I recently planted a church and people always ask me, ‘what is the vision?’ and, between you and me, I am not sure what to tell them. If they simply want to know the direction of our journey then that’s fine. However, there is this pressure to come up with a U.S.P. (unique selling point) for the church or to try to create something that is different to every other church out there. When done for the right reasons this is great but all too often we are trying to compete against the wrong things. We compare our church to other churches and try to improve them. Ours will have the best teaching. Ours will have the coolest band. Few churches would say this out loud but their aim is to be better than the others and fight for their share of the local Christian community. So when times get tough it is natural that we focus on who we can keep rather than who we can reach.
Churches were never meant to be the competition. When did this go so wrong? Our competition is everything else that is competing for people’s worship. It is the comfy bed, the country walk, the early showing at the cinema on a Sunday morning. It is the addiction that traps them, the shame that weighs them down and the lies that deceive them. Let’s compete against apathy and give people a reason to care. Never forget that we are not competing with other churches but against darkness.
Aesop tells a story about four oxen and a lion:
A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell.
Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them.
At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field.
Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.
I think that Chad Veach nailed it when he said, ‘the church doesn’t have a vision, the vision has a church.’ The problem with the every-church-has-a-vision paradigm is that it creates pride and competition. Others have to lose for us to win and then we complain when we all falter. However, when we realise that we are all fighting for the same vision, we grow in unity and cooperation. We grow together.
The vision of the Church is to reach people far from God, restore lives and communities that are broken and reproduce leaders who will take this further than ourselves until we reach every corner of the Earth. Our vision is simply to see the Kingdom of God on Earth as in Heaven, a world fully restored and in close relationship to God. Everything else we do is application of this.
This doesn’t mean that we all do the same things. Quite the opposite. In Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas preached to the Jews but many did not respond. However, rather than stubbornly going back again and again and again, they changed their focus. They began preaching to the Gentiles. We miss how radical this idea was. The Gentiles were considered unclean and by hanging out with them you became unclean by association. The Gentiles were outsiders and not considered to be worthy of knowing God. The Jewish mission had always been to the Jews until Paul and Barnabas mix things up completely. Why would they do this? They say: ‘the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’ Their vision allowed for new direction, new ideas and new approaches. They led the Church into a new paradigm.
The benefit of letting go of an individual vision is that you discover flexibility to reach more people. You can move over here or there. You can change your style or your set up. You can target different demographics. You can partner with other churches and celebrate their wins because you realise that when one church wins every church is winning. Because your competition is darkness.
There are so many people to reach, so many people looking for hope and yet we seem to be blinded by our visions.
What if you gave up your personal vision and joined something larger. Who might be waiting for the good news that you have on your lips? Make Jesus your vision.