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vision

Celebrating Six Years With ABC-NW

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

I came to the ABC of the Northwest six years ago today. I'm taking just a few moments to say thank you to all the pastors, churches, lay-leaders and the Region Board for the opportunity to serve in this capacity. And, most importantly I thank my God for bringing me to this particular duty station. It is a privilege and an honor to serve the pastors and churches of this great Region.

I was asked today what my vision is for the coming years. My answer was quick in coming, and simple. I believe that God wants our association and work together to yield more and more churches that are healthy, mission-focused and increasing in their ability to multiply disciples of Jesus Christ. I hope that sounds familiar to your ears. We have made significant progress in reaching our vision, but we have many more miles to go. This is not a time to switch visions. Rather, it is a time to increase our intensity in pursuing this vision.

At the same time, as we pursue this vision, I believe that God is calling us to a renewed emphasis on Word and Spirit. The Word is both the Living Word, Jesus Christ, and the inscripturated word of the Bible. The Spirit is the living breath of God that causes the Word to come alive in our hearts. When we study the Word, proclaim the Word, and apply the Word through the Spirit's power, lives are transformed.

Word without Spirit leads to aridity; a mechanical, functional form of Christianity. Spirit without Word results in a chaos of mysticism, individualism, and wide-eyed fanaticism. Spirit and Word are needed in equal measure. Both are found together in Scripture. Jesus preached the Word and ministered through the power of the Spirit. Both are inseparable for effective, life-transforming dynamic ministry.

Paul wrote, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." (1 Thess 1:3,4)

Baptists, who hold to a high view of Scripture, are more comfortable with a Word-centered ministry. We would be wise to balance that important emphasis with an equal appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit. We need the renewing, empowering movement of the Spirit in equal proportion to our knowledge, understanding and application of Scripture. Would it not be a great thing to redouble our study and application of Scripture? And, simultaneously invite the Holy Spirit to use the Word powerfully in our lives to transform us, to renew us, to empower us. Not so that we would be puffed up with right knowledge, but that we would become more like Jesus. And, that we would be more effective in serving and blessing a lost world with the love and grace of our God.

What would happen if we diligently prayed for a fresh moving of the Holy Spirit in our churches? What would happen if in these same churches there transpired a great devotion to the preaching, teaching and application of God's Word? Picture the result of that wedding for a few moments, and pray that it would become a major part of our future together. What an exciting future that would be!

2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog, www.missionnorthwest.blogspot.com]

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

Is Vision Overrated?

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

First Baptist Church of Somewhere, Idaho having heard of the benefits of crafting a compelling vision, formed a vision committee. The committee went off for a Friday evening and Saturday morning retreat to do the work. After considerable discussion, a smattering of prayer, and not a little debate over wordsmithing they finalized a vision statement. They were pleased with the final product. At the annual congregational meeting the motto was presented and affirmed by a 92% vote. The pastor wrote an article on the new slogan for the monthly newsletter. The vision committee made a nice banner with the vision statement inscribed on it and hung it on the sanctuary wall. For the next several weeks the vision appeared in the weekly bulletin. For the most part, everyone was pleased with the new statement.

Six months later the motto has gathered dust, and is forgotten. Everyone can see the vision statement on any given Sunday, because it’s still in plain view on the banner. On occasion it makes an appearance in the bulletin and even the newsletter. No one talks about it. If you were to ask the average attender about the church’s vision they couldn’t recite it. Has the vision statement been effective? Judging by attendance, baptisms, new members and giving, one would have to say no. Not one of these categories has shown an increase. Most would agree that formulating the new vision statement was a waste of time.

This all too common scenario begs the question: Does vision matter? I think it’s safe to say that FBC Somewhere’s experience has been replicated in hundreds of churches resulting in few measurable results. Additionally, there seems to be a number of churches that are growing without any articulated vision.

In the book, Breakout Churches, Thom Rainer identified thirteen turnaround churches for study. His purpose was to demonstrate that these churches had implemented, mostly unaware, the principles of the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. He hoped to convince other churches to implement his findings and potentially experience their own breakout. The research revealed, interestingly enough, that few of the identified churches, contrary to common wisdom, had a clearly defined vision statement at the outset of their turnaround.

Let’s return to the question at hand: Is vision overrated? Perhaps even a waste of time? There has been so much emphasis placed on vision one could expect a level of “vision weariness” among pastors and churches. Maybe it’s better to say that some suffer from “vision wariness”. Why bother with vision if others have experienced such dismal results? As a pastor or leader, you may be tempted to ignore the question. We’ve all heard truck loads of experts extol the benefits of a compelling vision. Yet, the results seem to fall short of expectations. Should the church have a vision? And, what can we expect from it, if it does?

Those of you familiar with Breakout Churches know there was more to the story when it came to the role vision played. Those “breakout churches” pastors were confident about direction and what their churches were striving to accomplish. They were passionate about their congregation’s purpose. Many of these churches eventually developed full‐blown mission, vision, values and belief statements (the components in the DNA of a church).

