Most leaders start off as visionaries but wind up as managers. Or worse, as drop-outs.
I realize that’s a sweeping statement. And maybe one made to catch your attention. But I believe there is truth in it.
As a young man, I had an enormous vision for God. It propelled me to do all sorts of things that were way beyond my comfort zone and my ability. Some of those things were more successful than others, but at least I got out of the boat and headed out onto the water.
And then the waves hit, just like they did with Peter. We criticize Peter for getting his eyes off the Lord and beginning to sink, but at least he got out of the boat! The others sat in their seats and watched.
The waves are going to hit anyone with a vision to do something for God. And sometimes the visionary sinks along with the vision.
By definition, vision expands you beyond your own capacity, because you are seeing something greater than what you have. And so it requires a massive dose of dependency on God. In the process of implementing your vision, several things can go wrong:
You can get the timing wrong. Visionaries aren’t good at waiting.
You can forget the fact that the greater the vision, the deeper the visionary has to sink his or her roots into God. Visionaries can become presumptuous and forget their total dependence on the One who gave the vision. The vision begins to be more about them and less about the kingdom.
Or you can try to implement the vision without gathering the team to do it. Visionaries can be lone rangers.
Those things can be set right by going back to God and getting a heart adjustment. What’s harder to deal with is when a genuine vision is opposed by other Christians.
Some folk oppose vision because they know it will require a bigger spiritual commitment than they are prepared to offer. Downsizing the vision solves their problem. Some oppose vision because it was somebody else’s idea, not theirs, and they will not get the credit for it. It sounds petty but it happens. And some people are downright intransigent. They are comfortable in the way things have always been, and they will resist any change to the death.
And so bit by bit visionaries get worn down and the vision dies. And the church gets left with managers. Managers preside over what is. Visionaries bring to reality what is not. We need managers but we cannot move forward without visionaries.
As I reflect on my own life, I think some of my vision was unrealistic. Maybe I did think I could bring reformation single-handedly! But I am grateful that God was able to use the genuine vision I did have. I am grateful I never gave in either to my own doubts, or to other people who out of their own fear, insecurity or spiritual immaturity told me I couldn’t do what God had told me to do.
Proverbs 28:19 says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” (ESV). We desperately need people with a prophetic vision, people who draw us back to the undiluted truth of the Word, people who refuse to settle for religious second best.
There is a glut of pastoral managers in the body of Christ. And don’t get me wrong, we need all the pastors we can get. But all too often, churches employ shepherds who care for their own needs, while rejecting visionaries who urge them to care for the needs of the world outside. And we wonder why our churches become inward-looking and God does not bless us with growth. Jesus did not tell us to look after ourselves. He commanded us to disciple the nations.
If you have a visionary in your midst, please encourage them. They may make life uncomfortable for you, but without them the cause of the kingdom will stagnate and eventually die.