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 many of those dreams have become a reality. This is the power of vision. Every movement begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents and helps create the future.
WHAT IS VISION?
Steven Covey has written, “All things are created twice.” First there is the mental creation and then the physical creation. Vision pertains to this first creation. We have to see it before we can shape it into reality. 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
The authors of The Flight of the Buffalo (Warner Books, 1993) write, “Vision is the beginning point for leading the journey. Vision focuses. Vision inspires... Vision is our alarm clock in the morning, our caffeine in the evening. Vision touches the heart. It becomes the criterion against which all behavior is measured. Vision becomes the glasses that tightly focus all of our sights and actions on that which we want to be tomorrow--not what we were yesterday or what we are today. The focus on vision disciplines us to think strategically. The vision is the framework for leading the journey.”
The story is told 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. The strenuous work of campus ministry will soon drain them of life and energy if they are not empowered with vision. “Without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
WHAT A CLEAR VISION ACCOMPLISHES
Haman Cross, pastor of Rosedale Baptist Church of Detroit, lists five things that a well-articulated vision accomplishes:
1. 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. Kansas University recently was given $15,000 by a foundation to help them fulfill their vision for opening a campus ministry in Spain.
2. Retention--gets and keeps people on board
3. Reminds us of the direction we’ve agreed to pursue
4. Re-evaluates the ministry’s direction in light of the vision
5. 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 (HBS Press, 1994) charges leaders with three responsibilities: 1) Establish clear direction, 2) Communicate vision and secure commitment to move ahead--alignment, and 3) 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?
1. 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 in Nehemiah 2. Ask God to give you his vision for your campus.
2. 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?”
3. What passages from the Scriptures reflect what God wants you to do? How can you personalize them?
4. Look over other vision statements from 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?
5. 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...” If the vision for your ministry is not greater than the vision that students have for their own lives it is doubtful that they will exchange their life and time to what you are doing.
6. 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. The first draft is almost always formulated by the primary vision caster. Make up a binder for all who will eventually help shape the vision. The journal should include:
Formulating this vision is akin to decorating a room in a style so distinctly yours that when you bring a piece of furniture or artwork into the room, it either fits or it doesn’t. It enhances the decor of the room or clashes with it.
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 are responsible for its implementation. The process takes time, is messy and difficult but is as necessary as the product 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 water mark 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 1) relevant, 2) motivating and 3) memorable. Vision statements that fall short usually have at least one of these elements missing. President Kennedy’s vision of April, 1961 to “put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” though short, was a clear and compelling image of what could be and should be. Here are a few sample vision statements for your consideration-- “Win the campus today, win the world tomorrow,” “Winning a campus to reach a nation,” “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,” etc.
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?
WHAT IS VISIONARY?
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:
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 have the synergy 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 insure 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? The simplest test is this: 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.
Eric Swanson is a former Cru staff member who now serves as a Leadership Community Director for Externally Focused Churches. He received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Bakke Graduate University.
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