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Beware of Vision-Casting From the “Top Down”

Have we been doing vision-casting wrong?

I think so. For maybe a generation or more.

I was at a church conference not long ago where the leader spent all his time trying to convince the assembled leadership team to get behind his vision for the group. They like the leader, but very few of the pastors were buying into it.

Top-down leadership is not leadership. Leaders don’t convince followers to support the leader’s needs. Leaders are committed to meeting the followers’ needs.

Some of my worst disasters in ministry came from me trying to implement my vision, only to find out that my vision was something no one else shared. They might have even agreed that it was a good idea—for me. But it wasn’t theirs.

No wonder they didn’t get behind it.

And no, I do not believe the alternative is to do a better job at convincing the group of your vision. If the church doesn’t get behind the pastor’s vision, maybe the pastor’s vision for them isn’t God’s vision for them.

For example, NewSmallChurch.com is part of a vision God has given me. It was birthed from experiences in the church I pastor. The congregation fully supports me in it. But I don’t push it as God’s vision for them, because it’s not. It’s God’s vision for me.

How We’ve Been Taught to Cast Vision

Here’s the way vision-casting is usually taught and practiced.

  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, Bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference.
  • The pastor preaches about the vision.
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision.
  • The vision is supported, preached and repeated regularly.

From the top. Down to the bottom.

Here are some problems I see with that way of casting vision.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.