I spent my first few months as a pastor in a steep learning curve. Because I had never pastored before, I began devouring books on how to determine and communicate vision for where a church is going. In order to lead your church anywhere, these books told me, you need a preferred future, a visual destination, for which you are working. Pastors I respect declared, “Decide how big you want your church to be, and go for it, whether that’s five, ten, or twenty thousand members. Envision what your church campus (or multiple campuses) will look like five, ten, or twenty years from now, and start working toward it. Dream about how your worship services can become more innovative. All of this is important, so consider hiring a creative consultant to help you. After all, Proverbs 29:18 says that where there is no vision, the people will perish.”
At first, it seemed to make sense. But over time, I found myself getting nauseated by all the vision talk. Setting and reaching goals is important, of course. But were my sights really supposed to be set on bringing a large crowd together in a cool environment where they could hear terrific music, see killer graphics, and then listen to me talk live, or via video, or maybe even via hologram (if only I had really innovative vision)? If this was to be the vision of my life and ministry, I decided, then I should perish.
So I sat down with members in our church, and together we asked, “What is our vision? What do we want to see? Where do we want to fasten our attention in the days to come? What do we want to work toward with all our hearts?”
As we prayed together, the answer became obvious. The only possible vision for the church of Jesus Christ is to make known the glory of God in all nations. This preferred future or visual destination drives us because this is what drives God. Far more than we want stuff for the church, crowds at the church, or activities in the church, we want to know, love, honor, and praise God. And we want all people to do the same. We want to see God glorified by people everywhere because God wants to see himself glorified by people everywhere.
Vision affects everything. That’s what visions do. If the focus of the church is on having a large crowd in a big place where people can come and feel warm and welcomed, then you and I will plan accordingly. We will prioritize a nice church campus for people to drive onto where they can find a convenient parking space. We’ll give them a latte when they walk in the door, and then we’ll provide state-of-the-art entertainment for their children while treating them to a great show that leaves them feeling good when they drive away in a timely fashion. Variations of this vision engineered for the savvy Christian consumer are multiplied across the landscape of our country today, and they work well. The crowds come, and the vision is realized.
But what happens when our vision changes? What happens when our primary aim is not to make the crowds feel comfortable but to exalt God in all his glory? Suddenly, our priorities begin to change. More than you and I want people to be impressed by the stuff we can manufacture, we want them to be amazed by the God they cannot fathom. More than we want to dazzle them with our production, we want to direct them to his praise. And the last thing we want to do is raise up people who are casual in the worship of God as they sit back and enjoy their lattes. Instead, we want to raise up people who are so awed, so captivated, so mesmerized by the glory of God that they will gladly lose their lattes-and their lives-to make his greatness known in the world.
(This article is an excerpt from David Platt’s book, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God, available April 19, 2011.)