“When you lead with generic vision, you’re leading toward a lesser goal. It’s not the real dream God has for you and your church.”
Acts 1:8 tells us that Jesus dreamed of multiplication—to see his witnesses in Judea, Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth. As a church planter and leader, you have the opportunity to join him in this mission as you consider your context and begin developing your unique vision for multiplying his kingdom. Below, vision-clarity expert Will Mancini looks at the obstacles to a clear vision and offers specific questions to help you and your team clarify your path toward multiplication.
Several years ago, I met the president of Continental Airlines during a flight. I guess you could say we had a 30,000-foot conversation. When he asked about my job, the subject of vision came up. I dove right in and asked about his vision for Continental: Where did he want the organization to go?
His reply was short: “We want to be the best airline in the world.”
Now, like any other red-blooded American, I appreciate some good ol’ competition. But something about this leader’s vision sounded a little hollow.
Suffering From Generic Vision
Over the years, I’ve come up with a name for this kind of vision: generic. It’s vision that’s mediocre and impotent. It’s not simple; it’s simplistic. Generic vision doesn’t change anyone or anything. It’s expected and unnoticed.
Imagine getting a group of venture capitalists fired up about a new restaurant concept that’s supposed to be the next phenomenon across the American dining landscape. As the drum rolls, someone enthusiastically announces, “We are going to serve … food!” Would you be impressed?
I’m convinced that trafficking in generic vision (and not even recognizing it) is the primary reason more churches don’t experience the benefits of clear vision. Without a clear vision for multiplication, we can’t expect to join Jesus on his mission.
Despite the fact that most leaders in ministry tend to be visionaries, they fall prey to generic forms of ministry vision all of the time. They are big dreamers at heart, but when they open their mouths to declare the vision, it comes across as empty bravado. Unlike the Continental Airlines president, we don’t exactly say, “We want to be the best church in the world.” But we have our own Christianese phrases, like “to reach more people for Christ” or “to change the world.”
Getting Vivid With Your Vision
If you want to get serious about pursuing a multiplication dream, you’ll need to move past generic vision. I call it “getting vivid” with your vision. The first step is to identify the generic vision that gets in the way as a cheap substitute.
In my book God Dreams, I share a list of the different kinds of generic visions. Each type is rooted in healthy biases. While good leadership is the basis for these biases, if taken too far they lead to generic vision.
Bias toward biblical accuracy. A bias for biblical accuracy is a good thing, but taken too far, we can simplistically cut and paste a Bible verse as a generic form of vision. How many times have you heard church leaders cast a vision to “love God and love people” or to “make disciples” or to “glorify God”?
While these are important biblical truths, they aren’t a meaningful picture of what your church will look like in the next year or two. When we use general biblical statements as a substitute for vision, we fail to be imaginative. We miss the opportunity to engage people in a specific dream.
Bias toward the desire to grow. I call this “grow-only” vision. It’s as if the leader proclaims, “Don’t ask me any details; we’re just on a growth track. It’s ‘up and to the right’ for us until Jesus comes. We do whatever it takes to reach more people for Jesus. We are building more, launching more. We’re going to change the world.”
If you can’t tell someone how your church is getting better at disciple-making as it gets bigger, you’re potentially leading from a grow-only bias. The three basic types of generic vision with this bias include “reach more,” “launch more” and “change the world.”
Bias toward efficiency. Taken to an extreme, this bias applies the “done-for-you resource” mindset to everything the church does. It’s as if church leaders think, “Just tell me what to do. Better yet, give it to me in the prepackaged kit and let me lead on autopilot.”
The three kinds of visions under this bias include “be the first,” “offer the most” and “be the best.”
Leading Toward a Lesser Goal
A few years ago, I read a quote that I’ve never recovered from: “We are kept from our goal not by obstacles, but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” When you lead with general vision, you’re leading toward a lesser goal. It’s not the real dream God has for you and your church. It doesn’t have any of the impact that a clear vision is supposed to have. The vision can’t be dynamic until it’s specific.
Generic vision actually robs you of progress, stealing a life of abundance from your ministry. Generic is the enemy. You are a visionary, but with a generic sense of your church’s future, you won’t even come close to realizing your full potential for multiplying and advancing the kingdom. Generic is a lesser vision. It’s like swinging a battle-ax with a really blunt edge.
Clarifying Your Motivation
Ask yourself if you have a hunger for multiplication. If so, try to identify the source of that hunger. Is it coming from the “reach more” generic vision? Consider these questions for personal discernment:
- What initially attracted me to a vision for multiplication?
- If a commitment to multiplication led to having fewer people in a worship service, would it still be a beautiful vision to me?
- If a vision for multiplication meant that I would lead in obscurity, would that vision still be beautiful to me?
- As a leader, what words and phrases do I tend to repeat the most?
- Is there a specific picture that multiplication is leading me toward?
Advancing Your Team
As you think about your ministry’s vision, ask yourself these questions:
- What bias do we struggle with the most as a team?
- Do we have a printed or articulated “vision statement” anywhere? How generic is it?
- When people talk about the future of our church, is there an immediate sense of enthusiasm?
- Have we named a shared dream to reach within a five-year timeframe?
- Do our volunteer leaders regularly pray for some specific-yet-epic impact that our church will make in our city or community?
- Do most of our leaders naturally talk about the big picture of the church before they talk about their specific ministry area?
- Do we have several days already calendared in the next year to review and reset a visionary plan?
- Has our team boiled down the single most important priority for our ministry in the next 12 months?
- Are we totally confident that our team is taking action and reviewing ministry progress each week?
- In the last five years, did we have a churchwide, disciple-making goal that was not related to money?
- Has our team written down what our ministry will preferably look like three years from now?
- In general communication, what specific words do we use?
- What are the top three ways our entire team exhibits generic vision?
- Based on the current condition of our congregation (leaders, volunteers, members, attendees), how is leading from a generic vision negatively affecting us today?
Will Mancini leads a team that works with 400 churches a year to create breakthrough clarity and help churches execute their vision. He is the author or co-author of God Dreams, Church Unique, Innovating Discipleship and his most recent works with Exponential, Dream Big and The Dream Big Workbook. Connect with him at WillMancini.com.
This fall, the Exponential “Dream Big” live tour is expanding to include five cities, including Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle. For more information, go to Exponential.org/events.