Last Sunday 200 people from my church gathered to set a vision for the congregation. Their task was an ambitious one – “to discern God’s preferred vision for the future” and then craft a strategic plan to enable them to create this future in our community.
We worship a very creative God. Discerning God’s preferred reality is an audacious task. It can paralyze a person with its profundity. What does God dream for us in 10 words or less? I think the prophet Isaiah was a great vision caster: “Be a light to the nations,” he said. Jesus cast good visions: “Set out into the deep,” he told his disciples. “Love your enemies as yourself.”
A good vision, it seems to me, must be remarkably bold. It should stir the blood, along with the soul. Knees should tremble, drawing people into impulsive prayer. It should make people want to proclaim from the rooftops, or at least inspire them to make it make it their own.
I imagine a great vision would be flown on banners from the ramparts. But we don’t have ramparts any more and the kind of spiritual imagination that dares to speak as the voice of a Creator God doesn’t seem to be among us in abundance.
I don’t know what the right words would be. I do know I hunger for them – long for a vision that will make a church transcend the expected and evoke a sacred presence.
At the planning meeting, I sat next to one of the church’s leaders who bemoaned the fact that we had so many extraordinarily talented people in the congregation, but their gifts and expertise seem to be reserved for their jobs. They didn’t have the time or energy to make church a transformative place.
“Life gets in the way,” he said. I understand this. I also think it may be the single biggest challenge facing The United Methodist Church today. For the laity, life takes up enough space in our days. Church would have to be something amazing to burst into already over-stuffed to-do lists.
But how does the church deliver life, only more abundantly? The cynic in me wants a vision and a plan worthy of Wordsworth, but has doubts about how effective 200 people sitting around tables, or the committee that shapes their work, can really be.
A friend of mine disagrees. She knows the power of vision.
She is a member of Cedar Ridge, where the vision is be “a community of hope and transformation dedicated to following Jesus.” That’s a fine vision, but the secret, she says, is that the vision is like a compass. It directs the people in which direction to travel, it shapes each and every line item on the budget, chooses the topics for the sermons, sets the staffing model and even tells the church leadership what things the church will not spend its time and energies on. The vision blankets them in intention while at the same time giving them permission to try nontraditional, and sometimes even outlandish, faith experiments in God’s name.
Their vision, Cedar Ridge’s website says, gives them wide boundaries and everything inside these boundaries is raw material that allows them to imagine themselves as a scattered, but united, community that dares to dream of heaven on earth; where mystery and meaning are explored, where they take the time to address the roots of their anxiety and pain, learning to live like Jesus and helping one another to grow — always standing intent on making the world a better place.
There’s not a lot more one could ask of a vision statement.
The artist, Henri Matisse said, “There will always be flowers for those who want to see them.” That’s one of faith’s best gifts. It lets us see the invisible. It grants us a vision of whole gardens and challenges us to share them with the world.