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Vision and Its Execution

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

The Region’s four landmarks are Leadership, Connection, Transformation and Church Planting. The Region Board updated these in March 2008 after much positive discussion concerning the Region’s direction over the last four years. “Communication” has now become “Connection” to better convey that we value our association together. “Church Transformation” replaces “Discipleship.” Certainly we prize discipleship and we encourage churches to have a plan for evangelism and maturing new believers. However, much of the recent work of the Region has been centered on church transformation. Many churches need assistance to stop their decline and realize renewal, revitalization and growth.  Transformed churches implement discipleship strategies while declining churches seldom engage in evangelism and discipleship. Church transformation is a better descriptive of what we are presently doing at the Region level while encouraging all our churches to have a plan for discipleship.

The Region’s vision is “growing healthy, mission-focused churches that multiply disciples”. Visions call for implementation strategies. Otherwise visions simply devolve into unrealized dreams.  The landmarks serve as the Region’s four essential strategies. Churches prosper and grow as visionary, Christ-obeying leaders take the helm and provide direction. Likewise, churches that have grown inward require transformation, renewal if you will, to return to the path of doing mission with Jesus. Our connection with one another results in encouragement, accountability and sharing of resources. It’s that part of our life together through which churches apply the scriptural admonition to “consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:24). By nature new church plants are highly effective at reaching the lost and discipling them within a nurturing faith community. In a nutshell the Landmarks are four essential strategies which will help us attain our vision.

I want to express a few thoughts about Church Transformation. As part of this discussion I also want to stress the importance of identifying the essential ministries that will move your church towards the attainment of its vision. Transformation begins with renewal of the church’s “soul.” This only happens as the church reconnects with its head, the Lord Jesus Christ. I say “reconnect” because it is so easy for us to “disconnect” from Jesus. It seems to me that many churches behave like chickens that have had their heads cut off. They thrash around appearing to have life while in truth they are disconnected from their head and are caught in the throes of death. This is as true in our personal walk with Christ as it is for the corporate body. The church receives its life from Jesus Christ just as the fruit receives its life from the vine. Scripture instructs:

Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Eph 1:15-16

The importance of being connected to Christ is also stressed in Col 2:19. Here Paul identifies a man who is puffed up in false spiritual pride. Paul states that he has lost connection “with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” As the body maintains a living union with its head it is continually revitalized and growth is the natural result.

Reconnection with the head should also be accompanied by obedience. Obedience to the commands of Christ offer proof that we are living out our connection with Him. Jesus said, “if you love me, you will obey my command.” (John 14:15). As they seek transformation many churches discover they must start with confession of disobedience. They have failed to obey the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. To rectify this they must return to doing the things they did in the beginning, the things that pleased Jesus Christ (Rev 2:5).

Often, this renewed allegiance to Christ sparks a renewed vision that erupts into a fire of renewal and passion for externally focused mission. The new vision describes a preferred future that Jesus is calling the church towards. This vision motivates, inspires and directs. It galvanizes the various parts of the body into cooperative alignment.

However, some pastors and not a few laypeople become drunk on vision as they seek new direction for the church. That is, their talk is all about vision. Vision, vision, vision, and no identified path for attaining it. The sobering truth is no vision is realized apart from execution of a strategy. A vision without implementation is only a dream, an unrealized dream. Reaching a vision calls for strategic steps that move the church closer to the attainment of the vision. This is where many pastors falter. We are good at talking. It’s our stock and trade.  A strength usually has an accompanying weak side. For many pastors their weakness is found in the inability to help the church discover and execute a strategic action plan.

Little wonder that Dr. Bill Hoyt chose the book Execution for our pastors to read early in the LLC curriculum. I became a little amused at the amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth over that book. For some it was as painful as reading the federal tax code. However, the transferable concepts in that book are desperately needed by pastors and church leaders who are long on dreams and short on execution.

The church assessments that we’ve been conducting for our churches usually reveal three weaknesses:

  1. spiritual anemia from being disconnected from the head of the church, Jesus Christ
  2. absence of clear, unified vision that is widely embraced by the congregation
  3. lack of strategic, fundamental steps that move the congregation along a path towards attaining the vision

Many churches perpetuate ministries without evaluating whether these lead to attainment of the overarching vision. Ministries are launched and they become entrenched in the church’s life. No one is willing to dismount from the horse although it has been dead so long only a skeleton of the old nag remains. Similarly, a church may have a great vision but essential ministries that would lead to the realization of the ministry are never implemented. There are huge gaps in the strategic plan. Basic ministries that would result in renewal and growth are AWOL. Do I have any examples of these? You bet, and I’m glad you asked.

Since I believe every church is expected to make disciples the church will need an evangelism strategy. It may have several components to it, such as:

  • ongoing training classes in personal evangelism
  • an Alpha class offered twice a year
  • an emphasis on inviting the unchurched to small groups
  • worship services and church-wide events
  • serving the local community with acts of kindness
  • prayer for lost friends and family members
  • basic discipleship classes for new converts

Another essential infrastructure piece is dynamic worship. Yeah, I know. This isn’t rocket science. But, you might be surprised how routine and banal worship services can become over time. There is always a danger that we can drift into ritualized worship that fails to touch God or the worshipper. I am talking about something deeper and more essential than worship style. It has to do with the spirit of worship. Certainly new forms of worship can help revive the spirit of worship, but a change in form alone will not accomplish what I am talking about. Wise leaders bath the worship service in prayer. They develop a heart longing for God to show up. Wise leaders leave space in the service for God to work in surprising ways. They preach messages that infuse the congregation with the truth of the Living Word.

Another basic strategic piece is identifying those ministries that build up the disciple and the congregation. Here I am referring to small groups, educational classes and age specific ministries. For a long time I have maintained that an essential ministry for churches in transformation is ministry to children and their parents. Much research has demonstrated that when a church launches an effective children’s ministry growth is almost guaranteed. Most of the churches with whom I’ve consulted bemoan their lack of young families and children. Often the only way this trend is reversed is for the church to commit major energy and resources in children’s ministries. In declining churches, more often than not, such a commitment will require shutting down other ministries that are no longer effective.

A Christ-centered vision that energizes the church is an awesome thing. I recommend that every church clarify and promote its essential vision, mission, values and beliefs, the essential DNA of a church. Of equal importance is a strategic game plan that will lead to the eventual attainment of the identified vision. According to the Bible people perish without vision, and perhaps it’s equally true that visions perish without a plan for implementation. I urge you to do the hard work of identifying your vision and then create a plan to execute it. Your church’s effectiveness depends upon it.

Originally published August 2007 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest