Compel Me, Please
As a young boy attending church infrequently, it seemed to me that the church existed for people to gather from week to week to hear a boring message and go out and live as they pleased the rest of the week. Inside of me was a hunger for more.
Sitting there in the pew while the preacher was speaking, I could be found counting ceiling tiles or staring at stained-glass windows. In that same church, however, there was an occasional encounter with the God of the Scriptures. Momentarily, there would be a glimpse, a crack in the structure that was church as I knew it, and I would see God through His Word.
Even to me as a child, it was clear that God had called us to so much more. If what was said about God in the Bible was true, it seemed that one day that same God would change everything about my life, and following Him would be the greatest joy my heart had ever experienced.
In the church of my childhood we lacked both a clear mission that might grip me (why do we exist?) and a compelling vision that might get me excited about how to get there.
Alone on the mountain
In the years that followed, God opened my heart and transformed me from death to life in His Son, Jesus Christ. Then, during my sophomore year in college, while I was reading Philippians 1:21, my heart was seized by what would become my own mission in life: “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The next day I changed majors from business to Bible and started looking forward to seminary. I was convinced that serving God in full-time ministry was His compelling vision for me.
After seminary and a few years as a youth pastor, I accepted the call to a small church in Glenwood, Iowa, as solo pastor. Like many Christians, I believed in the picture of the pastor going away to be alone with God and coming back, glowing like Moses, with the next seven years of vision for the church on a tablet under his arm.
The seeking of God’s direction for our church was intense, and I would never trade those times alone with God. But I was kidding myself to think that God would reveal the next steps for the church to me alone. And the solitary seeking eventually became a burden.
Many pastors I have talked with over the years feel the same way. The result is frustration and disillusionment for pastors, staff and lay leaders. One of the oft-repeated phrases in church boardrooms, hallways and staff offices is, “Where are we going and why does he always start in one direction, go to a conference, stop going in that direction and knee-jerk us in another?”
Rightly so, people in our churches are wondering, If the vision did indeed come from God, why doesn’t it last? Great question!
As pastor, my role is to invite people—with creativity and a humble persuasiveness—to listen together as God reveals our future.
Vision is a team effort
Despite the wrong assumption that it was on my shoulders alone to discern God’s vision for the local churches I served, God blessed those sincere years of seeking Him. Yet I wonder what might have been, if I had been willing to invite the entire congregation on that journey.
Now I desire to see a local church listen to God corporately and discern together His vision. Today, I see my role to be one of inviting people—with creativity and a humble persuasiveness—to listen together as God reveals that future. In recent years it has become increasingly clear that all of us are always smarter than one of us.
With the generous help of friend and “smart guy” in my life, Doug Anderson, our church recently embarked on that journey together. A group of 300 from the larger congregation has committed to spending time together in study and prayer as we seek God. We are calling this “Experiencing God’s Purpose Together.” We meet with no predetermined outcomes in mind other than the commitment to seek God to fulfill the mission for His church in our generation (Acts 13:36).
To build a strong theological foundation, we began with the question, “What do we believe about the Bible?” This was followed by our beliefs about God, His nature, character and work. We then turned our attention to the nature and purpose of man, the mission of all churches, congregational and community demographics, and then finally the question of vision for the future. I’m praising God that this church has had decades of strong Bible teaching and a great foundation in truth from which to draw insight as we proceed together.
The journey includes a Sunday-morning sermon series following the same pattern of building a theological framework. In this way, we are inviting the entire congregation along with us. We trust that God both reveals the vision and resources the vision—a unique vision that matches our congregation’s DNA with the community in which we reside.
Instead of me going away for a few days and coming home and trying to sell a vision, we are joyfully embarking on the pursuit together.
As pastors and leaders in the local church, we cannot dismiss the responsibility we have to exalt Jesus Christ and fulfill the mission of making disciples in His name. Likewise, in the Great Commandment we are charged to both love God and love people. These are commands that must be followed. The way that we seek God together to carry out those commands in our local place of ministry will make all the difference.