Three Threats to a Leader’s Vision

Throughout Scripture, we see the power of vision at work as leaders attempt the seemingly impossible.

Moses had a vision to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and restore dignity to its people. Esther had a vision to save the Jewish people from total annihilation. And Paul had a vision to take the gospel to Macedonia. Every vision was significant.

The same is true today. Leaders don’t have visions for mediocrity or complacency. Sameness isn’t a compelling dream. Instead, leaders see a preferred future where needs are met, problems are solved, and beauty comes alive in the world.

Every business, church, nonprofit and school started because somebody envisioned a better tomorrow. Something was missing from the world — or some injustice was inflicting the vulnerable — until a leader captured a vision to create a solution or alleviate the suffering.

Visions are essential because their fulfillment helps the world become what God intended it to be. Better tomorrows cannot emerge until we envision them today. They start in the heart and mind as the Holy Spirit inspires a future that does not yet exist. Once the vision is born, leaders must capture it with clarity by writing it down.

The Lord told Habakkuk, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it” (Habakkuk 2:2). You can’t run courageously until you first see clearly.

But once the vision is clear, it faces a variety of threats — threats that can delay or completely dismantle the vision. While the threats vary, there are three that are common in churches.

Vision Drifting

The first threat to a vision is the temptation, the lure or even the pressure to drift. Some leaders drift into a new vision after seeing the latest fad or being inspired by a great conference speaker. Others drift into new visions not because they want to accomplish something new, but to escape the pain of a vision that’s facing opposition.

Still others drift from their vision because it’s hard work, and they’re emotionally and physically drained. In those critical moments, drifting feels natural, normal and even right.

Here’s the truth: Visions are free, but their fulfillment isn’t. Seeing a vision come to pass requires time, energy, strategy, money, people and pain. But more than anything, achieving a vision requires an extraordinary amount of focus. Resist vision drifting.

Don’t let these threats undermine the vision God has for your church.

Platform Building

The greatest visions require some kind of team to help them fully materialize. In other words, great visions are greater than the time and talent of a single leader. However, as the team grows, the leader has to work hard to keep the team focused on the church’s vision, not individual visions.

When Lou Holtz arrived at the University of Notre Dame in 1986 to coach the Fighting Irish football team, he understood the importance of building a team unified around a single vision. He also understood the temptation for players to put themselves first.

To combat this threat, Holtz removed all the football players’ names from the backs of their jerseys. When The Wall Street Journal asked why he made such a bold move, Holtz said, “You’re playing for ND, you’re not playing for yourself. To win, it is always about putting the team first.”

Lou Holtz made it clear: The purpose of the team is not to build an individual’s platform, but for the individual to contribute to the team’s greater vision.

If pastors don’t keep the team focused on the vision, team members will create their own. They’ll drift toward image management, self-promotion and personal platform building. Communication, regular vision casting and clear boundaries are essential.

Silo Thinking

Silos are tall, round towers used for bulk storage in various industries. Whether it’s grain, sugar, flour, coal or cement, silos keep one product separated from another. The same thing can happen in churches. Silo thinking can cause teams, ministries and departments to detach from the overall vision of the church.

When silo thinking persists, members — even entire departments — create their own visions. Sideways energy manifests as people pull in opposing directions. Prolonged silo thinking even causes entire teams and departments to view themselves as superior to others in the church.

If you want to identify the most mature leaders in your church, look for the ones who have the ability to see the big picture (not just a picture of the ministry they lead).

To eliminate silo thinking, maintain open lines of communication with department heads, and cultivate relationship building cross-departmentally. Furthermore, help leaders see how the ministries they lead are directly connected to the church’s larger vision.

All of these conditions — vision drifting, platform building, and silo thinking —are threats to a church’s vision. While each issue can arise at any level of leadership, vision drifting is common among pastors, platform building is common among team members, and silo thinking is common among departments.

Don’t let these threats undermine the vision God has for your church.

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