Preaching The Gospel

Friday, November 28, 2008

Developing a Vision When You're Not a Visionary

Developing a Vision When You're Not a Visionary
It's easier than you think.
by Kevin Miller

My wife, Karen, and I are both in leadership at our church. So dinner-table discussions often come back to how to help other Christians step into leadership. Volunteers tell us, "I might be willing to facilitate, but I'm not sure I'm a leader." People don't consider themselves leaders, because when they say leader, they think of only one type: a strong, visionary leader. And they know they're not that.
But you don't have to be a visionary to lead well. We've found we can help people move forward as leaders when we say to them, "You can develop a vision even if you're not a visionary." Here are six ways that mortals like us can see where a group needs to go:
1. Tie in to a bigger vision that's already in place. First, ask, "Do I even need to come up with a complete vision from scratch?" Chances are, you don't need to. In most situations, a leader earlier on or higher up has already set a vision, and you can tie what you're doing into that.
Barb is taking on the women's ministry at our church. Does she need to create a vision? Not really. First, her ministry is part of a church, and churches have been going on for 2,000 years and already have a vision: to make disciples through worship, fellowship, teaching, prayer, missions, etc. Second, her ministry is part of our local church, which already has a vision to "Build a sanctuary of transformation" (read: "Become a place where people's lives change for the better because of God"). And finally, Barb's inheriting a women's ministry that already has a vision to encourage women and help them draw closer to God.
So Barb doesn't need to ask, "How do I come up with a vision?" Instead, she can ask, "What part of this vision do I want to build on? How can I improve our fulfillment of that?"
If you aren't starting with a vision, though, here are five ways you can work toward one.
2. Pray and wait on God. This is what most Christians think of when they think of "getting a vision." What does it look like? That varies.
Maybe you'll be reading Scripture, and the particular section captivates you. That's what happened to a guy named Francis: He wandered into a church and heard being read Jesus' words to the rich young ruler, "Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and come follow me." He actually did what he heard, and that's why he's now known as St. Francis.
Or you may be inspired by someone else's ministry. When you see what he or she is doing, you realize, "Oh, that's what I could be!" For example, hearing preachers like John Ortberg and Tim Keller moved me; I saw that preaching in a way that touches both mind and heart would be a great way to invest my life.
Or maybe you'll literally have a middle-of-the-night experience. Billy Graham founded Christianity Today because "About two o'clock one night in 1953, an idea raced through my mind, freshly connecting all the things I had said and pondered about reaching a broader audience. Trying not to disturb Ruth, I slipped out of bed and into my study upstairs to write. A couple of hours later, the concept of a new magazine was complete." (from The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, Zondervan, 2005)

3. Gather a group and jointly develop a vision. When I used to take on a new role at work or church, I would (a) gather a group, (b) cast my vision for this area, (c) see who got on board with the vision.
Then I noticed that my wife did things differently. She would (a) gather a group, (b) talk and pray with all of them, until they all jointly came up with a vision, (c) not worry about who got on board, because they already were on board. When people come up with the vision, they want to help make it happen. Two years ago, Karen created an adult-education ministry at our church, and people said to her, "Wow! How you'd get such a strong team of people to help?" The answer was simple: She let them develop the vision.
If you use this approach to find your vision, be sure to assemble a "dream team," people with strong gifts in the area. Then, set a few basic parameters, so the group has just enough direction to start the conversation.
Why did I think I have to come up with the vision by myself? Now I try to gather a group of strong leaders and together talk and pray and develop a vision. That takes longer, but the ministry lasts longer.
4. Listen to the people you want to help. You don't have to be great at coming up with vision, if you're willing to listen to the people you want to help. If you listen well, people will tell you what they really need. In other words, the people you want to serve help set your vision.
Twenty-five years ago, a guy at Christianity Today named Keith did research among pastors who were getting our Leadership Journal and asked them, "What do you need?" One big answer: "Trained lay leaders."
We tried an annual 130-page journal for lay leaders, and it lasted only 3 years before it died. We prototyped a 4-page print newsletter in 50 churches, but those churches collectively yawned. One day I was talking to two pastors and I said, "I don't understand. You say you want trained lay leaders. So we published a long journal, and you said it was too long. We published a short newsletter, and it didn't wow you. What do you really want?"
They said, in essence, "Choice, customization, convenience." So we launched a loose-leaf notebook (pull out just the page you want and photocopy it to train your leaders) and then a website, Today, Building Church Leaders is one of Christianity Today's most successful websites, reaching thousands of church leaders through its newsletter and many others through the site.
The point: Where did the vision for that come from? Not from us. It came from the people we wanted to help.

5. Stay in your gifts and let them guide you. The idea here is that God has already shown you much of what he wants you to do in life by the way he made you. So ask yourself, "What has God given me? What passions? What skills? What opportunities? What concerns?"
My wife, Karen, who's on staff at our church, was talking with a young woman named Laura. Laura said, "I couldn't lead the college ministry. I'm not a visionary." So Karen told her, "Well, you recently graduated from college, and you like college students. So if you did work with college students, what would you do?" Laura talked nonstop for 15 minutes. She had more vision than she thought she did, because she already had the suitable gifts for college ministry. As Laura talked about "Here's what I care about and what I would do," her gifts began to express themselves in a solid vision.
6. Solve some problem right in front of you. Often vision is born by passing through the narrow and dark birth canal of problems. You see the problem, and you start to work on it. You don't necessarily feel inspired or see lights. All you are doing is trying to solve some problem right in front of you. But later, everyone else says, "What a great vision!"

The Bible's classic example is Nehemiah. He hears a terrible report about the few remaining Jews living in Jerusalem: "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." The news makes him cry. Nehemiah fasts, prays, and begins to ask for help and to assemble the people and materials. Today we hold up Nehemiah as an example of a visionary leader: he conceived and launched a staggering city-rebuilding project. Nehemiah was simply trying to solve one problem right in front of him.

Bringing your vision to fulfillment. Once you've got your vision, through one or more of the six ways listed above, do something with it. Some people don't like the word "vision" because they've seen it stand for "lots of hype and nothing happens." My sister-in-law worked for a huge credit-card-processing company. She told me, "The execs would come down and say, 'You're all leaders.' They'd say, 'We're going to be world-class.' But then they'd go back to their offices, and nothing would really change."
To avoid hype, dedicate yourself to fulfilling your vision. In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul says, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me." Bill Hybels comments on this verse: "What is Paul saying? I think he's saying, 'The moment I received my vision from God, fulfilling that vision became the pressing priority of my life.'"
Kevin A. Miller is a vice-president for Christianity Today International and assistant pastor for Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.
This article originally appeared on Gifted for Leadership, Christianity Today International's website and blog for women who have the spiritual gift of leadership.
Copyright © 2007 by Kevin A. Miller.

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