After all of the flux and challenges of this past year, I had to grapple with the same question as many other pastors, “Do we launch an annual theme when last year’s did not go as planned to say the least?” I believe that I initially got the idea of an annual Vision Sunday from Pastor Paul Chappell, a great communicator and visionary in our independent Baptist circles. But the question was, “Lord, is this still for me? For us?” After reflecting, praying, and digging into the Word afresh, I truly believe that an annual theme and its initiatives are essential…at least for our church. The Lord truly has used it over the years in a way that, if shelved, would leave a gaping hole in our rhythm of continual “reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
It practically provides a reset from the past year and breathes fresh life into the church at a crucial time.
I am sure you have noticed it, but there is a post-holiday, midwinter “blues” that seems to pervade most hearts, homes, and-if we are not careful-churches after the first of a new year. At least in our context, nothing helps us practically meet this tendency head on like a day committed to leaning forward with anointed anticipation. Whether that be new tracts, stage set decor, or worship songs, there is an immediate, sustainable uptick that we experience on this special day. For us, some of the months that we are most prone to leaking attendance, giving, ministry, and alignment are the first few months of every year-months that need a fresh sense of purpose and calling. The most gifted, effective visionaries figure out how to say “the same old values and purpose” in an engaging and innovative way over and over and over again.
It sets an intentional tone to the scope and sequence of the preaching ministry for the entire year.
One of the most important helps of a Vision Sunday is to those who are primarily responsible for the biblical content being generated in person or online. It provides the “scope” in which to develop a comprehensive and cohesive sequence that every expositional series, topical study/event, and curriculum must align. While I am all for the “next chapter and verse” philosophy, we must concede that each book of the Bible has an overall theme and tone that is intended for certain seasons in the life of our church. For example, this year’ theme at our church involves the concept of “gentleness” and will help us start the year by looking at gentle Jesus in an AM series through the Gospels and the tender providence of God in the Book of Ruth for our first PM series. It is amazing to see how the Lord will guide your preaching ministry through the intersection of the theme and the moment by moment circumstances of your congregation and community…without getting sidetracked by those same circumstances. As one preacher recently posted, “This is where preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible helps your church so much and keeps you grounded in the Word. Otherwise, we are prone to preach our opinions and emotions coming off of a crazy week.” Not only does a commitment to expository preaching but to the practical, specific emphasis of the Word for the year help us follow the Spirit’s leading.
It provides unity and alignment for all of the moving parts/persons of a local church.
As one author put it, “Visions thrive in an environment of unity; they die in an environment of division.” Wow. That is so simple but challenging. What a “Vision Sunday” continues to do for us is providing not just general priorities and principles that guide our church (more Scripture) but practical steps and initiatives that will the blueprint of our day to day operations (more the Spirit). This, I am finding, sidelines much of the subjective interpretations/applications of the Word and congeals our hearts and minds together in a greater cause and purpose that demands a zealous commitment to unity. Too often ministry becomes only about “my task” instead of the bigger mission. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French writer, weighs in on how vision addresses this proneness, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” When a church is out of alignment, inefficiency rules. When it is aligned around God-assigned anticipation, productivity and impact skyrocket!
It enables the church to strengthen/refine its culture one yearly initiative at a time.
As my friend Josh Teis recently posted, “Culture is the spontaneous repeated patterns of behavior by the people in your organization.” The rub on our culture is often our “spontaneous” is in need of structure…structure that is less about “thou shalt not’s” and more about compelling “we must’s!” Two of the strongest parts of our DNA now as a church are corporate prayer and small groups. Each of these began as a burden in my heart over several years as a pastor that translated into an annual theme. In 2018, the emphasis was upon “Connecting in Christ.” In 2019, our theme was “Continuing in Prayer.” Without the broad, perpetual foundation of an annual theme, I highly doubt these two core values would be as deeply imbedded. You truly do “eat the elephant one bite at a time,” and nothing has helped us effectively accomplish that with the overwhelming needs for growth in our church like an annual season of vision.
It helps the senior leadership maintain a pioneering and poised spirit.
Without an annual review of where we are and recalibration of where we are heading, every organization tends to be led by those who are reduced to managers of the status quo where they need to be leaders of disruptive, expanding priorities. I will acknowledge that every specific shared in a “visioneering” (coined in a book of the same name by Stanley) moment does not always go as planned…especially this past year and maybe more so this year, but that is not the point. Without specific goals and plans that are built upon guiding principles, most leaders become dull, marginal at best, and ultimately ineffective. As Dwight D. Eisenhower wisely put it, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Simply put, planning is not infallible, but it is indispensable to the leader who possesses a cool head and a poised heart in the heat of the battle.
May I be quick to say that you are not out of God’s will or practicing pastoral malpractice if you don’t have a formal Vision Sunday, but casting vision is a nonnegotiable for the spiritual leader…period. Ben Horowitz, the brilliant tech entrepreneur, states that the main job of the CEO or senior leader is to be “the keeper of the vision and story.” It may not be a packaged exactly like our context at North Life, but you cannot own your areas of influence without regularly casting and reaffirming vision. What will you and your church/other organization do in this new year-survive or thrive? Much of that answer, in real time and space, will depend upon your commitment to “take to church” those who follow you with inspiring, engaging, and FRESH vision! It’s not too late. Cast some fresh vision for this brand-new and exciting year.