by Bryan Rose
Great visionary leaders are not born, nor do they magically appear out of some special factory. We all know there was no seminary course on crafting, casting, and communicating a vision for your church. There were, however, plenty of classes on alliteration.
According to Lifeway Research's 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, more than 2 in 5 pastors (45%) state that establishing a compelling vision is a pressing ministry difficulty. Nearly half of pastors feel ill-equipped to paint a picture of God's better future for their church, fostering Great Commission engagement among the body of Christ.
Yet, most pastors will spend more time in a given week preparing for one sermon (12 hours on average) than in an entire year preparing to cast vision. Those same pastors lament an apathy toward their latest strategy or plan and the disengaged posture of their people, never connecting the pastoral lack of vision casting to a congregational lack of responsiveness.
Vision cannot be established in one choral anthem-filled January Sunday morning. Vision must be reinforced every Sunday, brought before the people with weekly consistency to become established. Consider how often the phrase "a land flowing with milk and honey" describes the Promised Land throughout Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Were the Israelites that lactose-deficient and sugar-dependent? Or might this repetition reveal a need to be consistently reminded of God's plan by leveraging compelling imagery, not compulsory activity?
In most cases, pastors don’t lack vision. They lack confidence in being able to sustain the vision or to see the vision fully realized among the body. Focusing on exegeting a cerebral sermon is much easier than establishing a compelling vision. The week-to-week treadmill of ministry activity and programmatic leadership drains the visionary vibrancy from illustrating and anticipating God's preferred future for the church. Therefore, we write off establishing a compelling vision to a particular class of pastors or maybe even villainize the visionary as a lesser form of theologian.
Leading your body toward tangible, measurable Great Commission impact takes effort, but it’s not work. Here are five keys for casting and sustaining a compelling vision for your church body this year.
1. Reaching everybody reaches nobody
Fight with all you’ve got to resist using generic or broad language. You can be biblical without being boring. If your people are consistently unresponsive to vision casting moments, first ask yourself the hard question of specificity. “Love God; Love people” language appears to engage everyone, but appeals like this fail to inspire anyone toward action. Fight the fear of rejection and defection by remembering Jesus’ polarizing vision cast in John 6. Say more by saying less, and state vision with specificity. Leverage the “principle of laser focus” to set a defined scope and timeframe toward what and where God is calling your church to reach.
2. Be clear over cute
Comprehension of your vision casting moment must outweigh the composition of your vision casting message. Use words that make sense in the mind but also inspire the heart of your congregation toward action. If you can be both clear and cute, do so; but err on the side of clarity first. Remember the seminary professor’s adage: “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it’s a fog in the pew.” For most compelling communicators, the “principle of ruthless sacrifice” applies to vision casting. Remove any words, concepts, or stories that obscure the clear, compelling act of living the vision everywhere and every day.
3. Practice dripping not drenching
Extend the vision cast beyond one special gathering at the new year into every ordinary gathering all year. Repeat a simple, actionable vision-focused mantra, resisting the urge to freshen up the language. Until you hear that you’ve repeated the vision too much, it’s likely that they’ve not heard the vision enough. These vision-dripping moments do not require extended time or extensive preparation, just consistency. The “principle of deep roots” reminds us that smaller doses, delivered with consistency, produce strength and stability over time. Start by recrafting your weekly benediction into a memorable, actionable one-sentence vision cast.
4. Leverage every available channel
Sending an email is only the beginning of regular visionary communication, and likely the most overused. Think about casting vision from a multi-pronged approach, across platforms, generations, and timeframes. One well-crafted letter or email is not enough. Social media posts, podcast episodes, and even good old-fashioned town hall meetings must be seen as parts of a holistic vision communication plan. The “principle of vision refraction” reminds visionary communicators that, like white light hitting a prism, the calling to God’s preferred future must be a ROYGBIV spectrum of compelling messages. Filter your vision through the prism of modern media channels to appreciate the beauty of full engagement.
5. What’s celebrated gets replicated
Making a big deal out of small things builds culture around the vision. Find ways to mark movement toward God’s better future and highlight the practices and actions of disciple-making success. Resist the type-A temptation of moving on to what’s next instead of lingering in what was. Work to reveal God’s hand and heart in every calendared event and dollar spent. The ability to consistently celebrate instead of constantly correct begins with clarity and alignment. The “principle of viral culture” calls every leader in every area of church leadership to point out and rejoice in God at work everywhere, if we hope to see God at work anywhere.
Articulating a compelling picture of God’s better future and aligning everything in your church toward this calling doesn’t have to be complicated. But it must be consistent. Vision casting moments can be 30 seconds or 30 minutes, and everywhere in between. They can take place in services through sermons or napkin sketches over coffee. Use a simple, strategic framework to structure compelling vision communication, like this free digital brief from Auxano.
Leader, you have a vision. Now work on becoming a visionary leader—and watch what God will do!