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By understanding the principles behind visionary leadership, you can take your church to a new level of effectiveness in carrying out the Great Commission.

Helen Keller was once asked what would be worse than blindness. Her response: "To have sight with no vision."

Vision sustains the leader when his or her best hopes are reduced to ashes. William Carey left the pastorate and sailed for India in 1792 as a fiery 20-something preacher. But after 10 years of painstaking translation work, he lost it all when a suspicious fire destroyed his manuscripts in the middle of the night. A decade of arduous labor literally went up in smoke in one horrific night--and Carey had no back-up disk!

But he did have a choice. He could have opted to go home an embittered former missionary, announcing that the price was simply too high. Or he could get up out of the ashes. Thank God, that is the choice Carey made. His love for Jesus held him and his blazing vision to plant the gospel in India was hotter than any fire antagonists could ignite.

Carey shifted into a supernatural anointing. He would go on to translate portions of Scripture into an almost unbelievable 37 languages and dialects. Carey's vision was anchored in a profound theological understanding of God's purpose for the church and the evangelization of the world. His vision survived even the most intense, fiery trials.

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Godly vision is not merely a good idea, the result of a consensus group or some trance-like state that severs the visionary from reality. Vision is spiritual insight into the purposes of God. It is a holy mix of foresight and insight based on hindsight.

Vision sees God's hand in history and moves the future toward the unrivaled rule of Jesus Christ. Godly vision is not fragile aspirations; it is rock-solid hope anchored in God and His promises. A leader sees farther and more clearly than others and, as a leader, he or she is required to convey what he or she sees to those who follow.

God-given vision calls to you in the night and focuses you in the day. John Maxwell observes that "vision leads the leader. It sparks and fuels the fire within, and draws him forward. It is also the fire-lighter for others who follow that leader."

Your vision for ministry is a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through you to build His kingdom. God will give you, His undershepherd, a vision for your church and what He wants to accomplish through your church family to build His kingdom.

Vision occurs when God conveys to you His will for the future. Then, by the Spirit's enablement, you carry responsibility on a human level for making the vision a reality. You are the steward of the vision.

"To be more than a slothful steward of the talents given in his keeping, the executive has to accept responsibility for making the future happen," Peter Drucker notes. When God gives you His vision, you sense His presence, perceive His power and focus on His plan for fulfillment.

Clear vision creates the future. It fosters hope and lifts people. A vision from God will lift you and all who embrace the vision out of despondency.

That's why visionary leaders are literally purveyors of hope. They see with faith's eyes into a better future, and they see this preferable future first. There has never been a great leader who was a pessimist and there never will be. That's because vision, by its very nature, is propelled by the sure hope of a better, God-honoring future.

A healthy church vision is God's will for the future through that particular local body. It emanates from God's heart to the pastoral leader's heart. From him it flows to the rest of the ministry team and ultimately to the entire church body.



Christian Leadership Interprets God's Heart

1. Vision confirms leadership. Aubrey Malphur said it best: "Christian leaders are godly people (character) who know where they are going (vision) and have followers (influence)." If you don't know where you're going, please don't try to lead others. We don't need more spiritual nomads.

2. Vision never comes from consensus; it comes from God. A vision from God will be preceded by a greater vision of God. The often quoted "vision verse," Proverbs 29:18, could be translated, "Where there is no continuing redemptive revelation of God, the people of God are in a state of wasting away."

Acquiring God's vision requires an "unmasking" before the Lord, who forces us to see our unvarnished selves. In this vulnerable position, we acknowledge that the vision is bigger than we are; only God's grace can make the vision reality. In the same breath we cry out, "Who is equal to such a task?" (see 2 Cor. 2:16) and "our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant" (see 2 Cor. 3:5-6).

3. Your church's vision should be tied to God's kingdom vision. Some pastors possess colossal vision for a 10-mile radius. Then their vision comes to a screeching halt. Beyond their little domain they revert to an outmoded, Ptolemaic view of reality that essentially says, "The earth is flat and there is no life (at least none of value) outside of the concerns of my life." Such insipid vision is man-centered and certainly not God-birthed. At best, it only furthers egocentric, one-generation empires.

God is refocusing His leaders today away from the temporal to the eternal, and beyond a merely local vision to a global one. Any church that is not seriously involved in helping to fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist. Such churches may speak in swelling terms of multi-thousand seat auditoriums and "destiny" seminars but they do not possess a healthy church vision.

A local church's vision should be intrinsically tied to the greater vision of God's eternal kingdom and the worldwide worship of His Son. Every church, no matter its size, should prayerfully ask, What unique role has God called this local church to play in helping to fulfill the Great Commission?

