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CALLED: Embracing The God-Given Vision For Your Life and Ministry

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I was recently responding to some comments about the release of my new book, Stalled: Hope And Help For Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now, when I came across this statement: 

“Could it be that one of the reasons many pastors stall is that the ‘I dream a dream’ Western mentality with the expectation that we have to “go somewhere” (and usually somewhere big, exciting, successful, ‘awesome’...) is actually unattainable, unrealistic and unnecessary? Maybe that’s why many pastors are unable and unfulfilled; they’re trying to get somewhere when that’s not actually the point?"

As you well know, it’s hard to know the intention of a statement like this when you can’t hear the tone or have the benefit of reading someone’s facial expressions. So I’m not sure if I was being agreed with or corrected. However, not knowing for sure what the angle of the comment was didn’t deter me from a much greater insight as I was trying to understand where this person was coming from. 

Without a doubt, I am a product of the flawed “Western mentality” mentioned in this quote. I entered the ministry in the ‘80s when there was so much hype, production, glitz, and glamour surrounding most ministries. My early years of ministry was spent traveling on the road with a music group. Our motto was that we wanted to be musically excellent and ministry focused while giving the greater emphasis on ministry. It seemed like everyone back then wanted to be bigger, better, brighter, and brilliant! So in many places, ministry often took a back seat to production.

One of the most impactful quotes that I heard back then came from my friend Jim Campbell, who said, “You can’t sustain hype.” That’s so true. I used to wear myself out trying to keep up with everyone else. If someone was doing something new, then we had to do it as well, which is exhausting!

The greater insight I received while thinking this comment through is in the way we tend to overreact to circumstances and situations in life. Here’s what I mean:

Our tendency when things get way out of balance in one direction or the other is to swing to the other extreme instead of just moving back to the balance of the middle. An example would be that a church that had embraced the “hype-driven” model of the eighties and nineties would then move so far away from it that they would intentionally remove any elements of their former format that actually was helpful. Thus throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The end of the comments above states, “They’re trying to get somewhere when that’s not actually the point?” For me, this is an example of swinging too far in the other direction. While it is true that the Western way of approaching vision, or getting somewhere, is flawed, I’m concerned that way too many of our small and mid-size churches have abandoned the need for clarity in their vision and mission all together. It is far too common to meet leaders of ministries who have no idea what their vision and mission are.

Even further, I recently had a pastor clearly articulate to me his vision and mission for the church he was leading. Yet, when I asked him if the church was on board with it, he informed me that he hadn’t shared it with them. Dumbfounded, I asked why? He replied, “I didn’t know I was supposed to share my vision and mission with church. I thought it was just for me to have in my heart.”

This example is so common. It makes me wonder if our small and mid-size churches discount the priority of vision and mission clarity because they view them as Western, American, business-like, or carnal. My experience in working predominantly with smaller churches is they are immediately resistant to anything that might have the slightest hint of a “secular” business model. The quote, “We’re not a business. We’re a ministry!” is usually communicated at this point.

From here, the discussion about the need for vision and mission clarity is often rejected.

Vision-Casting Is As Old As The Bible

God has always been a “vision-caster!” His plans and purposes are often declared in Scripture BEFORE it comes into reality. You can read of God giving a vision or dream to His leaders from Genesis to Revelation. I’ve heard John Maxwell say many times, “God never performs a miracle on the earth without using people to help carry it out.” God always works through the lives of people to do His bidding (other than the creation story where He carries out His will through the Holy Spirit). It’s always been His way of doing things to give us a vision and then allow us to participate in His vision with Him!

God has been implementing His plan, or strategy, for the earth from the beginning. (“Strategy” is just a fancy word for “plan.”) And He oftentimes reveals the next step of the plan in the form of a vision. He obviously has seen everything we know as history and the future from the start to its ending. However, we haven’t seen what He sees nor do we know what He knows. Therefore, He reveals the part He wants us to play in the form of a vision and a mission in order for us to fulfill His ultimate purposes and design.

I recently explored this topic deeper when I was asked by my friend Danny Davis to provide a couple video vignettes for a college course he is teaching. I immediately agreed when he informed me of the topics he had chosen. There were two questions to be addressed:

 

The first question was,  “How can a young leader go about identifying a vision from God?” 

 

The second question was, “What advice would you give a young leader about sharing his/her vision so that others will join them in it?”

 

There is probably no subject I am more passionate about than the subject of vision and mission, particularly in relation to ministry and purpose. I’ve always been a dreamer and visionary as far back as I can remember.

The particular church I grew up attending throughout my early years really didn’t approach the topic of dreams, vision and mission, destiny, and purpose. We primarily focused on the salvation message (which is awesome by the way), but as my journey with Jesus went on, I was left feeling something building up in me that I wasn’t sure how to direct. 

