You hear ministry leaders talk all the time about what a church needs to grow. Some say it’s preaching. Some say you need a great location. Others suggest you need a vibrant ministry to children or youth.
All of those aspects are important for a healthy, growing church. But I don’t think they are what’s most important.
You start with leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership. I see churches in great locations that struggle because of bad leadership. I see churches with great preaching struggle because of poor leadership. Leadership matters.
And leadership rests on vision.
Charisma doesn’t make a great leader. Vision does. In fact, communicating vision is your number one job as a leader. As a pastor, you need to continually clarify the vision of your church. It gets harder and harder (but more and more important) as you grow.
But where do you get vision that will propel your church forward in the new year?
You have to get vision from the Holy Spirit. God’s vision never wears out. His vision will never fail. His vision is better and grander than anything we can think up. And his vision is exactly what our churches need.
How does God communicate his vision to us? I’ve discovered through the years that God tends to share his vision with me in three stages.
1. God tells me what he’s going to do.
God starts by telling me what he wants to do through our ministry. The “what” always comes before the “how” and the “when.”
To figure out what God wants you to do, start with what God says in the Bible about what the church is supposed to do. Your church isn’t your church. It’s Jesus’ church. He founded the church, died for the church, sent his Spirit to guide the church, and someday will return for his church. He has already declared what the church is supposed to do. The purposes of the church are non-negotiable.
So start with the purposes of the church that God defines in the Bible. And then ask God to tell you how he wants to apply those purposes to your church.
2. God tells me how he’s going to do it.
Too often leaders skip this step. When God gives them a vision, they move on quickly to how they’re going to do it. They come up with their own strategy and their own plans. Then they fall on their face and come crawling back to him.
3. God tells me when he’ll complete it.
The longer I’m a Christian, the more I’m convinced that God’s timing is absolutely perfect. The week before Easter of 1980, during our final preview service at Saddleback before launching the next week, I shared what God had showed me about the church’s future.
In that message, I shared a dream of “at least 50 acres of land, on which will be built a regional church for Southern Orange County—with beautiful, yet simple, facilities . . . including a worship center seating thousands, a counseling and prayer center, classrooms for Bible studies and training lay ministers, and a recreation area. All of this will be designed to minister to the total person—spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially—and set in a peaceful, inspiring garden landscape.”
But when I shared that vision, I had no idea how or when it would happen. I certainly had no idea it would take nearly 13 years before Saddleback had land of its own. In fact, we were the first church in America to grow to more than 10,000 in weekly attendance without a building of its own. That wasn’t my timing, but it was God’s.
Nearly all of the pastors I’ve known who lead healthy churches have gone through seasons of burnout when they’ve had to learn that their vision for the church was from the Holy Spirit, not their own ego. I came to that point at the end of my first year at Saddleback. My vision for the second year of this church was simple: Hang on. I was out of big dreams. I just wanted to keep going.
I had two particularly haunting doubts during that time. Saddleback was growing fast, and I didn’t believe I deserved it—and I didn’t think I could handle it.
The truth is, God had a few important lessons for me to learn. Out of that period, God told me, “You’re right. You don’t deserve it. But I use you by grace.” Grace is the fact that God knows everything I’m going to do in the ministry, every mistake I’m going to make, but he still uses me anyway. That’s good news.
Out of that experience came confidence rooted in the realization that everything God does at Saddleback is an act of grace. It’s not my responsibility to build the church. It’s my responsibility to be faithful. While I was out there in the desert, God said, “You build the people, and I’ll build the church.”
So whatever vision God gives you for your ministry, hold it loosely. For nearly 40 years, I’ve prayed over and over again, “God, if I’m getting in the way of this church, I’m willing to move.” The vision for Saddleback has never been mine. In the same way, the vision for your church belongs to God.
Thanks man of God for great encouragement 2chroni 16:9
Great insightful wisdom in bit sized portions. Thanks for sharing this. It’s helpful to me.
Very great stuff. i really appreicate this!