4. Your vision should be large enough to honor God and attract people. One visionary who always led in light of the Great Commission was Henrietta C. Mears, the founder of Gospel Light and the most innovative Christian educator of her day. She said: "There is no magic in small plans. When I consider my ministry, I think of the world. Anything less than that would not be worthy of Christ nor His will for my life."

At least initially, it doesn't cost any more to dream big dreams than to dream little dreams. God is into people changing, nation changing and world changing. If we truly grasp His heart, our vision will be large.

5. Vision and faith go hand in hand. Vision spawns faith and faith, in turn, enlarges vision. Here are two faith-building exercises God gave Abraham: Count the stars; count the sand. God used these metaphoric exercises to buttress Abraham's vision. And it worked: "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed...being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised" (see Rom. 4:18-21).

Many factors involved in leadership may be beyond your control. But the single greatest factor influencing Christian leadership is entirely in your court. Only you determine how radically you will choose to believe God.

As legendary missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, observed, "We have heard of many people who trusted God too little, but have you ever heard of anyone who trusted Him too much?" We are invited to eagerly desire the best gifts (see 1 Cor. 12:31). Every leader should press in and earnestly desire the gift of faith.

6. Vision galvanizes action. Again, Proverbs 28:19 comes to mind: Without vision, the people perish. And if the people perish without vision, how much more does the leader perish without vision?

Life has no overarching focus. Although vision is not the result of consensus, a healthy vision will result in consensus. God's vision, clearly stated, will make everything on the inside of you stand at attention and report for service.

George Barna reflects: "Vision becomes a bold reason for living. It is a badge of purpose that the bearer wears proudly and courageously." Many churches are flaccid in evangelism and outreach simply because they haven't been challenged to "lift up their eyes and look on the fields."

7. Vision prioritizes your life. It affects the choices we make. Time management moves from theory to necessity. Without a clear vision we tend to make choices based on what is pressing us at the moment.

With a clear vision, we make long-term choices that produce genuine change. We cease to react to circumstances and begin to act in light of the compelling vision. Interestingly, the greater the vision, the fewer your options. Your days and minutes are determined. Superfluous activity diminishes in direct proportion to the size and clarity of the vision.

8. Vision doesn't diminish risk, it increases risk. Vision and risk are intertwined. By their nature, visions extrude us from our comfort zones. I don't know about you, but God's visions have always outstripped my resources. New vision requires more energy and more money than I currently have.

The same God who birthed the vision must now intervene for its accomplishment. Since vision involves literally changing the future, risk is inevitable. In most ventures, risk is in direct proportion to the size of opportunity.

A healthy church vision is no exception. Sir Francis Drake's prayer should be ours, too: "Disturb us, O Lord...when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore."

9. Healthy vision has healthy components. There are several elements that comprise a healthy church vision. While this is not a comprehensive list, all healthy vision embodies at least the following components:

A healthy vision is clear. John Maxwell notes that vision is sustained by seeing it clearly, saying it continually and showing it continually. Clarity of vision conveys a succinct, simple understanding of God's purposes and desires.

Charles Spurgeon once corrected a young, highly educated preacher for using vocabulary his hearers did not grasp. "You haven't proven you've gone to seminary," Spurgeon told him. "You've just proven you don't know how to preach."

The common people heard Jesus gladly. People should hear us gladly, too, because we are clearly understood. Our congregations should not be required to agree with everything we say, but we should be required to make sure they understand everything we say. Every third-grader in your church should be able to comprehend the church's vision.

A healthy vision is challenging. Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid, taught, "The first thing you do is teach the person to feel that the vision is very important and nearly impossible. That draws out the drive in winners." A challenging vision will uncork pent-up energies and abilities.

A healthy vision is possible. When I was in seminary, I announced to the rural Texas church I pastored that we would baptize more people that year than any year in the church's history and that we would give three times as much to missions as was given the year before. An audible gasp went through the crowd but both goals were met. Why? Because the vision was clear, and although it stretched us, it was possible. The possible became probable and soon the probable became inevitable.

A healthy vision is passionate. Mike Downey, president of Global Missions Fellowship, believes that "passion is to a Great Commission Christian what money is to a banker." The vision becomes like Jeremiah's fire in his bones. Even when we're exhausted and tempted to quit, the vision is an unquenchable fire in the leader's belly. A heaven-sent vision burns inside you as the kind of future that must happen.


Vision at Work

Chuck Warnock, senior pastor of East Texas Church on the Rock in Longview, Texas, felt compelled by the Holy Spirit in early 1999 that their church should adopt an unreached people group. After prayer, the Spirit led them to a major people group in southwest China. Although this group numbered some 1.3 million people, little existing research was available.

Last November the church launched out in faith, taking its first exploratory journey to the area. Their hope was merely to find and perhaps make contact with some from this group. Back home the church family prayed fervently every night for success. Not only did the team find this people group, God engineered opportunities to visit in their homes, eat with them and even to contact several government officials.

