Friday, July 09, 2010

Vision, mission and spiritual growth (or something like that)

Leadership published a great article by John Ortberg, "The 'We' We Want To Be." Spiritual growth is not just an individual thing, he says, "Part of what is needed for our formation is membership in and submission to and compassion for a community larger than our individual selves."

You really need to read the entire article, but I like this part. Dallas Willard was asked why so many churches and movements end badly. He said...
It all begins with a vision. A Francis of Assisi or a John Wesley is gripped by a vision that will not let them go. But it is not a vision of what they're going to do. It is not a vision of a preferred future. It is not a vision of human activity. It is a vision of what already is. It is a vision of God, and how good he is, and how wonderful it is to be alive and a friend of such a Being.

Out of this vision flows a desire to do good things for such a God. And sometimes these activities may lead to results that look quite remarkable or impressive. And then other people may gather, and some decide they'd like to be involved in such activities because it might give them a sense of significance. People begin to pay more attention to what they are doing than to the reality of God.

At this point the mission replaces the vision as the dominant feature in peoples' consciousness. Once this happens, descent is inevitable. For now people are living under the tyranny of Producing Impressive Results.

The number one "vision problem" with churches today is not (as is widely held) leaders who "lack a vision." The real problem is when our primary focus shifts from who God is (a vision that alone can lead to "the peace of Christ reigning in our hearts") to what we are doing.

How do you diagnose the mission-replacing-vision sickness?
  • People in leadership feel constant pressure and inadequacy.
  • Goals, numbers, and techniques replace the goodness of God as the most frequent topics of thought and conversation.
  • Leaders view themselves as constantly having to motivate and hype and whip up enthusiasm in the church for doing and giving. You will sometimes hear people say "vision leaks"; a more accurate statement is that "mission leaks" when it has replaced the vision of God as people's dominant inner reality.
  • People's sense of esteem or excitement depends on "how church is going."
  • A church's identity gets rooted in its success.
He goes on...
The only cure is to diagnose it, and to rediscover the beauty of the vision of God.... The vision of God is not a tool leaders can use to get the church to function better. It is freedom from the need to perform for the whole church -- beginning with the leaders.

He also talks about the dangers of creating a culture where people want "fed." One of the most dreaded phrases a pastor wants to hear is, "I'm just not being fed." Ortberg says, "When we speak of being fed or going deep we are often referring to information. But perhaps information is not the primary source of nourishment. Perhaps the primary source is the presence of God. Maybe we go deepest with God when we express love in the costliest ways."

Hmm. Wow. This was good for me to read. I was just saying that I need to read Jim Belcher's book "Deep Church," because I've been following some of David Fitch's critique of certain emerging/missional views, and I do admit to struggling with keeping it all in balance (See Fitch's posts here, here, here, and here). It can be so tempting to make the mission ours, instead of God's, and that never ends well. So I was glad to come across the article by John. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Peace out; and in.