I recently blogged (on my other blog) about what happened in the church I most recently served in Arizona. One of the things that "happened"—or rather, didn't happen—was the articulation of vision.
As I laid out in that post, and won't re-cover in the same detail here, my first and biggest mistake in how I served that church was related to vision. In the case of Dove Mountain Church, they didn't have a clear vision which the congregation was united behind. This was evident in the early phone interviews (honest hems and haws in response to questions about vision), and it was clear when I visited for my interview weekend. Both in the phone interviews and during a congregation-wide Q&A time over my weekend visit, I was asked point-blank: "What would your vision for our congregation be, should we call you as our pastor?"
Candidate-Pastors, when you hear this question or something like it, you must discern which of the following you are dealing with:
- Do they have a vision of their own, and they are seeking congruence and compatibility? OR
- Do they have NO vision, and they are relying on you to bring it?
If the former, then your work is clear: you need to ascertain what their vision is, and decide whether YOU believe that your own vision is a good fit. A good search team is doing the same, and if you and they all agree that your vision is compatible with theirs, you'll be off on the right foot.
If the latter—and they lack a clear vision—your work is also clear: you must state YOUR vision clearly, succinctly, and in a way that can be easily conveyed to others in their congregation. In this case, you are effectively asking them to buy into your vision as part of the process of calling you to be their pastor. (This, in addition to the other things they are committing to in calling you—but that's material for a future post.)
So what is a vision? What are they looking for in asking the question I was asked?
A vision is a simple declaration of where we are going, why we're going there, and what we're going to do when we get there. Or you could think of it as stating who we are and who we want to be.
This is where my trouble arose: in response to the question above, I said, "I won't know that until I get here and discern what this congregation's vision is."
That's an acceptable answer IF the congregation already has a vision. If they know who they are and where they want to go, then it is perfectly fine to say, "I'm comfortable leading you into the greater fulfillment of your existing vision." Be sure, however, that you understand very clearly what their vision is, and that it is truly the vision that the whole congregation shares. It's still probably better if you can show them your own vision (in your own words) and help them to see how they are two different statements saying basically the same thing; in that case, you can
determine how clearly the existing vision is understood by people on the search team, in the leadership, and in the congregation as a whole.
But if they don't have a vision—or, worse yet, they have a vision that only part of the congregation has committed to—then you absolutely must state your vision for church ministry. Do so uncompromisingly; be crystal clear that this is what you believe God has called you to do in His church. (Be flexible with the wording, of course, but steadfast in the principles.) If it's not something you're that committed to, then it's not really your vision—it's just A vision. State YOURS; if they aren't able to get behind it, then you will eventually find it to be a poor fit.