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3 steps to discern vision

| by Bud Brown

So, you want to lead your church through revitalization!

That’s good news. You’ve set yourself on a noble journey.

But where do you start?

One of your first steps should be to discern God’s vision for your church. Vision answers the “What?” question: What will this church do to fulfill its God-given mission?

OK, so now you know where to start. But how? How do you discern God’s vision for your church?

Over the last 20 years, my colleagues and I have identified and developed a simple, three-step process for discerning vision. The net result is clarity. It becomes the focal point around which plans are developed and resources are aligned. When people begin to move toward fulfilling the vision, they see God respond to their efforts to join his work with blessing.

It is thrilling.

An assumption to make about God’s provision

A critical assumption lies at the heart of this three-step vision discernment process: God generally provides the resources his people need to take the next step in his mission, before they know they need them!

The Bible is filled with story after example after testimony that God’s people already have whatever is needed to take the next step in his plans for them.

Where did the Israelites find the gold, silver, bronze, precious gems, and rich fabrics needed to build the tabernacle and all its furnishings (Exodus 25-30)? It was given by the Egyptians when they fled Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36). The craftsmen who built the tabernacle and created all its accessories were gifted with artistic skills long before they needed those skills in the Lord’s service (Exodus 31:1-11).

When the crowds following Jesus grew hungry, a boy offered his humble meal—a few small fish and some bread—to Jesus. This meager offering, something the boy already had, was sufficient. By returning what he had to the Lord, the boy participated in a great miracle.

Scripture abounds with illustrations that justify this assumption. Of course, God occasionally calls us to walk in faith, waiting for the resource to arrive. Abraham and Isaac could tell you all about it. God invented “just in time” delivery long before UPS came on the scene. But this is atypical; God usually puts resources in place before we know they’re needed.

If God provides what we need ahead of time, doesn't it follow that we may discern God’s next step for us by looking at what he’s already given?

Of course it does.

This is why assessment is crucial to all three steps in discerning God’s vision for our churches.

Time for a vision assessment

Assessment is a crucial task in all three steps of vision discernment. When pastors train their churches to conduct these assessments, a clear vision emerges. The whole church sees the vision. It generations passion, fosters commitment and sacrifice and unites the church around the mission of Jesus.

1. Assess the mission

The pastor does most of the work in this step. Because the mission is a given—a matter of biblical revelation—the pastor is usually the one best equipped to conduct this assessment. It happens in the study. There you will seek out the grand narrative arc from Genesis to Revelation. You trace the church’s mission (the “Great Commission” is a great place to start, but don’t forget the other three Gospels!) to the more encompassing story of what God is doing in and through history.

The fruit of your work must be shared with the congregation. You must communicate it so thoroughly, so exhaustively, and so frequently that it becomes ingrained in everyone’s thinking. The mission becomes “a given,” a truth and value that becomes the center of church life.

2. Assess the church

This is where you discover the resources God has provided ahead of time. In these resources, you’ll see how God has uniquely gifted the church. You’ll also begin to sense how he wants you to deploy those resources into ministry, but don’t rush into a vision yet. There’s more work to do!

In our experience, the best practice is for members of the church to conduct this assessment. When they conduct the assessment and prepare the report, they will be invested. They will buy in more eagerly and passionately than if you simply deliver the report to them.

Train a representative group, a small team of five to seven people, to do the work. Provide materials that will direct their efforts and focus their attention. Have them survey everything; church facilities, spiritual gifts in the congregation, special expertise or training of some members, the church’s reputation in the community, what ministries have been fruitful and which have not, what people get passionate about - have them look at everything. They are on a search to see what God has already given them to work with.

3. Assess the community

Finally, have them see the community as Jesus sees it, as a “field white unto harvest.” Although you may wish to start with an off-the-shelf demographic survey (there are plenty of providers out there, some free and some fee for service), the assessment needs to go much deeper.

The object of the third assessment is to look for gospel-receptive groups, particularly those that are underserved by other churches in the community. This will take some digging. The assessment team will need to sit down with elected officials, first responders, social service agencies, the public schools and school district, and anyone else who is in a position to know what’s what in your mission field.

The assessors should be on the lookout for groups of people who live in chronic anxiety. They are often the most responsive to the gospel. These may be single-parent families, the chronically underemployed, special needs families, political refugees, substance abusers—the list is almost endless.

If you get some push back at this point (sad to say, but many churches don’t want to minister to those in need if it requires anything more than the occasional “special offering”), remind them of something Steve Sjogren (author, pastor and church planter) said, which I paraphrase: By going after the people that no church wants, we end up with the people that every church wants. It’s true, and I’ve seen it happen time and again. When we minister to the neediest in our communities, the Lord draws strong, committed disciples to our ministry because they are passionate about serving others who need Jesus.

Dialog and discern

Now the fun begins!

Gather your team, have them report the results of the two assessments, and then ask them to answer the big question: Where do you see the overlap between the gospel receptive groups in our community and the resources that God has already provided?

This is a wonderful, energizing and encouraging discussion. Eventually, the team will recognize which groups in the community will be easier for your church to connect with, create relationships and begin serving with a view to gospel persuasion.

It is in just that spot—where the mission, the church resources and the community needs overlap—where you’ll discern your God-given mission.

Photo source: istock 

Bud Brown

An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions. 

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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