“What’s your biggest regret over the last year?” My wife’s question pierced the silence. For the first time in months we had a quiet day together. We began processing this year’s pandemic, rioting, political confusion, and more.
My answer surprised me. I have many regrets related to our marriage, our family, my holiness, and our church. What surprised me, though, was how quickly I was able to identify one regret that stood above the rest.
How I’ve cast the vision for our church.
As someone who is wired entrepreneurially and loves spending time with my head in the clouds, my admission shocked us both. As we began excavating what was beneath that statement, one thing became clear: people in our small church plant were hurt when the aspirational didn’t become the actual.
I spent untold time crafting the perfect vision, and our core team sacrificed to join this planting journey largely because of it. When the vision and the experience didn’t match, though, it was deflating. People became disillusioned. Disappointment soon set in. I felt like everyone was secretly crying, This isn’t what we signed up for.
Casting vision for our church plants is good. But the vision shouldn’t just communicate our mission; it should serve our people. Now that I’m several months removed from first setting the pace and tone of our church, I’m pondering the ways I wish I’d done it differently.
If given the opportunity, I’d rewind and avoid three vision-casting errors.
1. Creating Limited Focus
I love evangelism as much as the next church planter. My heart beats for the lost, and I lose my mind every time I witness a baptism. I’ll never let my foot off the gas pedal of developing a culture of multiplication. Yet in constantly casting a vision of who we wanted to reach, I was overlooking the people we already had reached. Oftentimes, I lamented over the people who were not at our gatherings instead of ministering to the ones who were.
In constantly casting a vision of who we wanted to reach, I was overlooking the people we already had reached.
I regret casting a vision with the primary goal of evangelism. That’s a limited view of our role in the mission. Our main goal is discipleship. Evangelism is simply the doorway into discipleship (Matt. 28:16–20). And I’m convinced deep discipleship of God’s people leads to sweeping evangelism of God’s soon-to-be people.
2. Setting Unrealistic Standards
Our church quickly moved out of the gates, and it was exhilarating! It was also appetizing. I wanted more, and there was never enough. In my well-intentioned vision-casting of multiple services, a fully funded residency program, innumerable baptisms, and reproduction of churches, our members were left wondering if they were too ordinary to be here.
Every drop of vision we leak to our congregation creates standards and expectations. In my eagerness to keep our church full of momentum, my vision focused on fruitfulness to the sad neglect of faithfulness. Our church has struggled to let our grace-gifted identities produce grace-fueled actions. Instead, we’ve emphasized action over identity, doing over being. No wonder this has led to worn-out participants.
The standards created by our vision must first deal with the wildly generous grace we have in the gospel. We were lost, dead, and orphaned. But Christ has found us, given us life, and adopted us into his family (Eph. 2:1–9). I want my church to get this before they get anything else.
3. Ignoring Obvious Discrepancies
At Story Church, we’re learning of the painfully stark difference between the aspirational and the actual. We’re a church that prays, but we’re not yet a praying church. There’s a difference. By God’s grace, we’re moving toward becoming a praying church, but until we get there, it leaves blanks to be filled about our devotion to prayer.
Church planters, let’s spend less time crafting the perfect vision for our churches, and instead start living and leading out of God’s vision for his church.
In casting vision, we must be careful to emphasize the years of hard work it usually takes to see our aspirations become reality. And it requires everyone doing their part. Worse yet is when folks come to the church excited about the vision we’ve cast, but who quickly grow discontent when they feel they were sold a false bill of goods.
I regret the way I’ve gone about vision-casting for our church plant. But even in my regret, the Lord’s been kind to remind me that, ultimately, it’s not about me or my vision. This is his church, and it’s his vision laid out in his Word that matters.
God will bring an unfathomable number of dead sinners back to life (Rev. 7:9). He will glorify himself through a people feasting on his mercy (Is. 43:25; Ps. 25:11). He will multiply his church to every corner of this globe as he redeems people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Mark 16:15; Rev. 7:9). And he will use his people, armed with his Word and full of his Spirit, to do it (Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:16–17).
Church planters, let’s spend less time crafting the perfect vision for our churches, and instead live and lead out of God’s vision for his church.