That changed when my wife and I began attending a non-denominational church in college where the pastor often spoke about these topics. Sitting under Pastor Brad was like being under a mountain waterfall on a 100-degree day. His teaching unleashed this pent-up desire to do extraordinary things for Jesus with my life. I’ve spent the better part of the last forty years learning how vision and dreams for the future work. I’m certainly no expert. But I have been allowed to experience some really amazing things that would not have happened without Brad’s influence in my life.

What Answers Did I Give?

If this topic piques your interest as it did mine, then check out the answers that I gave to Danny.

Question #1 - How can a young leader (or any leader, for that matter) go about identifying a vision from God?

A God-given vision always starts by addressing a problem. God will put a burden in your heart to solve a problem that no one seems to be addressing at the time. In fact, it’s possible that the problem you are called to solve may be many, many years in the future. God often starts us down a road of “character building” early on so we will be ready when the problem finally appears. It’s in this character building stage where the passion for the vision is ignited and confirmed.

In Genesis 37:2-5, we see that God gave Joseph a vision, or dream, when he was 17. However, Joseph doesn’t begin to walk in it until he is 30 years old. It was necessary for him to go through a 13-year character development process in order to prepare him to walk in the vision. I’m completely convinced that God would have raised up someone else to fulfill this role if Joseph would have quit or tried to “short-circuit” the process by taking shortcuts.

Another of my all-time favorite quotes by John Maxwell is,  “Shortcuts don’t pay off in the long-run!”

It’s at the beginning of embracing a vision from God that we tend to make the biggest mistake of all. The mistake is that we often want to share the solution before we, and those we lead, understand the problem. If you’re like me, you probably want to jump right into the fray of communicating the solution. However, this action can often be detrimental to really understanding the impact of the problem.

A vision from God doesn't start with having a solution. It starts with understanding there's a problem that God wants to use you to solve.

I like to use the following questions as a guide to understanding if the problem I feel called to solve is actually a vision from Him. 

Problem Priorities:

1 – Does the problem affect a lot of people?

2 – Is it impossible to solve the problem within your own talents and abilities?

3 – Will the solution require a team to solve?

The thread in these 3 questions that I want you to see is that a true vision from God always is bigger than any individual can solve on their own. The sheer size of a God-sized vision will always have a greater impact than just one organization or leader can accomplish.

This is why it’s so important that you must first clearly communicate what the problem is in order to create buy-in. Too many leaders arrive on the scene with a solution in hand for a problem that people don't know exists. People are much less likely to follow you if you present that you have the solution before clearly articulating to them what the problem is and how it affects a lot of people.

When wanting to understand the real dream that God has placed in your heart, ask yourself this question:

"What would you do for God if you knew you couldn't fail? If there were no barriers and finances weren't an issue, what would you do?”

Answering this question will help you to recognize the partnership that God wants to have with you in solving a big problem. I found that saying out-loud the vision that He had placed in my heart without worrying about the size or impossibility of the vision caused me to embrace His ability to work through me. Simply put, if I will do what He has called me to do, then He will do what only He can do! 

Question #2 - What advice would you give a young leader about sharing his/her vision so that others will join them in it?

Genesis 41:46 says that Joseph was 30 years old when he began to walk in the dream that God had given him. So for 13 years, God had to work some things OUT of his life and also work some things IN his life before he was ready.

In Numbers 13, we read about the process that Moses went through in selecting the leaders who would spy out the Promised Land. I find it interesting that God told Moses WHO to pick knowing they would rebel. God used this occasion to expose those in leadership who really didn’t trust Him. 

One of the greatest mistakes we make as leaders when it comes to having a vision from God is to think it’s going to happen quickly.

The exposure of these leader’s inability to trust God led to a 40-year walk in the desert until God could use Moses to raise up an entire generation of people who would trust him.

Many leaders often make the mistake of trying to implement and accomplish vision too quickly. This is especially true if your leadership is in an established organization. The simple fact that you are replacing another leader presents some challenges. The leader you’re replacing left for a specific reason:

1 – Ineffectiveness.

2 – Moral failure.

3 – Retirement.

4 – Perceived or genuine promotion.

No matter why they left, the next leader will be judged against how the former leader operated. 

Therefore, it is going to take some time before you can really lead the people in the direction of the God-given vision that’s in your heart.

DON’T MISS THIS: God told Moses WHO to select in Numbers 13:2 knowing full-well that they would rebel! He also already had a plan in place to use their children to accomplish the vision because He knew the parents wouldn’t trust Him.

As I have gotten older, I often reflect on why God doesn’t usually allow us to fully accomplish our vision when we are young and full of zeal and passion. It seems to me that He would want to use our energy and enthusiasm to help bring about the vision. However, He gave me insight into this recently when I was reading about Gideon.

In Judges 7:2, “God said to Gideon, ‘You have too large an army with you. I can't turn Midian over to them like this - they'll take all the credit, saying, 'I did it all myself,' and forget about me.’” It’s much more likely that you and I will want to take credit for an accomplishment when we’re young and still figuring things out. It took me 50 years to finally realize that I’m not in control. Therefore, I tend to want to move slower and be more intentional now that I’m older than when I was young. It’s not enough to accomplish a vision. You need to do it the right way!

