How’s your vision?

How’s your vision?

Mark G. Schroeder

Years ago while serving a congregation in Florida, my family and I would make the trip by car back to Wisconsin. Since our children were still young, we would often try to make that trip as painless as possible by driving straight through the night. I would keep myself awake with a thermos of strong coffee and a selection of snacks to munch on. On one of those trips I had an unnerving experience. Cruising on the interstate somewhere in Tennessee, my eyes spotted some movement to the right of the highway. I slowed down quickly in time to see a group of four elephants sauntering across the road in front of me.

But there were no elephants wandering through rural Tennessee that night. My tired eyes were playing tricks on me. What I saw was not real. It was only an illusion that my overly tired brain caused my eyes to see. My vision proved to be anything but reliable.

More and more we hear that congregations are being encouraged to “cast a vision” for the ministry they plan to carry out in the future. When it comes to the mission of the church, the word vision makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

Please don’t misunderstand my discomfort about the word vision. Carefully evaluating needs and prioritizing efforts echo the New Testament encouragements to us to “count the cost.” Identifying areas of ministry that we need to improve and to devote more time and attention to is sanctified common sense. If we use the term vision to describe what we prayerfully desire to do in response to the gospel message, then there is really no problem

All too often, however, those who speak of vision in the church use it to describe not what the congregation is to do, but what they hope that the church will be and will become. That kind of vision setting is both dangerous and unbiblical. That kind of vision setting, even with the best of intentions, can all too easily foster a sense of pharisaic pride that we somehow, through our efforts and skills, can make the church of tomorrow into something it is not today. Promoting that kind of vision can easily imply that we know the mind of God and what he plans to accomplish. It reflects a theology of glory, which promises that the church will be outwardly successful, growing in numbers, filled with active and eager members who generously support and fully participate in the life and the work of the church—as long as we do things right. Ministry built on such visions often leads either to a false sense of pride when things seem to go well or devastating disappointment when our vision-setting eyes have played tricks on us.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, those eyes of faith will never play tricks on us. The church needs only to look to the cross and to the empty tomb to find joy and strength. We need only to look to his Word and sacraments, where his promises are clear and in sharp focus. We need only to perceive with eyes of faith that God has placed us in this world as witnesses of Christ and reflectors of his love. As we do that as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod, we pray. We worship. We witness. We show love. We follow him. We work for him as he gives us the opportunity.

And then we trust that our gracious God, who alone has the true vision for the future, will bless our efforts in the way that his love determines.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

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