When I can’t find my wallet I panic. I remain distracted until I find it again. A couple of months ago my wallet was stolen and I really panicked. It’s a terrible feeling. Without a debit card my fast-paced digital world came to a screeching halt. Without a credit card or driver’s license I couldn’t write a check for cash. There were two days when I couldn’t get cash to do anything! I couldn’t do something as simple as buy myself lunch. It was a very destabilizing experience.
A leader’s greatest panic is not having a vision for the future. At best it’s distracting, but more often it’s completely destabilizing. Essentially a leader without a vision doesn’t know where he or she is going. They may know what they are doing (competent) but that doesn’t help in matters of the future. And candidly, in time, competence in the realm of leadership becomes of little value if you’re not moving forward. That’s the whole point of leadership isn’t it? Progress. And yet that brings massive complexity to the world of church leadership.
In business, progress is much easier to measure. The bottom line is clear. You are making a profit or you aren’t. If you don’t make a profit long enough, you’re done. Things like marketing, partnerships, and forecasting are still complicated, but the daily metrics are clear. It’s not the same for the church. We are in the “business” of changing people’s lives and maturing them in their faith. Yes, we are about reaching more people, (quantitative) but that’s not the complete picture. Unfortunately that allows us to blur or even “cheat” on vision. That reality allows churches to get stuck. Church leaders can go into a holding pattern and disciple the same people over and over again rather than continue to press forward and reach new people. It gets messy without vision. Enter panic.
Here’s the real problem, panic is the worst thing you can do. If you attempt to contain it all inside and live in private panic, that’s worse. I’ve worked closely with two great visionary leaders. First with John Maxwell and now with Kevin Myers, and I’ve had the privilege to hang out with many great visionaries over the last twenty years. The great ones don’t panic. I’m not saying they don’t have some bad days and rough seasons, but they hold steady under pressure. Panic, at its core, shuts down your ability to land your vision. The short version is this. Panic at its root is fear and fear inhibits your trust in God. When you are struggling to hear God’s voice, you can’t hear the vision He has in mind for you and your church.
- If you can’t see the vision, work God’s mission until you get His vision.
Don’t allow panic to capture you. There is a way out. The mission of God hasn’t changed. It’s found in Matthew 28:19-20. Read it again. The simple translation is – reach people so they become followers of Jesus and help them mature in their faith. That’s it. That remains the same for all church leaders. It doesn’t matter what color bow you put on it or how cool your icons are, the mission is the mission. God’s personalization on how you express and execute that mission is endless in possibilities. That is vision. Vision is that God-given individualized fire and flavor that makes the mission relevant for your church. Until that is clear, dig in deep and hard and go after the mission.
- Deal with your own reality as a leader.
I worked with a young pastor who gave leadership to the Middle School department. His vision was grand. The problem was that the vision wasn’t connected to his reality as a leader. We were in San Diego and his vision was to fill the Qualcomm (a.k.a. “The Q”, “The Murph”), formerly known as San Diego Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium – seating over 71,000 for football). Hey, I was born and raised in San Diego, give me a little room here! The Middle School pastor had 50 kids in his group and I suggested that he fill room 208 that seated 120 middle school students before he went after The Q. That idea confounded him. He was convinced he could fill The Murph without trouble. He didn’t grasp the reality of his leadership.
That illustration may seem outrageous to you, but consider two things. First, it’s not only true, it’s literal. Second, it doesn’t matter how big the gap is. If you aren’t in touch with your own leadership reality, you’re in trouble.
To get in touch with who you are as a leader involves at least three things.
1.) Get a grip on your gifts. What’s your main talent? What are you good at? Not what do you want to be good at, but what did God design you to do?
2.) Know your limitations. You have limitations as a leader. Get used to it. Everyone already knows what they are, so just go with the flow. Can you name them? Will you admit them?
3.) Increase your level of self-awareness. The better you understand your own personality, the more comfortable you become with yourself and the easier it is for people to connect with you. Translation – be yourself. (See article titled “Connection – It’s a Heart Thing”.
- Get some time with visionary leaders ahead of you.
I want to give you scope and definition about this. It is not likely that you should call Steven Furtick, Andy Stanley or Rob Bell. You need to call a leader of a church approximately double your churchsize. Allow me to state the obvious. If your church averages about 400 in attendance you need to chase down leaders in churches of about 800. Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course, but remember the idea of filling room 208 before filling Qualcomm stadium. There are a lot of steps in between.
Call a pastor of a church about double your size. If you don’t have a relationship or a connection with relationship, offer him $100 for 30 minutes of his time. This isn’t about payment as much as gratitude and honoring him for his time. Don’t ask for a lunch, that communicates you don’t really mean 30 minutes. When you meet, ask him to tell you his vision. Ask him how God delivered it to him. And ask him about the leadership journey to see that vision realized. That’s it — three questions. That’s all you have time for.
Your goal is not to learn or mimic his vision. Your objective is to soak up the process by which God gave him vision. Here’s one last recommendation. Call only churches that are growing. A leader who had a great vision, but is no longer moving the church forward isn’t going to help you. It may well be a great church, but that’s not what you need to connect with right now. You need to connect with a vision in motion.
- Ask God daily to make your vision clear.
When it’s all said and done, it’s you and God talking. It’s important to confirm what you believe God is saying with your primary leadership team. Your leadership team may speak elements of vision to you. That’s great. That can help your heart and mind become more receptive to what God has to say to you. I very much believe in a team approach, but God is going to speak to the primary leader. In the case of the local church, that is the Senior Pastor. If that is you, pray every day without fail. Ask God over and over. He’s not holding out on you. I promise you that. He may be preparing you for all he has in mind. Don’t give up and please don’t panic. Keep your hand steady to the mission until the next vision is clear.
In the next article I will deal with the birth of a vision. Stay tuned!