Ultimately, you will usually find that carrying out a vision from God can require subtraction before addition. Here are some things that most likely need to be subtracted:

1 – Your scenarios. I can’t tell you how many times I would pray about a problem and offer several different solutions that I approved of for the Lord to use. Yet not one time did He ever listen to me! He really doesn’t need my ability. He just wants my availability!

2 – Volatile relationships. I once heard a pastor say, “Those who are with you can’t leave and those who aren’t with you can’t stay!” There have never been truer words. Volatile relationships will always attack you when things are in a place of tension or stress. It’s better to remove them when things are calm before the storm hits.

3 – Character shortcuts. You and I know the areas of our hearts where we are taking shortcuts in our daily lives. Left unaddressed, these shortcuts will rise up to destroy us when our character is being called on to lead through difficulties. It’s so much better to deal with these issues while you're young because the price of dealing with them as you get older eventually costs too much.

Once you’ve gone through the pruning process of subtraction, it then becomes time to add some things in order to recruit faithful followers. Here are some things that need to be added:

1 – Mundane wins. People won’t follow you in accomplishing the unseen things if you fail at following through with the routine things.

2 – Consistent communication. We have to consistently remind our people of the problem you’re trying to solve. Vision leaks. Therefore, it has to be reaffirmed and communicated over and over and over again.

3 – Flexibility. The WHY of your vision will seldom change. However, the HOW will continually evolve over time.

In Stalled, I say that God wants us to be INTERDEPENDENT on Him and others and not INDEPENDENT where we think we don’t need His help as well as the help of others. A God-sized vision that impacts a lot of people will only be accomplished through building a strong team and continuing to bring more younger leaders onto the team over time. You can’t have lasting success without first raising up successors.

Habakkuk's Vision

In closing, I want us to review what God told the Prophet Habakkuk about the vision He had given him in Habakkuk 2:2-4,

“And then God answered: ‘Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what's coming. It aches for the coming - it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time. Look at that man, bloated by self-importance - full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive.’” (MSG)

God told him to write down what you see. The first reason for writing down the vision is to help him think through it personally. I find that I see things much clearer when I write them down. The second reason for writing down the vision is so that everyone else can see it so clearly that they can actually define it as they are running through life.

One of the greatest mistakes I see leaders make when it comes to writing down the vision is providing too many details which makes it way too long. People are busy. They will simply blow right by the vision if it’s too complicated to grasp in the midst of their busyness.

Once the vision has been written down, the next step is to prepare yourself for the waiting. I think one of the misnomers when we read the phrase “and it came to pass” in the Bible is to think what came to pass happened quickly. I’ve even heard messages about how Joseph was called into the King’s presence with another misunderstood phrase, “and suddenly!” The King may have suddenly called Joseph out of the prison to interpret his dream on a particular day. But it took 13 years to get to that day!

Any vision from God has an “incubation period” before it’s ever allowed to hatch. You and I don’t determine how long that period lasts. However, we do determine our readiness by making sure we are preparing ourselves to implement the solutions to the problem the vision is built on when the time finally comes. Habakkuk teaches us that patience is required in order for a vision to be realized.

I’ve often wondered about the shift that takes place in verse 4 where it addresses a man who is bloated with self-importance. It always seemed like a strange transition to me. However, as I’ve gotten older, I understand this shift a little better. If you’re not intentional, you will try to move ahead of God to fulfill the vision He gave you before the time is right. Because the timing is off and not according to His plan, the natural progression is to do it according to your plan. This is where we get derailed and so often are disqualified from seeing the vision come to pass. Whether you and I like it or not, all visions from God require patience on our part to allow it to develop. 

It’s through the patient waiting that our walk with God grows the deepest. Daily waiting and walking brings fulfillment beyond anything this world can offer. One of the most rewarding things that has been shared with me about Stalled is the reaction of leaders learning that God always intended for us to do things on this earth from Him instead of for Him. The transformation to becoming a leader who does things from Him instead of for Him happens in the waiting.

God desires to use us for His glory. Therefore a vision from Him will always glorify and point to Him. Remember what He told Gideon about having too big of an army? You guys will take the credit if you carry out this plan in your strength. Receiving a true vision from God and having the ability to recruit others to join in the vision always has giving Him all of the glory at its core.

To sum it all up, never forget that it was always HIS vision in the first place. In His sovereignty, He has chosen you to let Him work through you to bring it to pass. So always remember: Your vision is not your vision. It’s His vision that He wants to accomplish through you!


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Dale Sellers

Dale is the Executive Director here at 95Network. He has been in ministry for almost 40 years and is dedicated to helping small and mid-size churches get healthy. Dale has served in nearly every role of church leadership (except Worship Pastor), and has had a wide variety of coaching and consulting experience. He and his wife Gina have been married for 37 years and live in Greenville, SC.

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