Every pastor knows they will hear this question: “What is God’s vision for our church?” Or, it might be stated a little differently, like, “What are we supposed to be doing? What is God’s will for our church?” These questions will be asked either during an interview with a search committee, or right after the pastor arrives new to a church, or both.
Many pastoral candidates have a ready answer. They have gone to a seminary class, or they have attended a leadership seminar, or they have read a book, and they have a specific image in their mind of what a church—every church—should look like. Unfortunately, those pastors’ plans often have nothing to do with the reality of the church at hand. Even when the church initially supports the pastor’s vision, when it is time for action, pastors hear:
- That won’t work here.
- We tried it already, and it didn’t work.
- If you knew us, you wouldn’t have even suggested that.
It is often at this juncture that a pastor leaves for another church, only to try the same vision on the next church. Otherwise, the pastor stays and relationships begin to get strained. This scenario is a very common cause of church conflict.
Why doesn’t this pastor-driven approach work? After all, isn’t it the pastor’s job to figure out what the vision is? Could it be that most pastors are on the introverted side of the personality spectrum? Could it be that more than 80 to 90 percent of pastors cannot pull off implementing a vision by the power of their personality and giftedness? Could it be that, in a volunteer organization, telling people what to do doesn’t work? Could it be the Bible offers another way?
When working with a pastor on this approach, I ask, “If the priesthood of the believer is biblical, and if it is a core value in a church, then why can’t the whole congregation work on discovering a vision—even when there is not an installed pastor?”
Just think, if a pastorless church could discover their vision, that vision could become part of their pastor profile. This clear profile would help the church call the right pastor because that candidate would already feel the same call from God as the congregation.
In this approach, the visioning process begins with the church body. Through surveys, small group meetings and/or town hall meetings, the church members would gather their thoughts and dreams. Over time, the Transition Team would gather and process the collection of ideas and dreams. The team would begin to shape them into possibilities. Back and forth, the dialogue would continue in the congregation, using a spiritual process, until the church united around a specific focus that creates a passionate commitment by a sizeable portion of the church
When compared to the pastor-driven approach, the church-wide approach is harder and longer. The inclusive approach also has its share of pitfalls, but the process is biblical and Baptist. It puts the priesthood of the believer into practice. This church-wide option is likely to lead to a church vision that doesn’t fall apart just because the pastor leaves. In fact, maybe pastors wouldn’t leave so quickly because the church said “no” to their singular vision. Instead, maybe pastors would stay longer as they helped their churches fine-tune the dream and continue together in a mutually-affirmed journey.
Imagine a new scenario. What if a search team asked, “What do you think this church ought to be doing?” And what if they accepted a pastoral candidate’s unexpected answer. “I don’t know. But I’d love the chance to lead this church in asking that question, and finding the answer, together.”