Your church doesn’t need a vision statement. In 12Church, we are figuring out how to be and make disciples in this time and this place, which includes of course, being all in on mission with Jesus. I really wish that’s what all churches were obsessing about rather than going through all of these exercises, trying to figure out their unique vision and unique mission and all that kind of stuff. There is a little place for that, but not the level of obsession that I’m seeing in many churches.
Before I address the fruitless, time-wasting, unbiblical practice of church vision statements, a bit of background. I pastored three different churches over 18 and a half years and spent some time in the professional speaking, internet marketing world. For the last decade plus I’ve been a transitional pastor and coach going into churches typically in crisis between lead pastors, walking through a process, getting them back to a semblance of health and helping them find a new leader.
After having pastored transitionally, pastored, and coached so many different churches, I’ve seen patterns. I’ve seen problems that come up again and again. One of the patterns I see that concerns me greatly is an obsession over vision statements and the sense that unless we’ve got a vision statement, we can’t move forward. The truth is vision statements are unnecessary and the process to find them is often counter productive.
There are many verses in scripture that we tend, as evangelicals to use out of context freely Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” We often use that in reference to people coming to faith in Christ, even though that was written to Christians. The passage about God’s Word not returning void but accomplishing its purpose, we’ve often used that to whitewash sloppy preaching and sloppy evangelistic efforts saying the Lord’s Word will not return void as if that excuses us from communicating in a clear and compelling manner.
And of course we’ve got Proverbs 29:18 where it says, depending on your translation, for lack of vision, my people perish without vision. The people perish without vision. People run amuck and somehow this has been interpreted, or should I say misinterpreted and misapplied, as saying that churches need a vision statement. Without vision, the people perish, so we better get a vision. We better get a vision statement for our church, otherwise nothing’s going to happen. ur people will fall away.
That is shoddy, biblical interpretation and application. There is not a chance that that was anywhere near the intent of what that verse meant and even means today. And so what happens, churches go through these big exercises and processes sometimes even hiring outside consultants to come up with their vision. When all is said and done nothing actually changes.
I had a friend who was pastoring a church. He was in an associate role and they brought in some consultants for multiple weekends meetings, surveys and all kinds of things to help them formulate their church vision and walk through this whole process. He was telling me the process and I simply said to him, well, it seems to me that basically a church just needs to figure out how to make disciples in their context. The purpose is to make disciples. And he looked at me and said that’s basically where we landed after that entire process. What a waste of money, what a waste of time, what a waste of leadership energy.
Let me give you an off-ramp to the vision statement hamster wheel. The purpose of the church is to make disciples how ever you want to frame that up. Some churches will say it’s taking irreligious people, turning into fully devoted followers. A lot of churches have adopted that, such as Willow Creek and there’s others. But basically, however you frame it up, if you’re biblical, it’s going to boil down to making disciples. That’s the point, the mission of the church.
If you want to distinguish purpose from mission, the mission is that you know exactly how you’re doing that in your context. What’s the demographic and the geographic area where we’re called to be and make disciples. Even in an online context this holds. You’re not called to reach everyone because you’re not the only church in the world. You’re called to reach your sphere of influence a geographic or demographic spread.
Now if you want vision, vision is what that will look like as or when that mission is fulfilled. As that purpose applied in this time, and this place is fulfilled. That’s the vision. That’s what it looks like.
But here’s the problem, you generally don’t know what it looks like in advance. The vision is revealed by what the Spirit does. I guarantee the early Christians in the book of Acts had no idea what it really meant to apply Matthew 28 and go and make disciples or what it really meant Acts 1:8 to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. They had no idea what that would look like. They were not pursuing a vision. They were living out a mission. They were following the lead of the Spirit in being witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.
So rather than going through a process to come up with some kind of vision statement that in the vast majority of cases changes nothing about the way churches go about things, why not do this. Lock down the fact that the purpose of your church is to make disciples. Just lock that down and then ask the question, how do we do that? How do we make disciples in this time and in this place and think, pray, read and listen to get the answers to that question. As you get answers and direction, take the next step and that’s it. That’s it.
Now it certainly helps if you know what actually a disciple is. You’re called to make disciples be disciples, so you better know what a disciple is, and if you don’t have a framework for that, that’s what the DNA of a Christ Follower is all about. You can download a list of the eight traits in the show notes.
It’s absolutely essential, as well, that the leaders of the church are in fact disciples. That you are what you’re calling people to become. That you’re passionate followers of Jesus, and that you’re living all in on mission with Jesus, because you reproduce what you are.
And really that’s the challenge. Figuring out how to reproduce disciples, how to reach people with the gospel and turn them into disciples. How to really reinvigorate Christians who are not passionately on mission and bring them on mission and make them into disciples. Because in fact, a Christian who’s not on mission is not a disciple. And I would say a church that is not on mission, that is not pursuing the purpose of making disciples, really doesn’t fit a biblical definition of church very well either.
As you figure out what a disciple is and how to be and make those disciples, bring all the resources of the church, of the organization, of the ministry to bear in answering that question and living out the implications of it. I sometimes wonder if the reason that we’re losing some younger, and let’s be honest, even older generations of Christians, is because they don’t buy into the obvious mission and purpose of the church. Many times it just feels like feeding the machine, just maintaining a facility, maintaining programs, feeding the ego of the key leadership. People want a mission that is bigger than the here and now. The mission of Jesus, the call to be and make disciples, to be witnesses of the resurrection, fulfills that need.
So get off the hamster wheel. Quit obsessing about vision and vision statements, and just ask the question, how can I be and make disciples in this time, in this place, and then take the next step.
If you want some help with that, check out 12church.net, a community of people who are all in on mission with Jesus.