That Vision Thing - July 2013 Congregational Letter
Back in 1987, a Time magazine reporter asked then Vice President Bush about his strategic plan for our nation’s future. Bush famously responded, “Oh, that vision thing!”
When we consider “that vision thing” from a biblical perspective, we discover the word “vision” does not appear in the Bible, at least not in the terms of our contemporary usage in which we’re almost always speaking about a picture of a preferred future, a dream of what could be. When the term “vision” is used in the Bible, it is almost always in reference to some audio-visual experience through which God speaks. The vision could be about the future, but not necessarily so. There are no verses in the Bible that I can think of that use the word “vision” the way we do, to refer to dreams that we have, a set of plans to achieve a preferred future for our lives, our church or our community.
What Do We Mean By Vision?
Whenever I think of vision, I think of Bobby Kennedy’s famous statement when he said, “Some people see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’”
Vision answers the question, “Why not?” Why not have a leadership team that is spiritually alive and is growing in intimacy with Christ? Why not have multiple fellowships within Vineyard Columbus led by immigrant leaders, who attract hundreds, indeed thousands of Hispanics, West Africans, Asians and East Africans in culturally appropriate settings all within our church? Why not have a church where every single regular attender knows how to introduce someone else to Jesus and is motivated to do so? Why not have a church that is biblically deep and where people also experience the presence of the Holy Spirit?
The Bible uses the word “faith” to refer to what we mean by vision – a picture of a preferred future. Hebrews 11:1 says this: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. Faith anticipates the future. Other versions translate the Greek word “hypostases” as faith gives “substance” to our hopes. It’s by faith that dreams from God are made substantial, so that they don’t stay in the realm of virtual reality. Faith gives substance to our dreams. Faith allows us to see into the future the invisible realm as if it is already real and tangible.
Hebrews 11:3 adds this: "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible."
Hebrews 11:3 expresses the worldview of the visionary leader. Our worldview is this: all that we see began with the command of God. The Christian is the person in the community who believes that in the beginning nothing existed other than the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a Being who is utterly content, who had no needs, and who is self-sufficient. The Triune God experienced perfect love in community between Father, Son and Spirit. As an act of pure love, this Triune Being spoke a word, “Let there be light” and so the universe began.
But we recognize that if anything exists – our families, our schools, our church buildings, the sun – it exists solely by the command of God, from whom, to whom and through whom are all things. Which leads to this very simple point: visionary leaders are grateful to God for everything we have.
The apostle Paul once asked the church in Corinth: What do you have that you did not receive? It was a rhetorical question. The answer is “nothing.”
So how does this understanding of God and His past activity connect with what President Bush called that “vision thing?” Take the typical situation of a pastor, or a ministry leader or a parent, who is struggling to have vision for her ministry or family. What should she do? What she should not do is try to stir up vision in herself by engaging in creative imagination exercises. What she should do is remember what God has done in her past or her church, and take extended time to offer thanks to God.
There is an old saying that all Christian theology is grace and all Christian living is gratitude. Vision is our response to God’s past extravagant grace. It comes out of a heart of gratitude.
Donald McCullough, in his book titled Say Please, Say Thank You, wrote this: "Here is the revolutionary truth revealed through the eyes of gratitude: Nothing has to be."
No good thing in your life has to be there by some sort of necessity. If you get a good night’s sleep, that is a gift. If your body works without pain, that’s a gift. If you get to spend another day with loved ones, it is a gift. If you wake up in the morning and you have a clear mind and you are sane, it is a gift. Your friends, your home, your work, your ministry – they are all gifts. Everything we have is on loan from God. If you are a pastor, or on a church staff like me, it doesn’t have to be that we have jobs in which we feel that we are doing something meaningful, and are making a contribution to something of a supreme worth – the salvation of men and women. It doesn’t have to be that we get paid to do what we love to do anyway and what many of us would (and, in fact, did) do for free.
It certainly doesn’t have to be that our efforts and our prayers would necessarily pay off in the actual fruit of transformed lives, transformed marriages, people being fed or receiving medical care, babies being born alive who otherwise wouldn’t be, immigrants being welcomed, prisoners being discipled, the sick being healed , or anyone being saved. None of the things that we experience being part of God’s church has to be. They’re all products of the grace of God. Everything we have is grace. It is much easier to believe for future grace when you spend time reflecting upon and thanking God for past grace.
The appropriate response to grace is gratitude, to regularly pause and say “thank you” to God. Gratitude is the soil in which that “vision thing” grows.