own DNA, strengths and weaknesses in comparison to other local congregations. But what good is it for a pastor to woo his church members with a yearly “spectacular” top-down vision if he’s not leading his congregation in fulfilling God’s Vision for all churches?

  15. There are so many issues I have with this article. Time will not allow me to address them all. “Top-down-vision” is very much biblical and effective. If for no other reason than it should keep the OVERALL direction of the church clear and it should guard the church against DI-VISION (more than one vision). Too many examples of the effects of double-vision in the bible.
    The issue is not the top-down methodology the problem is that many of us pastor don’t know what real vision is. We confuse vision with project and program. We tell people it’s “the vision” as though that will magically gain us the co-operation of the membership. The “vision” of the church has to be the assignment that God has given that pastor to accomplish within his/her assigned territory. Vision is not the flavor of the month method sold at someone’s conference. Each church is unique but all vision is just a smaller section of a larger vision. If a pastor thinks that his/her vision only involves their church.. that’s not vision.. that’s am empire.
    Simply return to the real purpose of the church. It is not making people happy, making to energized about programs and great ideas. The real vision is to save souls. Return to saving souls..period. If your members are not excited about that.. then it matters not what method of vision casting you attempt, the fundamental call upon that church is not being fulfilled.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Eddie. But I have concerns about how you’ve described both ends of the spectrum. On the one end, I’m not at all saying that vision is “the flavor of the month method sold at someone’s conference”, that it will “will magically gain us the co-operation of the membership” or that it “only involves their church.” Of course not.

      But how does the priesthood of believers fit into your insistence that “The ‘vision’ of the church has to be the assignment that God has given that pastor to accomplish within his/her assigned territory.”?

      The mission of every church is The Great Commandment and Great Commission.
      The role of the pastor is to equip the saints.
      The New Testament reality of the priesthood of believers means that every member can play a part in hearing from God for how that mission will be accomplished – namely, the church’s vision.

  16. Pastor Keith Jones

    I’ve been reading a few of the post, not all..lol. I’ve been reading other articles that call vision casting witchy and even manipulation. For the bible scholars, we know that the old testament carries a lot weight regarding vision. For clarity; where is there is no vision the people parish and other scriptures that helps us understand vision. The top down vision was needed when Moses lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The people didn’t lead Moses, he lead them by the order/words of God and the people followed to the promised land. There was a plan/vision to get there and it came from the top down… Notice, when Moses went up to consult with God, the people became unruly and rebelled. This caused their delay to the promise. Well, the top down concept worked…

    There several components that we should consider here:
    1. The job of the Pastor – He is the typology of Jesus ministry. Going to the uttermost parts of the world baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Teaching, Preaching, Prophesy, Heal and evangelism. His job is to gather the help needed to accomplish this task – discipleship. Vision or some would say; A plan
    2. The true mission of the church – souls were added daily to the church, gathering of worship Heb.10:24. The ministry of reconciliation II Cor 5:18 Vision or some would say; A plan
    3. The spiritual and tangible growth of the church must be balanced. The gifts & calling are to be developed for ministry and discipleship. The tangible element is what the church did to help the Apostle Paul establish the churches in Asia Minor. Without these tangible elements the church would not have been as effective or even established.

    The spiritual and tangible growth of the church should be explained in the vision with a clear path to accomplish the task given. If not, we will be liken unto the servant that hide his talents and did nothing with it… Slothful servant. We are not slothful servants, we must act and map out the direction of the church without fear as God gives direction.

    How can God’s Kingdom moved forward without a plan of action? There has to be a plan of action/vision.

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