Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Re-Vitalizing Vision

At this time of year we typically think about vision, whether it be personal, for our family, company or church. Vision is more comprehensive than goal setting, although it should contain goals. Vision might be described as an ideal picture of our future that informs the way we act within our present reality. I've been reflecting on how vital vision has been for me and our church the last few years, and how much God has done by His grace as we've responded to that vision. If it's true that without vision people perish, then the converse is true that with vision, people come alive

But how do we craft, cast and follow through with vision?

Here are 7 brief insights from the Apostle Paul as he describes his vision.

"Not that I have already attained these things or have been made perfect. But I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward  the goal for prize of the upward call of of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will make that clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:12-16)

1. Vision is upward before it's onward

Paul's ultimate vision is the prize of the upward call of God, that is, his resurrection and reward after the return of Christ. His ultimate goal is to please Jesus, not himself, which enables him to endure hardship, isolation and even the seeming frustration of his vision in prison. If our vision is ultimately an upward call we will remain faithful when the onward call is delayed. 

2. Vision is call before it's craft. 

While imagination is a factor in vision-crafting, Paul's vision was in response to Jesus' call. I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me. It wasn't his grand idea. It was God's. Discerning God's unique call can be tough, but laying hold of that begins by aligning our lives to Jesus' Great Commission.  That should frame every Christian's vision. 

3. Vision is discontented

Paul had attained so much in his life, but he refused to rest on his laurels. He pursued vision by forgetting his past accomplishments and by acknowledging what had not yet been attained. He had a holy discontentment with what he'd attained.  If we begin to glorify what we've already attained we will never press on. In the words of that old U2 song, "We glorify the past when the future dries up.

4. Vision is defiant  

Paul is in prison. He's old and his eye sight is failing. While he acknowledges the confinement of his circumstances - he's writing a letter because he cannot get to them in person - his confinement doesn't dampen his enthusiasm or slow him down in any way.  Straining to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal. Paul's vision of seeing the gospel advance to new regions through the planting of new churches defied his circumstances. He had to change his approach by writing letters and raising up other leaders rather than visiting churches himself. But ponder for a moment what God did with those letters! I have settled that whatever God calls us to, it will always seem beyond what we can humanly resource ourselves. Faith defies current circumstance as it trusts the faithfulness of the One who calls.

5. Vision is progressive. 

This is a counter-point to the previous one. Paul's apparent forgetfulness is not complete amnesia. He's aware of what he and this church have attained. "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." In essence he's saying, "Don't rest on your past achievements. Build on them!" I've found that people's faith for a vision grows as it becomes more visible. People bless what they see God already blessing. There's a difference between a big vision and an unrealistic one. Start with something quantifiable and attainable and build on that. This past year we cast vision for the Jubilee Campaign, which was intended to get rid of our debt and  build a war chest for church planting. I think one of the reasons people blew us away with their generosity is that they saw we had a track record of investing significantly into church panting.  Ask God for a vision track-record to build upon. 

6. Vision is specific  

In the following chapter Paul thanks the church for their financial generosity to his vision. Their vision had concrete outcomes. I often see leaders cast such vague vision that they cannot be held accountable for whether they achieved it or not. While mission is less quantifiable, vision should be for a set period of time with quantifiable goals that you either hit or miss. 

Just under 3 years ago we cast a vision called 3 in 3 at Southlands Church. We had a vision to multiply 3 times in 3 years. The idea was for one multi-site in Southern California, one church amongst an un-reached people group, and one autonomous church plant in North America. The end point was April 2017.  By God's amazing grace, we have been able to plant a multi-site congregation in Whittier, and a church plant in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and we are now busy with our 3rd of 3 - the adoption and re-birth of a church in Chino that will become Southlands Chino in the Fall of 2017. The sticklers may say, "Well, you missed it. That's two multi-sites and you didn't do it by April 2017." To which I will respond, "You're right. We missed it. But because we aimed at something, we have never had this many people praying, training, giving and going. I'll gladly miss the next vision again like we missed this one.A quantifiable vision need not be a gun to our head. But it can be a much needed spur in our side.

7. Vision is prophetic. 

While rooted in our unchanging Biblical call, it does take imagination to craft vision. 
If you are a leader, gather some of your creatives to help you craft compelling vision.  But be open to the whispers of God through the prophetic! Look at the way the prophetic informed Paul's vision in Acts 16. God has spoken to us with astonishing specificity  as we've continued to follow His Spirit in the pursuit of His vision. Here are a few examples of this.

Southlands, when I woke up on New Year's Day the Spirit prompted me to go to the above passage. As I sat with it, I sensed Him whisper just two words. "Kick on." Kick on is a coaching term used for an athlete who is in the final stretch of a race and is running well. It's the encouragement to pick up the pace and turn advantage into victory. God has been so kind to us. But He is calling us all to "kick on" in 2017 in the final stretch of this 3 in 3 vision. Let's not rest on our laurels. The always previous God has gone before us. We've prayed, given, trained and gone. But the race is not yet won.

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