In August of 1964, under the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King delivered the speech of his lifetime and perhaps the speech of his generation – a speech that served as the seedbed of social change.
“I Have a Dream” was a capsulated summary of the dream that a generation of African Americans felt in their hearts.
Dr. King was a leader. “I Have a Dream” was his vision.
What he saw was a better America – an America of equality and brotherhood. His dream has fueled a thousand other dreams and motivated others to take action. This is the power of vision.
What is Vision?
From a Christian perspective, vision is the ability to clearly see and articulate where God wants us to go or what God wants us to do in a given situation. Vision is the bridge between present and future reality. As one man stated, “If you want to find a needle in a haystack it is almost impossible. Yet if you place a magnet on the edge of the haystack, the needles jump out.” Vision is that magnet that attracts followers and resources.
The Importance of Vision
There is a story of three bricklayers working on the same job, each of whom was asked the question, “What are you doing?” The first responded, “I’m laying bricks.” The second said, “I’m putting up a wall.” The third responded, “I’m constructing a grand cathedral.”
All three were engaged in the same work, but only one had a vision for what he was really doing. To stay motivated, your leadership must embrace a personal vision of what God wants them to do on campus.
What a Clear Vision Accomplishes
What a Clear Vision Accomplishes
Haman Cross, pastor of Rosedale Baptist Church of Detroit, lists five things that a well-articulated vision accomplishes:
- Recruitment: Vision beckons volunteers and resources. Movements with clear vision are much more likely to grow and attract visionary students than those that simply copy someone else’s program. Like-minded people ask for the opportunity to be involved. Donors ask how they can help.
- Retention: gets and keeps people on board.
- Reminds us of the direction we’ve agreed to pursue.
- Re-evaluates the ministry’s direction in light of the vision.
- Relevance: forcing us to be on the cutting edge to be effective.
Characteristics of Vision
Vision always refers to a future state or condition that does not presently exist. Vision shapes the future. You can determine what you will and will not do based on this vision. Vision gives you a sense of control and destiny.
Vision refers to a change for the better. If we seek to maintain the status quo, we will never see the need for vision.
True vision is energizing. Fulfilling God’s vision may require sacrificial work, but when the work is a fulfillment of a vision it is somehow energizing. People don’t want to be left out. True vision calls, summons and pulls us forward. It’s “the magnet that attracts.”
Cultivating and Creating the Vision
Much of the process of developing the vision falls on the shoulders of the primary vision caster.
John Kotter in A Force for Change charges leaders with three responsibilities:
- Establish clear direction.
- Communicate vision and secure commitment to move ahead.
- Energize (motivate and inspire) people to overcome the obstacles that will surely arise.
Teams are vital to the process of refining the vision but you as the team leader must begin the process. So what do you do?
- Take time to think, read, study, listen, ask questions, pray and reflect. Vision is the product of learning from the past, correctly assessing the present and seeing how the future could be different and better. Sometimes vision is the fruit of months of thinking and reflection. At other times it is that flash of brilliance that is right for your situation. Vision often arises from an unmet need or untapped opportunity as in the case of Nehemiah. Ask God to give you his vision for your campus.
- Ask yourself, “What am I really dissatisfied with?” “What needs to be done that is not being done?” “What are we uniquely positioned and equipped to do?” “What untapped opportunities lie before us?” “What is God doing around us?” “What are my dissatisfactions, desires, hopes and dreams for the future?”
- What passages from the Scriptures reflect what God wants you to do? How can you personalize them?
- Look over other vision statements churches, other Cru movements, or businesses. Read or view “I Have a Dream.” Which elements seem inspirational? Which parts tap into your dreams for the future?
- Make it worthwhile. Daniel Burnam, the chief architect who rebuilt Chicago after the fire is credited with saying, “Make no small plans for they have no ability to stir men’s blood.”Think of the scope of the vision that Jesus cast: “Preach the gospel to all the nations,” “Make disciples of all the nations.” To ask God for a God-sized vision fits well within the parameters of Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”
- Begin recording your vision in a journal with dividers sectioned off into the specifics elements of the vision you want to develop. This simple tool allows you to record and modify the vision.
Challenge the vision. Step away from it and let it bake for a while. Is it clear, energizing, visual, future-oriented, culturally relevant, realistic yet challenging, etc?
