Avoiding a program-based mentality in a church with vision
By Steve Prokopchak
Vision seems to be an operative term these days. Unfortunately, an important and consuming vision also can become just another program that needs to be propped up and financed. When vision becomes stale, members become disinterested in maintaining the vision. Even the best of vision needs regular review and evaluation of its effectiveness.
I’m not convinced that God is willing to fund the “latest Christian craze” syndrome just because we call it a vision. It’s important to understand exactly what a visionary church actually is.
A Visionary Church Releases People to Move in the Vision
A visionary church does not center around a charismatic leader who carries all of the vision. A visionary church is one in which the leaders instill vision in the people and then release the people to move. The vision is not for professionals only. If it not understood by the common congregants, it is a church with a vision but not a visionary church.
The vision must go beyond a visionary leader to a visionary people! When members share their thoughts about a visionary church with others, they are not sharing about a super-hero or mega-pastor. Instead, they are sharing about a movement that will outlast any individual. The New Testament church would not exist today as we know it if the disciples had not instilled vision within those they discipled.
Some years ago, I spent a weekend training small group leaders within a local church so that they could initiate small group ministry. But throughout the weekend, I observed that the pastor was controlling everything from the training, to all the praying, to the worship and to the message and order of the Sunday service. On the way back to the airport, the pastor questioned me as to whether or not small group ministry could materialize at his church. I immediately told him that it could not. Inquisitively, he asked me why I felt it couldn’t. I let him know that small group ministry meant trusting small group leaders with small portions of his congregation. Without the ability to give ministry away, equip, release and trust others, small group ministry would be dead in the water before it ever began. He agreed.
Paul spoke blessings and encouragement to the believers at Ephesus through the first three chapters of Ephesians. In chapter four, verses eleven to thirteen, he lists the fivefold ministers and then describes their purpose. These gifted fivefold ministers were to prepare the saints for service so the body of Christ would be built up and brought to unity and maturity. Why? So we will no longer be infants in our faith (v.14) and so that each part will do its job (v.16; see also Col. 2:19).
A visionary church does not use people. When leaders use people to reach their own vision rather than instilling vision by properly using fivefold ministers, the church’s greatest possibility for growth is cut short and abuses can occur.
How might we attempt to reach our vision by “using people” instead of releasing vision in them? Here are five ways:
- By sending people out too soon, before they are adequately prepared for ministry.
- By not recognizing their unique gifts or only recognizing what you think they can do for you.
- By using false words of encouragement, building up egos (patronizing them) rather than mentoring and building spiritual strengths.
- By holding onto them too long, expecting perfection, or by being unwilling to allow them to fail or make mistakes.
- By calling their good ideas your own ideas—taking credit for successes that are not yours.
A visionary church must go beyond product. By product, I’m referring to the number of people, the number of small groups, or the number of Sunday morning services a church holds. A visionary church must move toward relationship with people. Where there is relationship and spiritual life, there will be numerical growth. People are not attracted to that which is lifeless.
The book of Acts records many miracles. The reality of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives was evident. It was not the product of growth that believers sought; instead, it was relationship with God and with one another. This relationship is depicted so well in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. These verses describe the process of relationship found in a visionary church, not just product-mindedness found in a church with a vision. People are not a means to the end; they are God’s greatest love.
A Visionary Church is Authentic
A visionary church must be authentic. Although people are attracted to beautiful buildings and the latest technology, that attraction will quickly fade away. New cars will only smell new for a short time. When the smell is gone, the newness wears off. No one is attracted to a movement with a big front and no spiritual depth or substance. What they are attracted to is God’s love manifested through relationship with people. God’s love is authentic.
A visionary church puts their money into people. The leaders are not interested in exorbitant salaries or benefits. They prioritize training and sending, healing and changed lives. A visionary church recognizes every member is on staff, while a few are supported to multiply the gifts God has given them to the remainder of the body.
I have administered career testing in our local church. One of the most valuable sections of the test is the “work values” portion. Many people change jobs because their personal work values do not line up with their job even though they might be proficient in the work. Perhaps they function best as a creative thinker while the job merely requires following a predetermined order. This person will not enjoy his or her job.
Neither will people enjoy a long-term relationship with a church body if they are not enjoying similar spiritual values. In addition, if the vision frequently changes, so will the people. They will not remain committed but will drift along to the next church body.
If you have found that the traditional mindset of church is not working for you, then perhaps you are looking for a visionary church, a church that is equipping and instilling vision to co-labor and build together. Programs can be good. However, if programs determine who we are and what we do, these programs will be void of relationship and vision. A church that meets house to house in small groups is an excellent model of a visionary church. The comparisons below can help us better understand the difference between a leader with a vision and a visionary leader.
Comparing the differences
The Leader with a Vision
- Wants short-term, quick results.
- Sees people as a means to an end who need to be held on to.
- Cannot recognize others’ vision—it is threatening.
- Desires to know everything about everybody within the church in order to maintain “authority.”
- Works best in program-based churches.
The Visionary Leader
- Looks for long-term growth.
- Sees people as persons to equip and release to ministry.
- Recognizes others gifts—comes alongside and encourages the use of those gifts.
- Desires to know only what is necessary in order to allow other leaders to be responsible and maintain their authority.
- Works best in small group-based churches
A visionary church will not return to its buildings and carry on in the same way as they always had after COVID-19. The coronavirus has changed the landscape of church as we know it. We will return to our buildings, but hopefully with an all new sense of taking the church beyond the building to the community and house to house. We will better utilize technology to teach, train, engage in meetings and to capture those who do not enjoy a church home. Technology will increase the inclusion of our millennial and Y generations. With updated technology, we can reach the world. Who can do it better than the local church?
About Steve Prokopchak
Steve serves on the DOVE International Apostolic Council and has been involved in the Christian counseling field for over thirty years. He earned a Master of Human Services from Lincoln University. He is the author of several books, including Called Together, a premarital counseling workbook. He also travels throughout the world teaching and imparting to the lives of many, especially leaders. Read more about Steve or catch up on his blog.