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Can I Lead My Church Without a Clear Vision?

Q: I’m the pastor of a church that is desperately in need of transition. Am I the right leader to guide them through this transition, even if I don’t have a clear vision for the church?

A: This is a very important and relevant question for more pastors than you might think. After all, not many pastors will confess that they don’t have a clear vision for their church. And yet, the reality is that many don’t.

I’d say the final answer to your question is “yes,” you can lead your church through transition without a clear vision for the future. However, while it is possible to be the right leader for a church in transition without a clear vision, it is not possible if you have no vision.

If you have no picture of how the church could be better tomorrow than it is today, then you have no capacity to effectively lead it. However, if you do have a vision—whether it’s clear or not—then you have potential to be the right leader. But it will take some work.

When I was first called to NorthRidge as lead pastor, it didn’t take the gift of discernment to know that the church wasn’t working right. It had been in decline for more than three decades, and I knew God had a very different picture for our church’s future. But I had no clarity on what that would look like in our setting. In fact, it took me about two-and-a-half years to land on the clearly expressed vision God had designed for our church. However, the vision ultimately flowed out of and matched the passion that God had long been developing in me.

Let me share the two sides of “vision” as I understand them. The first side is found in deeply feeling it. The right leader must feel, be driven by, and own the burden for the church to be what God has called it to be.

If you have that burden for the church’s future, you can and should also get help from others in shaping, sharing, and engaging a clear vision. This is the second side of vision: clearly seeing it and sharing it with others. Let me be really honest here. Though I have fairly strong gifts when it comes to developing vision, it is still extremely difficult for me to see and share that vision with blinding clarity. In the past, when I’ve listened to great leaders speak about how vision comes easy for all “real” leaders, I’ve smiled on the outside while inside I churned with self-doubt. The reason is simple: Having a clear vision isn’t as easy or natural as they made it sound.

The truth is that being in the church I’m in today, with all that God has done, makes me look like a far better visionary leader than I really am. No one has perfect clarity of vision. But the right leader is driven by and won’t be happy or content unless he or she is grappling with that burden, seeking to clarify and express it in ways that will compel others to buy into it.

As long as you look to God for wisdom and continually seek the help of others, you will ultimately be able to see and share the vision clearly and effectively.   

by Brad Powell
As senior pastor of NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan, and author of Change Your Church for Good (Nelson), Brad Powell consults with church leaders to help them lead their churches through transition. Additional resources by Powell are available online at Bradpowellonline.com. To submit your questions about transitioning your church, e-mail him at Bpowell@Outreachmagazine.com.

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