Ministry Monday: Vision’s Dirty Little Secret

Wendell Berry writes that a farmer’s connection to the farm often begins in love: “One’s head, like a lover’s, grows full of visions. One walks over the premises, saying, ‘If this were mine, I’d make a permanent pasture here; here is where I’d plant an orchard; here is where I’d dig a pond.’ These visions are the usual stuff of unfulfilled love and induce wakefulness at night.”

 I would contend that something similar happens to the pastor who dreams of a different kind of future for the church. Like Berry’s farmer, thoughts of what could be drive sleep from us. Night falls and our work is only beginning. We imagine and plan. We create whole new worlds in our mind, striding across the landscape like giants. Until our spouse, weary from our tossing and sighing, tells us to either give it a rest or sleep somewhere else.

 Yet if it is to be realized, this imagined future must be shaped as much by reality as it is by vision. “One’s work may be defined in part by one’s visions,” Berry explains, “but it is defined in part too by problems, which the work leads to and reveals.” As powerful as vision is in motivating us to work for change, the change that eventually comes to pass usually differs from that which we initially imagined. Our dreams are transformed as we come to terms with the reality of our environment. Berry sees this as a necessary correction, one which “gradually removes one’s self from one’s line of sight.”

 In saying this, Berry has uncovered the dirty little secret of most vision work. Vision is often as much about us as it is about the future, a fact which explains why so many visionary leaders also turn out to be narcissists.

 There is, thankfully, a corrective built into the vision process, which is simply this: every leader is dependent upon others to bring the vision to pass. These “others,” usually consisting of the congregation, meddle with our dream. They resist it. Shatter it. Then eventually recast it in their own image. The result, if we are patient enough to wait and humble enough to submit, is often something even we would not have imagined.

Questions:

What do you think are some of the “best practices” for drawing stakeholders into the vision process?

How do you deal with the natural frustration that often arises when those stakeholders re-shape and change your vision?

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

4 thoughts on “Ministry Monday: Vision’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Thanks again for great insights: “Vision is often as much about us as it is about the future, a fact which explains why so many visionary leaders also turn out to be narcissists.” Challenging.

    Something that will make you laugh: one of the “possibly related posts” generated at the bottom of the post for me is “free money making secrets for ministry”. Who knew?

    j

    1. I certainly am not making any money on it. I need to follow that link. I don’t know if there is something I can do to stop having the software generate those posts. It has made some curious links.

  2. It sure is a fine line. How many human beings can truly boast emotionally detaching our narcist tendencies from our spirtual calling at all times?

    The one who can needs to write the next book.

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