“Inspiring vision isn’t about what you’re church doesn’t do!” That reality sank in the pastor’s mind as we wrapped up our lunch together. After talking for over an hour about the church he is leading, I refocused his attention on the issue of vision. In his mind, he knew exactly what he didn’t want his church to be…traditional, cluttered with programs, or a drop-off station for parents too lazy to disciple their kids. But what he wanted the church to be…that wasn’t so clear. And that’s when I challenged him: “You can’t build a church (or any organization) on what you’re not going to do. People follow leaders with vision. And vision is about what you will do, not what you won’t do.”
This tension is common in the early years of a leader’s life. Most of us didn’t start with a clear philosophy of ministry or leadership. All we knew was that when we saw something we didn’t like, we pointed at it with resolve and said, “When I’m a pastor, I won’t do that!” And so our “won’t do that” list grew longer each day. The problem is, we didn’t simultaneously create a “would do” list to counter the “won’t do” list.
This isn’t all bad. The way things are usually serves as the catalyst for the way things could be. And therein lies the rub. Too many leaders invite people to follow them into the wild blue yonder simply because they don’t like the way things are. They forget that current reality is the stimulus to change, not the substance of vision.
The current reality that you dislike (ineffective strategies, a disconnect with culture, or a poor ministry model) should stimulate you to change. It should spark a deep dissatisfaction in your soul. But your current reality is not the substance of your vision. Substance isn’t what your church won’t be; substance is what your church will be. If the substance of your vision is to not be something, then your vision has no life and it will lead you to make decisions for the simple sake of rebelling against what was.
So how do you ensure that your vision is more about “will do” substance rather than a never-ending list of “won’t dos?” Here are three keys to consider:
1. Infuse Time in the Vision Birthing Process – Recently I was in a discussion with a group of leaders who were wrestling with their organization’s vision. In an effort to help the discussion, I pitched an “example” of vision to the group. A surge of positive emotion erupted as the group tried to figure out how to adopt the vision I presented as their own. Concerned about where things were heading, I cautioned the group, reminding them that you can’t turn someone else’s vision into your own. You have to wrestle with it for days, weeks, even months. Visions with “will do” substance are born amidst a dissatisfaction with the status quo, meet a need or solve a problem, and are cultivated in deep times of prayer and reflection.
2. Cast the Vision with Compelling Clarity – Simple is better when it comes to vision. At the same time, the vision can’t be a cliché that comes across hokey or insincere. Visions with substance are clear and compelling—like Nehemiah’s vision in the Old Testament. Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was extremely clear…anyone could understand it. But it was also compelling. It was a symbol of hope and dignity. By casting your vision with compelling clarity, you provide hope-filled substance of a brighter tomorrow.
3. Respond to “Don’t” Questions with “Do” Answers – Nehemiah’s story is also a stark reminder that vision attracts critics. So if you want your vision to stay focused on “will do” rather than “won’t do,” choose a “will do” response to the critics. When people ask you, “Why don’t we do (fill in the blank)?” answer them with vision, “Because we do…” You can honor the past, but be loyal to the future. Respond to “don’t” questions with “do” answers.
If your vision only describes what your church won’t do, then you’re only creating another consumer brand version of church. If your organization’s vision is all about what it won’t be, then you haven’t defined why customers should purchase your product. Refocus on the “will do”—that’s the substance of vision.
Question: Does your vision focus more on “Will Do” or “Won’t Do?” What does a vision with substance look like, feel like, and sound like?