The concept of vision in leadership is the subject of a plethora of books and articles. While often misunderstood and misapplied, leader vision is certainly a biblical concept and one that is vitally important for the godly influence of others.
The outcomes of a properly defined and communicated vision should cause leaders to remind themselves that sharing and modeling vision is inherent in their job as leaders. If they don’t do it, then the things below will likely not be seen in their organization.
Sharing vision means speaking to potential. It is first a leader seeing and believing what is possible, then communicating to others what can be, should be, and WILL be with faith and courage in God. A leader with a calling from God who is able to translate that calling into a clear, concise and compelling vision is a leader who motivates others. When communicated with excellence by the leader, the vision associated with God’s call inspires others to embrace the challenge of a great work.
1. Vision unites. Vision provides purpose, and therefore it allows people to cooperate with one another and become unified. This is different from tolerance. Tolerance is a passive dynamic and simply means that people put up with each other. Unity, on the other hand, is an active force characterized by love, intention, and a common vision. God wants his church not simply to tolerate each other, but to become “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).
Since the achievement of vision is larger and more important than any one person’s agenda, everyone submits to and rallies around its achievement. The church community realizes that God’s will is at stake, that spiritual needs must be met, and that petty differences must be set aside. Unity flows from purpose (Acts 2:42–47). In fact, without clear purpose churches cannot become unified. Calling, and the vision that flows from it, produces a clear sense of purpose that naturally brings people together in love, harmony, and motivation.
2. Vision reduces conflict. There is a direct, inverse correlation between the degree of the prominence of vision in a church and the degree of conflict in the church. Initially, while vision may actually produce conflict with those who disagree with it, in time vision has the ability to clarify purpose in such a way that unity must result.
When vision is prominent, conflict is reduced. When vision is not prominent, conflict increases. This is because when there is a void of vision, other less important priorities will take its place. If God’s call does not get people’s attention, something else will. It is those insignificant matters that often create conflict and disagreement. People begin to look critically at minor things in the church and at each other—at the petty and at personalities. They argue about the color of the carpet and about what the pastor said that they didn’t like.
As Lovett Weems states, “Without a compelling vision there will be a vacuum in which almost nothing is happening, but in which almost every problem becomes exaggerated.”[i] In truth, people who do not turn their attention to the compelling nature of God’s vision turn on each other.
3. Vision provides accountability. Churches are notorious for being busy, active places with plenty of programs and ministries. Yet with all the busyness, we often look around and wonder why we aren’t being more effective in bringing change. Could part of the problem be that we are busy doing things that don’t translate into transformation? Activity does not necessarily equal productivity. Peter Drucker’s statement applies well here: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”[ii]
Once a vision is set before people, it inherently provides a means for accountability and evaluation. If vision is prominent, the accompanying question will always be, “Are we achieving it?” This is one reason why it’s easier not to have any vision at all—there’s no accountability when we don’t. But when vision is clear and well-communicated, it becomes a measure for work, prayer, effort, and obedience to God. This helps a church not just be busy, but hold itself accountable to actually achieve God’s will.
4. Vision inspires and motivates. Without a clear sense of vision, people become frustrated, burned out, and dogged by a lack of meaning in their work. They lack purpose and have no greater reason for the effort they are giving. Biblical leaders are able to contextualize the seemingly mundane things that people do in the church into the larger sense of God’s vision. In the leader’s mind, every person matters in the achievement of vision, and therefore what they do is important— big or small. When people understand that they are an integral part of the great unfolding of God’s call, it compels them from within. Vision provides them a purpose greater than themselves and thus an inner fuel by which to serve, pray, give, love, stay up late, and get up early.
There is a story told about conversations a pastor had with workers during the construction of his large, beautiful church. The pastor passed by a construction worker on the way inside and said to him, “What are you doing?” The man said, “I am laying a brick.” He walked down further and said to another worker, “What are you doing?” The worker said, “I’m building a cathedral.”
There’s an amazing difference in the mind and heart of a person who is just laying a brick and of one who is building a cathedral. One has vision, the other doesn’t. One understands the larger purpose, the other doesn’t. One is motivated and inspired, the other is not. Biblical leaders must have the ability to help people see how their activity adds to a vision for the greater work of God. In doing this they provide hope, inspiration, and endurance to those who labor in the Lord.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”[iii]
Therefore leader— what do you see in the people and the circumstances before you? This will determine what people will aspire to and become. Do you see a cathedral? Do you yearn for the sea? If you don't, your people certainly will not.
[i] Lovett H. Weems. Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, Integrity. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993, 65.
[ii] Peter Drucker. “Managing for Business Effectiveness.” Harvard Business Review, May 1963. pp. 53–60.
[iii] Antoine De Saint-Exupery, as cited in D. Bray, A Willful Volunteer: Examining Conscience in an Unconscious World. Lincoln, NE. iUniverse, 2001. p. 71.