When the team returned, they showed a video documenting what God had done. Today, a training school is now preparing young Chinese nationals to evangelize and plant viable churches among this group. The clearly stated goal is that in five years they will plant 100 churches in the region and within 10 years there will be at least 60,000 believers.

When God stirred Dale O'Shield's heart about a new site and building for Church of the Redeemer in Gaithersburg, Maryland, he knew his job would be both vision casting and vision maintenance. At recent Easter services, 44 people received Christ and the attendance soared past all previous records. The church is poised to move to their new, expanded campus this fall. O'Shields sees six components that enabled the church body to embrace the vision and transition with strength to their new facility:

1. Communicate the value and purpose of the project. "I've tried to share with our congregation the real value of what we are doing," O'Shields observes, "and avoid describing our new building as something we 'need.' People aren't motivated at their highest level by need. A compelling value and purpose are much more motivational.

"For example, a new building facilitates the accomplishment of eternal purposes, many of which we will be able to witness in the days to come, and many that will only be evident in eternity. This is something worth investing in."

2. Define the achievability of the vision. A credible leader must paint a specific picture of the achievability of the vision. People need to see that a sensible plan has been prepared and that the leader is committed to managing the plan through to completion. "This is not to say that all aspects of how the vision will be accomplished are explainable," O'Shields cautions.

"A God-given vision always requires faith; the vision is bigger than we are and larger than our capacities, but God still gives a plan that moves us toward these steps of faith. People are willing to exercise faith when they see a practical plan that does not rule out faith, neither does it elevate the faith required to ridiculous extremes." O'Shields also says that a fairly detailed presentation has helped stimulate, rather than restrict, the congregation's faith.

3. Be an enthusiastic visionary. The pastor serves as the gauge for the level of enthusiasm that will be embraced by the congregation. "I communicated my enthusiasm, not so much for the new building itself as for the new opportunities for ministry this new facility will bring to our church," O'Shields notes. The visionary's enthusiasm helps people focus on the purpose and enthusiastically embrace the vision themselves.

4. Keep the vision alive. Church of the Redeemer worked for 3-1/2 years just to secure the permit to begin construction. O'Shields stresses the importance of truthfully and consistently communica ting the status of the situation. In times of delay he solicited prayer support.

"As we started construction, I made it a priority to provide the congregation with a Power Point or video presentation of the progress. This kept the vision before the people and gave me an opportunity to remind them of the purpose behind the project. Repeating the purpose is important so they can walk away saying, 'Oh yeah, that's why we are doing this!'"

5. Celebrate milestones. Various milestones in the construction became mini-celebrations. When the construction permit was finally secured, the groundbreaking, when the footings were poured, when the first pieces of steel were erected--these became times of special celebration in the services. "It helped the people see and sense progress," O'Shields recalls, "particularly since the project was protracted."

6. Continue to invite ownership and participation in the vision. "I regularly challenged our congregation to take ownership of the building project in their own prayer time," O'Shields observes. "A Power Point presentation played before and after services, encouraging prayer for the project. Now, nothing thrills me more than to hear people reference the new site as our new building. Constant reminders of what we are doing together and what purposes we are working toward help maintain momentum."


Focusing and Refocusing the Vision

1. Never let your vision atrophy. Faith is like a muscle. If you exercise it, it grows; if you don't exercise it, it grows weak. Once vision is born in your heart, watch out. The devil then begins a lifelong campaign to chisel away at the vision. He takes the mallet of the blows of life along with the chisel of cutting remarks to strike at the size of your vision.

If you're not vigilant, you may wake up one day to discover that your vision is no longer God-sized; it's only man-sized. I've never seen a person enter ministry with a small vision, but I have seen many exit ministry with a small vision. God is speaking to someone reading these words now: He is calling you back to the original vision.

2. Expect resistance. Unfortunately, our evangelical/charismatic subculture tends to severely punish those who defy the status quo. Big dreamers are immediately pigeonholed as carnal opportunists. Fellow ministers sometimes spew venom at those who dare to forge a new path. This belies a deep-seated insecurity and also suggests a deficiency in theology.

I was once asked to speak at a conference in England on church growth. During the question-and-answer session, an obviously upset British pastor challenged my call to aggressive evangelism. "While I'm sure we all applaud your zeal," he began, "where did you get the idea that we should have such big dreams?"

In that moment the Holy Spirit gave me a quick response. "Sir," I replied, "I got that idea from an Englishman. Remember, it was William Carey who said: 'Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.'"

Charles Swindoll wrote in Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, "Without the motivation of divinely empowered insight and enthusiasm, people tend toward the 'average,' doing just enough to get by...Excellence is not only lost in the shuffle; whenever it rears its head, it is considered a threat."

