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7 Steps to Rekindle Your Vision Fire
We’ve all heard it before (especially if you’re a Christian).
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
— Proverbs 29:18a (KJV)
That’s the King James translation.
The KJV is what’s memorized in my mind, but I kinda like the way the NIV reads.
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint.
— Proverbs 29:18a (NIV)
The gist is the same, of course. But I like the words “revelation” and “restraint.” Especially within the context of leadership vision.
It’s possible that breaking free in 2023 means re-engaging and realigning everyone and everything around a crystal clear “revelation.” If you don’t, I fear the only outcome is a lack of congregational restraint.
Keep reading, even if you have a “Vision Statement.”
I realize you have a vision statement. And a mission statement, too. Everyone does. I have one for my business:
My Mission: To help churches add more intention to their mission.
My Vision: To ensure a comprehensive church exists in every community.
But do you have a vision? Having a statement is not the same as having (or owning) a dream.
How do you know which you have? Let me ask you a question: Are you driven by a compelling picture of what could be fueled by a passion for what should be in your church and community?
That’s a clarifying question. That feels different. That’s not a statement but a conviction.
This is a core problem with our corporate statements. Mission and vision statements too often end up like organizational paperweights. They are written on the wall, but that doesn’t mean they’re happening down the hall.
Clear and compelling revelations versus the casting off of restraints.
Solomon suggested the normative outcome for anything without a compelling and clear picture of the future is the “casting off of restraints.”
He’s corrected. I’ve seen it personally. I suspect you have, too.
When we lead from a compelling vision, those following us are compelled and inspired forward in one direction. The vision functions like a boundary for forward progress. Or a “restraint” that keeps everyone together, moving in one clear direction. Great boundaries are designed to keep people aligned. A clear and compelling vision keeps everything aligned in your company, church, or organization.
Therefore, as Solomon suggested, when there is no “revelation,” there is no boundary.
This is exactly what I stepped into at Watermarke Church (now called Woodstock City Church). I’ve written about this before, so I’ll give you the shortened story.
A Quick Revelation and Casting Off Restraint Story…
My predecessor was a wonderful man and reluctant point leader. He was thrust into the role when the founding pastor left nine months after planting. Again, my predecessor loved Jesus and our church but didn’t possess the skills required for point leadership. The lack of leadership created plenty of gaps. People do one of two things when there are gaps:
- Leave to find a leader to follow, or
- Fill in the gaps and begin leading themselves and anyone they can convince to follow.
Gaps emerge when a clear and compelling vision is missing. It’s like a path without any boundaries. The lack of limits allows the direction to widen and widen and widen, eventually going in nearly every direction. In Solomon’s terms, any people who remain in an organization not led through a clear and compelling vision will “cast off restraint.” Or, to use our terms, they will fill in the gaps and create their own vision for the church, company, or organization.
Where there is no revelation, people reveal their own.
Let me take you back to Watermarke Church for one more second. Both of these were happening when I arrived. In November 2008, I stepped into a church without a clear vision or revelation. There was no distinct direction. There was “show up if you want and leave when the service ends,” but that was about it.
I quickly discovered the vision gap when 20 people attempted to convince me to point the church toward their vision in my first two weeks as lead pastor. Where there is no revelation, the people leave to find one or create their own. Watermarke Church of late 2008 was a church of multiple individual visions – about 200, give or take. Everybody was heading in their own direction. Without a picture of our preferable future to focus our efforts, people cast off restraint to create one for themselves.
Is a lack of revelation keeping you stuck?
We’re talking about breaking free in 2023. If you aren’t leading your church from a clear and compelling vision, I can confidently say that your best days are behind you.
The signs of perishing and restraint casting are relatively straightforward:
- Many people remain present but stay mostly disengaged.
- The people who leave catch you by surprise.
- People offer up “good ideas” that are clearly misaligned with your direction.
- Suggestions to add things to the organization vastly vary and compete with each other.
- You see irritation and frustration within the staff.
- Staff members are personally, professionally, and even theologically misaligned.
- Team members leave for other jobs, but not necessarily better roles.
- Leadership decisions feel more complex than they used to be.
If you sense any of these, NOW is the time to act. These signs of perishing point to a vision gap.
Let’s rekindle your vision to relight a fire for your organization’s future.
People need leaders to possess vision. The following steps can help you and your leadership team reestablish a clear and compelling future for your church, company, or organization.
1. Assess what’s happening, really.
All healthy, strategic conversations follow a three-fold process: Discover, Design, and Deliver. “Assessing what’s really happening” helps you discover the reality of your situation.
The temptation will be to remain a “good news” organization, but the good news never paints a complete picture. Review the above perishing organizational signs. Ask some hard questions and listen – and I mean REALLY listen – to the answers. If you sense a gap in the vision, odds are the chasm is much greater than you suspected.
If you want to measure the size of your vision gap, ask people individually what you’re trying to do as a church, company, or organization. Their diverging answers may be all the clarity (or unclarity) you need.
2. Define the current problem.
Grand visions resolve fundamental problems. If you don’t mind, I’ll use my vision as an example. I dream of seeing a comprehensive church in every community.
Here’s the fuel behind my statement:
Every person matters to God, whether God matters to them or not. By “every person,” I mean literally every person in every community. Therefore, every community needs a church that thinks comprehensively about its community. Comprehensive means “complete” and “including all.” I imagine a future where every community has a church intentionally designed to reach those farthest from God, inspire them to begin a faith journey, encourage them along the path, and equip them to grow in their faith. For me, that is what I long to see. And I plan to work every single day to do what I can to help this happen.
I wish you could hear me talk about this rather than just read it. You’d hear my passion. That’s where vision lives.