So insightful… just what i need right now for the campus ministry i head…. ‘The church isn’t yours, it is God’s’. that really got me…
Glory be to God
Dear pastor, you are such a blessing and may God continue to work in you and through you.
This was so powerful and encouraging at the same time, im a associate min at my church and I’ve been encouraging my pastor to build up our leaders and renew the vision for our church because attendance has fallen off people aren’t comming please pray for Gods church Good News (fgbc).⛪
Thank you, Rick! I needed this to reorder my thinking and center me in the midst if a vibrant congregation, with lots of activity, and has gone through a significant transition.
I appreciate what you say on this article. Please pray for me and my church or God’s church that I am serving here in Vanuatu, South Pacific.
Thanks Rick, I always appreciate the things you share and the fact that you have never forgotten whose Church you pastor and serve. I pray God will continue to bless you with His grace. Thanks for sharing about the importance of having God’s vision not ours.
I’m both heartened and inspired as I prepare to speak on January 6th when we will have dedication of leadership.
Awesome post. Our church grew to 250 with a vision for reaching the lost through a home cell based strategy. Then after 16 home cells everything fell apart. Leaders refused to divide cells. The cells stagnated. Everyone blamed me as senior pastor. I tried to explain that they need to stick to the multiplication plan. Slowly it crumbled. Then came the attack on my marriage. My wife was deceived into believing I was having affairs with many women. Irrational reasoning and dreams and visions plagued her. I prayed, fasted, sought counselling. The children were alienated. She eventually confessed that God had given her another man. Unsaved and not interested in Christ nor His Kingdom. She filed for divorce and went around to all the families in the church convincing them to stay away. We shrunk to 8 people on a Sunday. I offered the leaders my resignation. They refused and told me we would rebuild together. I was devastated, deflated, demotivated and defeated. In my quiet time I asked the Lord where I had missed him. He said put away the books on church growth and seek me. I give the increase. Be faithful then you will find me faithful. I hung on desperately. Dragged myself to church meetings, prayer meetings, leaders planning meetings. Gave up my grandiose plans with numbered growth charts and financial projections. Left full-time ministry. Took a job lecturing at university to support my family. We focused on our basic strategy of friendship evangelism, quality leadership, and the core message of getting to know our Heavenly Father through His Word. Slowly, very slowly God began to move. New people came. Old members came back. Sunday school children became youth and learned to play instruments to form our live worship team after 10 years. Our Bible school started with 6 students and recently graduated 15 students, 6 from surrounding churches. 4 will go into our associate pastorship programme to be ordained after a two year internship. Slowly God is building our purpose driven church. Our motto is We Win the Lost, Care for the Flock, Equip the Saints, Serve the Family, Honour God and Impact our World.
This article really spoke to my heart. This year our church will be 20 years old, we don’t have a building, we cart instruments and equipment and set up and break down every week. We hire churches when we need to baptise members. But God is faithful. As people leave, others come to replace them. We are trusting God and preparing for explosive growth this year.
Thank you pst Rick.
Wishing you a great year 2019.God bless you
Thank you for sharing these words if God’s wisdom.
thank you so much for all your resources. We are standing in the need for direction and help as leaders of Christ in the church and community!
I totally agree with some of your statements in this article. Nevertheless, am confused with the part that says “It’s not my responsibility to build the church. It’s my responsibility to be faithful.” So how does this relate to James 2: 14-26 NKJV? Is it a matter of choice -when to add-on works to our faith and when not to? Or is it circumstantial ? I really look forward to your reply.
Thank you very much I always enjoy your articles.
Amen!! Needed this reminder as we look to our future. God’s got it!
I do agree that vision is very important-how the vision is given is variable. I believe that because not all pastors have the gifts to “see” the vision alone. Sometimes pastors with other than prophetic gifts, the vision is given with some other leaders in that church. So please don’t despair if you don’t see the vision alone! Gather other faithful members of your group and get their input to at least sharpen the vision.