I heard a great quotation the other day, from Andy Stanley, that applies so well to the church:
“Be in love with your vision, and infatuated with your plans.”
Do you see the difference? Love is enduring; infatuation is, at best, temporary.
When God blesses a church’s leadership with vision – with a glimpse of his preferred future for that gathered congregation – the leaders need to love that vision and treat it as the gift from God that it is. They are called to be faithful to the vision, because love is faithful.
And when God blesses a church’s leadership with vision, those leaders need to plan. They need to find ways to execute the vision God has given them. But they can’t have the same love for their plans that they have for their vision, or the vision will never come to fruition. Why? Because plans need to change. Sometimes it’s because of a culture shift, sometime’s it’s because of a boneheaded idea that just didn’t have what it takes to work. Whatever the reason, plans change.
I attended a seminar on Thursday that gave the perfect illustration of this. Consider the Apple Computer company. What they set out to do – their vision from the beginning – was to make an excellent computer. (There’s probably a vision statement that is much more exacting than that, but you know what I mean.) What that “excellent computer” looked like could not always be the same. Their first Mac Pro was a good effort for the mid-1980s; but for today, it wouldn’t fly. There’s more memory on the smallest thumb drive today than there ever was offered on the Mac Pro. The newest offering from Apple is the MacBook Air – ostensibly the best computer on the market today (and I’m a PC guy, by the way).
Here’s what we didn’t see between the Mac Pro and the MacBook Air: some 80 changes in plans. There were many computers offered in between these two, and many more changes in plans, all because the folks at Apple love their vision, to make excellent computers.
How about us, church? God has given us a basic mission: “go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28.18-19, NIV). How that happens can work really well in one place at one time, and not so well at another time.
Sometimes, people cluck their tongues at churches that are innovative, as if the innovators were thumbing their noses at the sacred; in fact, the reverse is true. It is those who refuse to change their plans in order to fulfill the vision that thumb their noses at the sacred.
Cardinal Newman said, “To live is to change, and to live well is to change often.” That doesn’t mean the vision changes – but the plans to carry out that vision must change. It means church leaders need to be on top of the culture, and ready to learn what will reach another generation for the Lord. And it means church members must be willing to adapt to change, if the church is to avoid extinction within a generation.
If you’re in church leadership, pray over your vision, and be willing to change your plans as the vision evolves and the culture changes. If you’re not in church leadership, pray for your leaders, that God will infuse them with passion for reaching those who are far from God – whatever it takes.