Revise and modify the vision with your team – those who will help with its implementation. The process takes time, is messy and difficult but is as necessary as the work itself.
Your ability to consistently cast the vision often comes down to the ability to concisely and clearly articulate the vision.
Your vision statement or vision summary is this expressive and vivid summary – the high watermark of what God wants to do in your ministry.
It consists of just a few words that enable people to see what you are about, where you are going and why it matters.
A good vision statement will have the ring of authenticity and carries with it a sense of “Wow!” To be effective it must be:
Vision statements that fall short usually have at least one of these elements missing. Here are a few sample vision statements for your consideration: “Building a spiritual legacy.” “Building a community to reach a community.” “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.” “A place of ministry, a base of ministry.” “Putting the gospel within arm’s reach of every student on the planet.” “Whatever it takes – wherever it takes us.”
The Singularity of True Vision
The strength of vision lies in its singularity. To have dual or multiple visions of what you are about and where you are going is to invite misalignment.
Another type of vision is false vision. False vision is someone else’s vision that is imposed upon you but is never really embraced. Although you may mouth the words, you’re not really inspired by it, impassioned with it, nor committed to it. False vision is dangerous in that it serves as a substitute for what God may really want you to do.
What Is Not Visionary
- Stale programs and strategies.
- Numerically-driven objectives.
- Someone else’s vision that you haven’t bought into.
- Programs that just use people.
- Broad, generic statements of consensus.
- Slogans without implication.
What Is Visionary?
- A vision that is worth exchanging your time for.
- A picture of change that will genuinely benefit those involved.
- A simple vision that is genuinely embraced by you and your team. You own it.
- A vision that is specific enough to motivate action but broad enough to allow personal initiative.
- Ideas that develop and empower people.
- Something you look forward to recruiting others to. You know that it’s exciting.
- Although spiritual in nature, it is firmly grounded and in touch with reality. It involves both the head and the heart.
Casting the Vision to Others
Creating vision is one thing. Passing it on to others is quite another.
Vision casting involves a sender, a message and a receiver.
The sender initially is you as a leader. Who you are as a leader and a person is of utmost importance. The credibility of the messenger influences the message. Aligning with the vision is to align oneself with the vision caster.
The credibility of the vision caster primarily is based on the perceptions of the leader’s track record, his character, his personal commitment to the vision and the credibility of the vision itself.
Young Joshua and Caleb did a great job of casting the vision in Numbers 13 but lacked the credibility of experience to align the Israelites with the vision of entering the promised land. The vision was cast but not caught. Imparting the vision is too important to be left to chance. To effectively cast the vision you must:
- Be personally committed to fulfilling the vision.
- Know your audience. You must know how fulfilling the vision will benefit or affect your audience.
- Use example, metaphor and analogy. Use storytelling more than statistics. Engage the hearts and minds of your audience.
- It should be written down, published, posted and frequently talked about (Habakkuk 2:2).
- Listen to and welcome feedback. Make revisions as you progress so that although it is a singular vision it has many, many fingerprints on it.
Catching a Vision
Catching the vision is ultimately more important than casting the vision. To catch the vision is to be aligned with the vision. Without alignment to the vision, you will not be able to move in the same direction and be able to keep moving ahead through the obstacles. This act of alignment is the critical step between vision casting and implementation.
To bring about significant change requires a team to own the dream. To introduce a plan before aligning your team is to ensure a slow, frustrating death of the vision. People who disagree with the “ends” will argue about every “means.” In the process of aligning your team you are really building the foundations of team commitment, cooperation and community.
How do you know when people have caught the vision? Those who catch the vision are able to cast the vision. They have moved from customer to salesman of the vision. They are actively involved in recruiting others. It is the freshly-recruited Andrew inviting his brother Peter to join with them.
The Litmus Test
Vision can be inspiring and be energizing but ultimately vision must filter down to what people do differently because of the vision. Strategies, tactics and programming communicate the vision of a ministry stronger than the vision statement. What a ministry believes it is doing and is actually doing can be measured by its programming.
Now you know why vision is important and how to bring others along as you trust God to accomplish that vision. Do you know what your vision is? Check out some tips and examples.
Adapted from content by Eric Swanson.