No Small Calling: Communicating Vision at a Small-Town Church

January is a time when people naturally reorder their priorities and try to start fresh in a better routine for the new year.  We as pastors are no different.  The Christmas season is over, and a more regular schedule gives us time to create a plan for following the vision God has given us for the churches under our care.

Casting vision is increasingly being understood as an important aspect of a pastor’s job, but often in older, smaller, change-resistant churches, a pastor’s job can often be reduced to holding a church’s hand while it dies.  Navigating change is difficult in this context, and it is sometimes hard to imagine what could be possible.  Yet it is still our job to lead people to follow the Lord, and people who are trying to obey Christ will accept and even spearhead change, if they understand the “why” behind it all.

That’s where communicating vision becomes crucial, both to focus yourself and to motivate your congregation.  I have not always done this task well.  Different seasons and different human dynamics call for different approaches to communicating a God-given direction.  Over the years, both in my experience and what I have observed from others, here are three different ways to cast vision that can be effective even in a smaller church setting.

“What We Will Do” Vision

To communicate this way is to articulate the ongoing task of ministry.  What is it that we do here?  What are worthy activities?  What are our programs supposed to be accomplishing?  Often these goals or tasks are described in focal points for easy memorization, like “Christ-Community-Commission” or “Upward-Inward-Outward-Forward.”

However this idea is presented, the effect is to give purpose to what could be mundane and evaluate ongoing programs either to eliminate them or bring them into focus.  Where does this program fit into what we say we are doing as a church?  By establishing purpose and priorities for the ongoing rhythms of the church, the things that don’t fit can be gradually shed and areas of neglect can come into focus.

In an older small church, there are well-established practices. It can be unsettling to change them quickly or drastically, and adding to them just accelerates burnout.  Leading people to buy into an understanding of what we ought to be doing every week as a church can bring about change in a way that often grows from within rather than from the top down.

“What We Will Become as a Church” Vision

Small churches often look back at better days when more people came and both the community and the church seemed to have more life.  Church veterans have lived through the decline and often don’t see anything but further decline on the horizon.  Their hope is to hold on and survive.  Our job as pastors is to help take their eyes off the past and the institution and to put them on Christ and the future.

That’s where casting a vision for what the church will become can be so life-giving.  It’s also more dangerous.  We can set goals and cast a vision that’s our own ideal rather than anything God gave.  It’s easier to discern what God wants us to do week to week than to have an understanding of where God is taking His church in the long term.  We should tread cautiously here, but it is important to lift people’s eyes to the possibilities and toward a long-term purpose rather than the short-term goal of survival.

“What We Will Become as Individuals” Vision

This type of vision takes the focus away from the team and puts it on the individual.  You can probably see right away where that could be a problem.  Especially in small churches, we need to have a sense of cooperation and a sense of trying to do something together in order to fulfill our calling.

But done in the right way, casting a vision for what we will become as individuals can create a unity of purpose.  I have seen something as simple as “We’re going to look like Jesus” get great buy-in from a congregation and unleash diverse ministry as each sought to be like Jesus in their own context.  Communicating an expectancy that every member will mature in Christ and providing the resources to grow challenges the mindset that only the chosen few will direct and accomplish ministry.

Each of these approaches can be useless bumper-sticker slogans that go nowhere.  But if we seek God to lead us and to direct His church and communicate clearly and consistently to our people, these can be effective ways to communicate that vision, connecting the urgent tasks of each week and giving them direction and purpose.

If you have ways that you have effectively communicated vision in your church setting, please share it in the comments.

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