Will Mancini: Beyond Vision Casting

How churches can cast a missional vision that extends into people’s everyday lives.

Will Mancini is the founder of Auxano and Denominee, and the co-founder of Younique, three interconnected consulting groups aimed at equipping churches and helping them clarify their vision. He is the author of several books, including Church Unique (Jossey-Bass), God Dreams (B&H) and, most recently, Younique: Designing the Life That God Dreamed for You (B&H). We caught up with Mancini to discuss how churches can not only cast a vision but also equip their members to be everything God created them to be in their vocations and everyday lives.

Every pastor is a visionary. They wouldn’t be in ministry if they weren’t, but you can’t realize God’s dream for your life and ministry with only a general sense of where you’re going. Your church doesn’t need a vision statement; it needs a visionary state of mind.

What Auxano is doing is helping churches understand their unique disciple-making mission. We’re actually trying to show church leaders how to design ministry for discipleship. And when we have that clarity of identity, we go, “OK, what’s our visionary plan?”

We’re trying to raise discipleship to the biggest idea of the church. The greatest challenge in the church today is that it runs a programmatic expression, and discipleship is one step of that, rather than every programmatic expression being something in a pathway. You’re not actually getting to visionary planning until you can confidently articulate, “This is the kind of disciple our church is designed to produce, and this is our disciple-making pathway.”

If you come into a church without clarifying its identity, you really turn the church into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that’s not a church anymore. There’s no such thing as a church vision that’s not a disciple-making vision first. It would be easy for a church to get distracted by making some kind of impact in the community when it really doesn’t know how to make a disciple. Churches have never been more susceptible to doing programmatic versions of churches that don’t actually make disciples.

Most churches today without clarity have people who are emotionally connected to something other than the disciple-making vision of Jesus. We use a metaphor of upper room/lower room. A lower room church attendee is somebody who is connected to one of four things: the physical building, the personality of the highly visible staff, a program the church offers or the people—a handful of friends that go to that church. If any of those four things changes, the person just disconnects from the church. What we are suggesting is that the vision should be accessible, tangible, clear enough that we can invite those people into an upper room of really seeing what God is up to in the church and telling the story of the most important ideas.

We have a massive inventory and implementation gap. Walter Brueggemann said, “Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and imagine almost nothing.” All implementation problems in the church stem from the fact that our planning never tapped into our identity. Inventory is just doing some quick assessment, like “Where are we and what do we need to do next?” I would suggest there’s a huge bridge we’ve got to build between inventory and implementation, and I call that an identity bridge.

The two pillars holding up the bridge are interpretation and inscription. Interpretation is the process of asking why: “Why are we in this part of the city? Why have we had five pastors in the last 10 years?”

Inscription is the idea that we take the most important of our ideas of our identity and the most important words for our direction, and we inscribe that. And I want to appeal to the everyday experience people have of giving a locket to a lover or a gift to a spouse and inscribing it, or writing a letter at a key milestone in a child’s life. These are the moments when words really matter, and we want to place them in a way that will have such meaning and that will endure. So when we talk about inscription, we’re saying, “Is the church’s model of ministry inscribed on the hearts of the people? Is the vision or the dream that we have or the next goal that we’re moving toward inscribed well?”

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It’s the inscription process that makes the upper room approachable. Everyone knows who we are and where we’re going because we’ve named it so well. Abraham Heschel said, “Words create worlds.” What is your church saying? Most churches don’t have their words. Most churches don’t have clarity of identity or clarity of direction. We do cheap substitutes and think we have vision, but we’re only moving in a general sense. And a general sense is robbing you of a lot of things. It’s robbing you of meaning, of focus, of energy, of enthusiasm, of hope. When a church leader operates with a general sense of where they’re going, they’re leaving a ton of value and benefits on the table.

We’re leveraging a small lever if all we have is common calling. Common calling is everything God wants from every people. In a common calling teaching, there’s no difference based on a person’s gender, age, gifts, etc. If a pastor can realize that their people have stunningly high potential and that God has put dreams in their life, the church can begin to tap into that. And it’s huge.

