“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
As leaders, we know how valuable vision is to our ability to lead others. We know we need it. We know that without it things start to die. What has been disturbing me lately, though, is how shallowly leaders tend to treat vision when they begin to see their ministries, organizations, or churches starting to experience signs of death.

Numbers are stagnant? People are leaving? We’re lacking innovation and creativity? “We need vision!” leaders yell. But what I sometimes see happen as a result is that some arbitrary goal then is thrown out to the masses in hopes that it will reverse the intertia, breathe life where this is none, and reinvigorate people towards the mission again. It often does work for a little while. But it isn’t real vision.

Not that any of those things desired are bad, but when we don’t take the time to root vision in a bigger context and grander landscape around us, we sell something that falls far short of what vision is meant to be.

I was inspired by this picture on twitter: Christian Book Vending Machine

Isn’t that how we treat vision sometimes? Like junk food? We think that if we give some superficial, outrageous goal that we’ve done our job as leaders? This kind of vision typically lacks any substance despite the fact that it might get people excited in the short run. But just like junk food, it doesn’t carry any endurance with it because the goal isn’t grounded in anyones present reality. Without connection to people’s world, you won’t have long term buy in to your vision. It won’t actually nourish anyone and sustain them towards completing the goal. It’s just like junk food. Junk food vision. It’s lacking in value even though it tastes good in the immediate…

I do believe that God has more for us in this area as leaders. I think he wants us to be people that see deeper and broader than others so that we can lead them into a new future.

“Vision involves foresight as well as insight. President McKinley’s reputation for greatness rested in part on his ability to put an ear to the ground and listen for things coming. He turned his listening into vision; he saw what lay ahead.”

I love this picture of vision from Oswald Sanders’ popular book Spiritual Leadership. I love it because it includes within it what I think is essential to having a vision with substance to it: Listening. Having “your ear to the ground” so that you know what is coming and so that you can see what needs to happen going forward. Your vision naturally has feet in your specific context when you do that. You aren’t throwing out some random, crazy goal into the void hoping it gets people excited enough to forget that they aren’t running towards anything new.

Junk food vision. It’s lacking in value even though it tastes good in the immediate.

Another aspect that Sanders pulls out in his book that I think is foundational to leaders who want to lead into a vision with substance is that their vision comes from a place of being able to really “see”.

“Those who have most powerfully and permanently influenced their generation have been “seers”- people who have seen more and farther than others.”

The key word to me in this is “more”. Vision requires leaders to see “more” so that they can see farther. I feel like when we skip to just the father part of the equation, it leads to that junk food vision where it isn’t connected to anything that matters to the people being led. I also think the key to seeing “more” is to see what is different around you. If you only listen and see what others that are like-minded to you see and say, you won’t see more. You’ll only see more of the same. This is where it is important to not be a ministry that is so homogenous that dissenting perspectives and voices are pushed the margins or out of your ministry entirely. You can’t have a meaningful vision if there aren’t people around you helping you see “more”.

My desire for myself is that I would be the kind of leader that doesn’t sell junk food vision for a short term win. I pray that I will be a leader that casts vision for people that is connected to something that matters to them. A vision that makes sense in their context and also stretches them further than they would naturally be inclinded to go.

Vision needs substance. May I and others be leaders who listen, see more, and then out of that lead furthur than any one of us could get to alone.

photo courtesy: srcrawford