For me, the problem is simple: Currently, too few communities have churches like this. That’s the problem I want to solve.
I want to emphasize the word “current,” however. Suppose your church, company, or organization is older than the pandemic. In that case, it’s probably healthy to reassess the landscape of problems you feel called to solve. Problems shift as the world, culture, and your community evolves. Perhaps not dramatically in some cases, but it’s worth revisiting your past problem to ensure it is still currently relevant. And to ensure you still feel called to resolve it.
So, back to you. What’s the problem your vision will address? To paint a picture of a preferable future, you must begin with the current notion that absolutely, under no circumstances, can continue to exist.
3. Put the vision on paper.
Ideas struggle to break through when they remain an idea. Documenting our dream is the first step in delivering our design.
But we want the documentation process to create more than just a document.
Documenting the vision is tricky because you want your vision to become sticky. See what I did there? The best visions are short, sweet, portable, and memorable. Therefore, paragraphs can’t serve as visions. Spend some time – probably a lot – working through the documentation process. Use the problem you can’t fathom continuing to drive the process, but don’t allow a paragraph to drive your statement.
This isn’t a rule but more a principle to heed. If your statement is longer than eight words, it’s too long to remember. When I consult with churches and organizations, we often start our time by writing down their mission and vision statements to ensure we have a guiding goal for our strategic conversation. I learned quickly that most churches and organizations have these LONG statements that are anything but short, sweet, portable, and memorable. The first task I ask of these consulting clients is to reduce their statements to an irreducible minimum of eight words or less. I don’t force them to adopt these shortened statements, but we need them to best understand our objective.
As I suggested previously, your problem may not be fresh. How you state your vision, however, may need a refresh. FYI: Don’t skip this step if you have a short phrase already. If you or your team senses any signs of perishing, that’s the proof you need to refresh the vision.
4. Say it over and over and over again.
We’ve all heard the phrase “vision leaks.” We’ve heard it because it’s true.
We forget that our vision leaks because we eat, breathe, and sleep with our vision. After all, we birthed it. But you are often the only person with this revelation experience. For everyone else, it’s not their life. At best, it’s only part of their life. I’ve heard that when you are so tired of saying it that you can’t possibly repeat it, the average person begins to internalize it. If this is true (it is, btw), we need to reiterate our vision over and over and over again. This is yet another reason to spend as much time as necessary making your vision short, sweet, portable, and memorable.
There are LOTS of ways to say it. Of course, there’s the basic “state it” method. And we should do that over and over again. But can reiterate the vision by:
- Asking questions in a staff meeting that support the vision, such as, “What have you seen or experienced lately that proves we are accomplishing our vision?”
- Share stories that illustrate the vision coming to fruition.
- Measure progress and design dashboards that track the vision.
- Give team members and other insiders reminders of the vision (pictures, office trinkets, etc.).
We can reinforce the vision with virtually everything we say. If everything communicates, make sure the vision is part of every communication.
5. Live the vision with some passion.
If you don’t live it, nobody will believe it.
The worst thing you can do to your vision is say it’s essential and then live as if it’s inconsequential. If your vision is truly the picture of your preferable future, every decision you make and action you take should be aligned with this picture.
For instance, I can’t state that seeing a “comprehensive church in every community” is important to me and do nothing with my life to make it happen. I’m living this daily. I left my comfortable career and guaranteed (relatively speaking, of course) paychecks to help pastors and church leaders add more intention to their mission so every community has a comprehensible church. I write about it, create content around it, offer courses and masterclasses for it, and consult to ensure it happens. This is my vision. And I’m dedicated to its fruition.
If you don’t live it out, nobody will believe it matters. They will, however, (1) leave you to follow a leader with a vision they are living or (2) begin living their own vision within your organization.
* Quick Note: You may have heard “people give and serve to vision.” That’s partially accurate. People may feel compelled to give or serve or engage with a compelling vision statement initially, but it’s the vision in action that keeps them engaged. This is precisely why I suggested you say it with words and stories, through questions, and with dashboards. You want to articulate and activate.
I wrote more about this here: People Don’t Give To JUST Vision
6. Align everything and everyone to the vision.
If your vision is as important as you claim, align the organization to make it happen. Alignment includes “everything and everyone,” and I literally mean everything and everyone. Job descriptions, working hours, budgets, programming, etc. Align it all!
A great way to begin is by assessing where things are. Look at each position and job description that currently exists in your organization. Something must change if you and everyone around you can’t easily connect the dots from every position to the vision. Do the same for your budget. And your meetings. And your organizational chart. There should be such clarity around the vision that the dots basically connect themselves.
7. Expect some departures.
Clarity cleans. I like that phrase because it is what a clear vision does.
The more clarity you provide, the easier it is for people to get into the game or find another team. Remember, keeping people isn’t our goal. The mission and vision define the objective. When you get serious about your vision, those hoping to impress their vision on you and the organization will leave. And they’ll feel compelled to tell you as they walk out the door, too. That’s okay.
I mean, do you really want to keep people around who will work against your vision to gain traction for theirs? I’ve never shed a tear over the disgruntled congregant leaving to be disgruntled elsewhere.
Now, if frustrations and exits are due to my lack of vision, I have work to do. But if their frustration is over our clear direction, they need to leave and find a place where they can fully engage.
I’ve seen it firsthand, and I suspect you have, too. Where there is no vision, the people perish, taking the mission, organization, and everything else along with it. There’s too much at stake to assume your vision is clear, compelling, and without leaks. Please spend some time evaluating the problem you’re called to solve, your current solution, the words used to express it, the leakage associated with it, and how you can better incorporate it everywhere you go.
If you sense any amount of perishing, do something about it. And fast.
This is one way to make 2023 the best it can be!