The fuel for vision comes from the vision of the church and the vision of individuals overlapping. Personal clarity is the church’s energy. Every human being has a special assignment from God, but most people don’t know it and can’t name it. And so what happens is the church has a general sense of where it’s going, and people have a general sense, maybe, of where they’re going. When the church’s generic vision intersects with an individual’s generic vision, it’s like the energy released in combustion. You get some energy. But when an individual understands their special assignment from God, and when a church develops a very specific dream and very specific next steps, you move to a fission reaction. The same amount of mass gives you a million times more energy. You literally see that kind of dramatic difference. The most dramatic things I’ve seen in my ministry are where that personal clarity in the individuals overlaps with that church’s clarity. At first you might think there’s competition, but it always brings a beautiful synergy.

If you aim at volunteerism, you’ll always get burnout. If you aim at identifying the special calling of individuals, you’ll always have more volunteers than you need. The root cause of failure is a lack of imagination in church leaders’ minds for what their people can become and do, and what their real potential and capacity are in the world. If a pastor takes seriously Ephesians 2:10, every person they are preaching to is a masterpiece, a handiwork created by God. If a pastor really believes that God has cooked up good works particularly designed for people in the church, and if they will begin to take that seriously, they will see results like they’ve never seen before.

So how do you get people living on mission every day? I’d say you appeal to what is true of the gospel—this idea that people were created, and that grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning. And Ephesians 2:1-10 becomes a stunning example of this: People are saved from their sin. They’re saved for a calling, for good works. When they can get a handle on that special calling, you’re going to have droves of volunteers coming at it from a totally different energy source and motivation.

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The dream of Younique is that the local church would deliver life planning and life design. We’re designing it so that the church is the hero, so the church can get the credit for helping people really get in touch with their special calling. The church cannot just rest as a teaching center. It’s got to move from teaching center to training center to really help inform this move. And that’s where we’re having the breakthrough. And I would add that’s what people are actually wanting and looking for today—more of a training center posture for our churches.

One of our values at Younique is vocational integration. Everything about who God created you to be, we want that released in your 9 to 5. Barna just came out with research that talks about the characteristics of resilience and what a resilient disciple looks like between the ages of 18 and 29 today. One of the five attributes the research revealed was that they hunger for vocational discipleship. They want their gifts and passions to be plugged in every day.

We like reminding people that Jesus actually wielded a very practical productivity to build spiritual authority. Jesus was the best baker you ever met—feeding thousands. Jesus was the best bartender you ever met—turning water to wine. Jesus goes to guys who were professional fishermen, tells them to go to the wrong part of the lake at the wrong part of the day and they will see more fish caught than they’ve ever seen in their lives. They’re following a man who had amazing productivity.

If I understand who God made me to be, how do I become a more valuable and productive employee? We talk about that as increasing your vitality at work, because you understand your calling. It’s also increasing your value at work because you’re operating more in the sweet spot of your calling. We say, “Don’t just be like Jesus. Be like Jesus and then do what only you can do.”

How does the way that I do my job change because I’m a Christian? We’ve been asking that question for a long time, and I would say that’s the wrong question. What we haven’t asked is, “How does your job change, not because you’re a Christian, but because you’re you?” The question isn’t, “What would Jesus do?” The question is, “How would Jesus live if he were you?” If Jesus had your bank account, your job, your spouse, your kids, your car, how would he live?

The assumption with common calling is that heaven’s yearbook is going to look like a million pictures of Jesus. It’s like we’re all Jesus clones. And there’s no such thing as a Jesus clone. So heaven’s yearbook is filled with brunettes and redheads, short and tall, bankers and plumbers. As we become more conformed to the image of Jesus, we don’t lose our identity. We actually retain it. And we don’t even retain it—we grow even more into that unique person God created us to be.

Read more at OutreachMagazine.com/faith-and-work.