A common theme emerged from Rainer’s study. All the breakout churches were led by a pastor with vision. On the other hand, the breakout churches didn’t devise some elaborate process to discover vision. Over time it was almost as if the vision discovered the leader, and the congregation. The researchers found that vision had been discerned through the intersection of three factors: the passion of the leader; the needs of the community; and the gifts, abilities, talents and passions of the congregation. Furthermore, they found that the quest for vision was accompanied with a commitment to excellence. This value assisted the congregations in pursuing ever more effective forms of ministry. So, a second look at the breakout churches reveals that vision did play, and does play, an important role. It’s just that they arrived at vision in a more inductive manner than we would expect. Over time, as vision crystallized it played an increasingly central role in the congregation’s growth and health.

This reflects an insight that comes from Dr. Paul Borden, author of Direct Hit and Hitting the Bullseye. He maintains that a church doesn’t need a vision statement. Instead, the church needs to adopt Jesus’ commands as it’s vision, and allow His dictates to determine the church’s purpose and direction, starting with the priority of the Great Commission. Relentlessly seeking to obey the Great Commission will cause a church to become more outward focused, which is at the heart of Jesus’ intentions for His Body.

Essentially, I believe that Dr. Borden is correct. It is the right place to start. It requires no motto or time away with a vision committee. However, over time, as an individual church follows Jesus’ commands, and moves from inward focus to outward focus, it will discover it’s particular “call”, or “thumbprint”. When this is articulated with passion, and stringently pursued, I believe it plays a major factor in the church’s development.

All of this is to say that vision has little to do with catchy slogans or flashy mottos. If this is vision, then, yes, vision is overrated. To the contrary, vision that rises from the heart of the Father, motivated by the love of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and informed by God’s Word, will set a church on fire (the good kind of fire, spiritual fire). It is this form of vision that is in short supply. Prayer, meditating on scripture, embracing the heart of Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit, discerning the needs of the surrounding community, discovering the gifts and passions of the people, and summoning up from deep in the leader’s heart what truly drives him or her…these are the stuff out of which vision emerges.

As odd as it may sound, the fastest growing church in the northwest, and the largest church in the northwest, is located in Post Falls, ID (a town of approximately 20,000). The church which started in a living room eight years ago is presently running 8,000 in five services, and is in the midst of planting six daughter churches, one of which is already close to a 1,000 in attendance.  Real Life Ministries is located only two miles north of the Region office. Because of its proximity and its phenomenal growth I have endeavored to learn more about the church, and what makes it tick.

One thing has struck me as a result of my investigations. The pastor always declares the church’s vision at every service. The vision is simple, compelling, attainable, and utterly biblical: “We exist to reach the world for Jesus Christ, one person at a time.” Then he reports on their progress. This is usually accompanied with videos of baptisms from the previous week (usually 15 to 35 every week). The congregation responds with cheers. Then he reminds everyone that the church doesn’t exist to serve them, or provide them with comfort. Rather, the church exists to serve those who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ. Again, the congregation cheers.

After that, he explains the church’s mission: “We seek to develop disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships in small communities.” (Think of their mission as the next circle out from their most core purpose, their vision.) This leads to a one minute invitation to connect with a small group because, as the pastor, explains, “We do not attend church, we are the church, and we can only be the church when we are in community, not by showing up at a worship service.” In this way, the church moves people into “real relationships” to tackle “real life issues” with insight from scripture so that they will continue in their growth as disciples of Jesus Christ. There is nothing flashy about this. There is no hype. Just deep conviction and strong passion. It takes three minutes to deliver. The old timers know it by heart, but no one seems to tire of it. It strikes me, that this compelling, biblical vision is one of the reasons the church has made such a profound impact in the Post Falls environs. And, it is one factor among many others for its phenomenal growth.

As a leader, it is vital that you help your congregation grasp its God given vision and mission. Vision is mostly about knowing the church’s core purpose and pursuing it relentlessly. Vision rightly discerned will provide energy, direction and clarity. It will help to fend off extraneous pursuits that dissipate energy. It will assist in avoiding cul‐de‐sacs. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself. This is best done with a small, earnest group that prays, dreams and discerns over a period of time. I do believe, that once the congregation discerns its vision, that if you are the pastor it is up to you to be the primary vision caster. Incarnate the vision in your own life and ministry. Talk about incessantly. Tell stories that illustrate it. Externalize your passion for the vision. Too many pastors underestimate how much redundancy is required to instill vision among a group of people. Just about the time you are tired of hearing yourself talk about the vision, your people will be at the first stages of getting it.

Is vision overrated? Perhaps so, if all we’re talking about is a motto crafted by a committee. On the other hand, a vision that springs from the heart of Jesus Christ, is probably underrated, and underutilized. May you have ears to hear, and eyes to see, and hands to grasp, the vision that Jesus has for your congregation. For, without a vision, the people perish.

Originally published February 2008 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest