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The Problem of Generic Vision: Why Many Church Leaders Leave Us Disinterested and Wanting More

"It's Vanilla!"

We're not just talking about ice cream. This familiar phrase means something is common, basic, boring, or generic. And it couldn't be worse when used in reference to a vision cast by a Kingdom-focused pastor or leader. But that's what many of them are. If you're like me, you want to be a part of something greater than just playing church every seven days. God made us for more. Like my friend Jessie Cruickshank says, "It's not rocket surgery, but it is brain science." God designed us to play a part in the epic story that's been going on since Creation! Yet, I find myself sitting in more and more churches that cast a vision so boring that a certain flavor of ice cream comes to mind. How is that even possible???


The problem is a generic sense of vision and the urgent need to rediscover our authentic purpose.


Defining the Problem of Generic Vision:

Within many Christian churches, the problem of generic vision has subtly emerged over time. It occurs when churches adopt standardized approaches, imitating the practices and programs of others without truly understanding their own unique identity and calling. Similarly, individuals often find themselves conforming to societal expectations, following a generic template rather than embracing their God-given purpose.


Will Mancini identifies 9 Forms of Generic Vision in chapter 2 of his book, God Dreams. Based on three primary biases as church leaders, we prioritize accuracy, growth, and efficiency.


He summarizes the three emphases in this way:

  1. A healthy bias toward accuracy can lead us to confuse Biblical statements with Biblically informed vision. - In our efforts to be biblical we fail to be imaginative by cut-n-pasting Bible verses as our vision.

  2. A healthy bias toward growth can lead us to substitute a grow-only vision for a growth-minded vision. - A healthy bias for growth might undergird a vision, but statements like these are weak by themselves. “Reaching more” and “changing the world” is too vague. And buildings and campuses might be important tools, but they are meant for something greater, not an end in themselves.

  3. A healthy bias toward efficiency can lead to a done-for-you vision that neglects adequate do-it-yourself vision ownership. - Church leaders across the centuries have been drawn to learn from other churches where good things seem to be happening. This often happens with the best of motives: they suspect God is at work and want to be part of it.


I've served at a church where the whole vision was to simply get bigger, get more people, and "change the world." I didn't know why at the time, but it felt a little hollow, self-serving, and yes, vanilla!


Recently, I was in another church where the pastor praised the generosity of the church to update their 1970s-style facility as they welcomed more people. It's great that more people are coming to their church, but the whole message was a pat on the back for making their facility bigger and better to welcome more people. Welcoming more people to your church is never a bad thing, but what was missing was the WHY behind the renovations. Why are you doing this? What happens when more people walk in the doors? What changes are happening in people's lives and in the community for the Kingdom? Why is the Gospel advanced because of what we're doing? Cast a compelling vision for why we do what we do!


I've heard pastors whose church is down in giving share with the people how much money they need to simply "keep the lights on." FYI, no one cares! Instead, tell me what happens when the lights are on! Tell people what happens in the building day after day to radically transform hearts with the Good News of the Gospel! That's what people give towards. Not just financial needs.


We have to move past a generic and vanilla sense of vision-casting. Here are a few things to consider to make your vision more compelling.


Embrace Your Unique Identity

It is vital for both churches and individual Christians to rediscover their unique identity. After all, compelling vision is born out of investigation, not imitation. We must resist the temptation to compare ourselves to others and instead focus on understanding God's specific purpose for us. This process involves soul-searching, prayer, and seeking God's guidance to discern our distinct calling and the values that define us.


Craft a Meaningful Mission

In order to move beyond generic objectives, churches need to define their mission—the reason for their existence and what they aim to achieve. For church leaders, it's not complicated. The mission of the Church is the Great Commission, nothing more, nothing less. But we do need to recapture God's heart for the nations in our daily work. By seeking God's direction, churches can develop a meaningful mission that aligns with their unique identity. Likewise, individual Christians should embrace their personal missions, aligning their lives with God's plan for them.


Measure Your Disciple-Making Impact

In the pursuit of an authentic vision, it is crucial to establish discipleship measures that help us evaluate our impact. These measures should reflect the values and mission of both churches and individuals. By setting specific disciple-making goals and objectives, we can gauge our progress and make necessary adjustments to stay aligned with our God-given vision.


Craft A Disciple-Multiplying Strategy

Once we clearly understand our identity, mission, and measures, it is important to develop strategic, reproducible, disciple-making processes. Disciple-Making Movements require three things: a big vision, a clear pathway, and simple tools. These strategies enable us to effectively fulfill our purpose and achieve our desired outcomes. Each church and individual will have unique strategies tailored to their specific calling and context.


Live Out Your Vision

At the heart of authentic vision lies a vivid picture of the future we strive to create. By embracing our unique calling and purpose, churches and Christians can align their efforts, passions, and resources to bring about transformation. Living out our vision requires faith, perseverance, and a willingness to step out of our comfort zones, knowing that God's strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. I'm a huge proponent of team-led vision. Crafting a vision together of where God is taking you as a church is powerful!


Conclusion

Rising above generic vision in Christian churches and our lives is essential. Embracing our unique identity, recapturing our mission, measuring our impact, developing reproducible strategies, and living out our vision are essential steps on this transformative journey. As we seek God's guidance and follow His leading, we discover lives of significance and impact that leave a lasting legacy for His glory and couldn't possibly be generic. Each of us has a unique role in God's redemptive plan. We need to embrace our calling with vivid passion and dedication.


And truth be told, I actually like vanilla... just not in my life or the vision of my church.

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