[NOTE: If you are a regular reader of this blog or know me at all, you know that I am less of a pro visionary leader and more of a pro revelatory leader.
In chapter 10 of To Love and To Cherish From This Day Forward…A Portrait of a Healthy Church I assume vision to be the word many churches would use, so I try to define it in a way that is palatable to me. Then I proceed to fit it into the tone and message of the book.
It was the only language I had to work with at the time and find it acceptable but not altogether pleasing. In the course of time, and with the help of many influencers, I have settled into the pro revelatory language.
Nonetheless, in recently teaching a course for Rockbridge Seminary, I had to make a post from a vision perspective. It was a helpful exercise that, with some editing for a broader readership, I offer here. Enjoy.]
Do you remember it? Which translation?
“If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves…” (msg)
“Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled…” (ncv)
“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint…” (niv)
“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild…” (nlt)
And most famously:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (kjv)
There’s the word… the one we 21st century American leaders love… vision. Ahhhhhh
The phrase is not borrowed from global leaders of intercontinental enterprise.
It is actually an agricultural image. Here’s the picture:
A farmer, plowing a furrow
We don’t do it that way very often anymore… a team of horses or mules harnessed together, yoked to a plow, working the fields.
Adele/I live near Lancaster County Pennsylvania. It is home to the oldest Amish population in America… though no longer the largest (that one is in Ohio). We go shopping in the Lancaster area every two months to restock our pantry and fill up the freezer.
The Amish were organic long before organic was cool!
We love to go about any season of the year, but especially early Spring… they are readying the fields for planting.
To this very day the Amish will harness up 6-8 mules or great big Belgian horses and work the fields just like it might have been done when the writer of Proverbs used that word picture.
And their fields are incredibly beautiful – the straightest rows I’ve ever seen, circling around the rolling hills of the region.
Now plows and mules are not the easiest of tools to work with to create such magnificence. So, how do they do it?
The Amish farmer sets his hands to the plow and his eyes to a spot. That spot is his vision. As long as…
- He keeps his eyes on the spot
- He keeps his hands on the plow
- He keeps his back into the reins
…the resulting furrow is straight and the fields, as they grow, are workable and lovely.
The thing is, that spot changes as he moves along – it is dynamic – and it is not all that significant, very often simply a tree or a fence post.
The issue, when it comes to his vision is not how spectacular it is, but how sure it is.
The Amish farmer is not using vision to motivate; he is embracing vision to regulate. His concern is for the fields and the future harvest, not at all for the spot.
But, take your eyes off of the spot and the furrows would be useless as channels for working the fields.
About the only thing worse than losing sight of his vision/spot would be unyoking the animals and slapping them on the rump.
In that case, they would just run off in whatever direction they want to run. They might have fun. They might get some good exercise. But, in the end, the fields would be left to the next fellow to plow… lost for this farmer and for this season.
That is the image of the passage from Proverbs… a sure vision, a steady hand, a strong back, a helpful result.
Last year I released a Church Health book that included a couple of chapters on the whole leadership issue, including the question of vision. In that text I suggested there are only two reasons I can think of that people resist following a vision:
- Possibly we are just rotten to the core and willingly shake our corporate fists in the face of Almighty God, OR
- The people simply do not believe this word… this revelation or vision or mission… is from God. They think it is from people. (This is the one I see in local churches more often than not)
Those people may be seen as good people doing their best, or as mean people that we want to ‘overthrow’, or somewhere in between. Regardless of how they are viewed, their vision is seen as a vision of people… one which I choose not to follow.
All restraint is cast off… uncontrolled… stumble all over themselves… run wild… perish.
…the fields are left to the next fellow to plow… lost for this farmer and for this season…
Remember: A vision doesn’t have to be spectacular [in fact, the more spectacular it is, the more likely it is to become an idol]; but it does have to be sure.
And the source of what is sure is right there for us in this little text as well: what God is doing… a word from God… divine guidance… revelation!
For a vision to be focused on and submitted to, in the Church, it must be from God.