3. Biblical insight, rhema revelation and outside consultation are a strong, "three- fold chord" to strengthen your vision. Costa Deir was one of the most colorful, Christlike leadership equippers of the last century. He constantly challenged emerging leaders to "see the invisible, hear the inaudible and embrace the imperishable. Then, you can do the impossible!" Consistently being in the Word, seeking godly counsel and being open to specific revelation will anchor and enhance your vision.

4. Good leaders can balance multiple projects but they cannot balance multiple visions. All leaders learn to balance multiple projects within a single vision. But when the vision itself becomes fractioned, there is dissipation of energy and focus.

Have you ever wondered how someone can go into a lion's cage with just a barstool and whip? The lion tamer is counting on the lion becoming disoriented by trying to focus on just one of the barstool's four legs. The powerful beast's energy is neutralized by his inability to focus. Don't let multiple foci neutralize the energies of your church.

5. We often speak of vision but seldom speak of burden; yet burden is usually antecedent to vision. Before Nehemiah became the visionary rebuilder of the walls, he first was brokenhearted as he assimilated the burden of the Lord. In my opinion, ministry does not begin with vision, it begins with burden. Broken over conditions as they are, God then reveals His heart for what can be.


Making the Vision Clearer and Keeping The Vision Hot

1. Get alone with God. Incubate the vision through prayer, fasting and meditation. We feed the fire of our vision by reflection, continued personal growth and by getting around other fire-lighters.

Vision starts in the sanctuary of solitude. Each month I try to set aside a day when I fast both food and words. Alone with the Lord, I revisit the vision. In His presence, ask yourself fog-clearing, vision-inducing questions like these:

What makes you cry?

What thrills your heart?

What gives you energy?

What condition in the world makes you say, "I cannot rest--I will not rest--until this condition is changed"?

2. Study spiritual gifts. Your unique "gift mix," as Fuller professor Robert Clinton noted, is the welding of your spiritual gifts, natural talents and the sum of your experiences. Almost always, God will give you a vision in line with your giftings.

3. Prioritize your gifts. All God's children are "gifted." In the bouquet of spiritual gifts He has given you, there is one dominant gift. This is where you should invest most of your energy and time. Your consuming vision and your dominant spiritual gift will probably dovetail perfectly.

4. Write the vision. Literally. As God told a depressed prophet who was almost ready to dump the vision, "Write it, clarify it, read it, and run with it" (see Hab. 2:2). The fire builds with each step.

5. Be expectant. Then God told Habakkuk, "The vision is for an appointed will certainly come and will not delay" (see Hab. 2:3). The church is entering a "season of suddenlies." Trust plus expectancy equals faith.

Oral Roberts challenged us years ago, "Expect a miracle!" Every day we need to be on the lookout for God's surprises and the fulfilling of the vision.

6. Be a dreamer of the day. T.S. Eliot noted that dreamers of the day, dreamers with open eyes, "are dangerous men." Set goals. Devise action steps. Set deadlines. The world doesn't suffer from a lack of good ideas, it suffers from a lack of the implementing of good ideas. Warren Bennis calls it being a "pragmatic dreamer."

7. Never surrender the vision. Paul stood before a pagan king and declared, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19, NKJV). The vision from heaven blinded him from everything else. The vision transformed Paul's priorities and loyalties.

With the heavenly vision as our lodestar, we can affirm with Adoniram Judson, "The prospects are as bright as the promises of God!"

David Shibley serves as president of Global Advance ( He is the author of 14 books including A Force in the Earth (Creation House).

Healthy Church Vision

By understanding the principles behind visionary leadership, you can take your church to a new level of effectiveness in carrying out the Great Commission.

by David Shibley

Resources and Bibliography

Barna, George. The Power of Vision, Regal Books, 1992.

Biehl, Bobb and David Shibley. Growing Servant Leader, Global Advance, 1999.

Biehl, Bobb. Masterplanning, Broadman & Holman, 1997.

Haggai, John. Lead On!, Word Books, 1986.

Oster, Merrill J. Vision-Driven Leadership, Here's Life Publishers, 1991.

Shibley, David. Recapturing Your Dreams, New Leaf Press, 1998.

Video Series:

Shibley, David. Vision Leadership, International Curriculum, 1997.


After registering at our Web site, you'll be able to access information-packed appendices that will provide data about healthy church vision that could not be included in this published course.

The appendices include:

* The Character of the Visionary

* Highly Favored

* Five Faith Declarations

* Five Great Commitments

* Joshua's Visionary Leadership

* Focusing the Vision

* Financing the Vision

* "Vision University"

* Creating a World Vision Through Prayer

* Ultimate Success

* Vision for a World-Class Church

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