Vision and Theology in Church Leadership (Part Six)

The previous posts in this series constructed an argument for vision informed by theology (values) in church leadership. My last post listed certain pre-conditions and the first three steps to take in the envisioning process.

Here are the steps:

  1. Pray. Obvious, but so often neglected in the process.
  2. Identify the gap between theology and behavior. A pastor is responsible for focusing people’s attention on the gaps between values (theology) and behavior. For example, suppose a church uses 80% of its resources to minister to itself and 20% to minister outside the church. This inward focus might indicate a gap between: the mission of the church (“go into the world and make disciples”), and a consumerist tendency centered on comfort and preference. The gap between theology and behavior is always the place of vision.
  3. Teach about the gap by addressing values, attitudes and behavior. Do NOT offer specific solutions at this point in the “envisioning process.” For example, the answer to an inward focused ministry is NOT a mandate that all ministries will contain “an outreach component.” Instead, church leaders should treat members as responsible adults. This means people are responsible for attitudinal change. They process what  new behavior is necessary, resulting in new vision.

Step four is vital.

A leader needs to create a “safe holding environment.” This is a space where people can speak freely about the values they hold and the frustrations they feel. The best description of this holding environment I have seen from a Christian perspective was written by Roxburgh and Romanuk: “…an environment in which the people of God imagine together a new future rather than one already determined by a leader” (p. 42).

Discussion about vision is always about the values people hold. These discussions generate heat as people talk about things that matter most to them. Leaders allow that heat to rise, even encourage it. Throughout the discussions the gap between values and behavior will eventually emerge. That gap is the place of vision.

A good leader makes sure that the discussion environment is “safe.” That means certain behaviors are prohibited: blame-shifting, ad hominem attacks, power plays, defeatism, etc. Ron Heifetz calls these “work avoidance behaviors.” A good leader also refuses the seduction of providing an “easy answer.” A short cut at this stage of the process may result in a “vision” rolled out more quickly, but it will encounter significant resistance resulting in delayed implementation or even failure unless people have fully worked through the process beforehand.

“Getting vision” is so much more than finding out what to do next. Done right, the process aligns people with the core values of the church. The church as a whole is re-vitalized as once again it consciously embraces those values (theology) and wrestles with how best to put them into action.

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