Someone asked the other day what I find to be the most common need among churches that are beginning to go through a transition process. (By transition process I mean that the church has lost its pastor and is going through a time of planning for a new pastoral search. This is a very important time in the life of a church as it seeks to come to terms with its identity and plan for the best kind of pastoral match.)
I have found that the most common problem in these circumstances is a loss of vision. Usually a church going into the process of transition has lost something of its spiritual and missional momentum and is seeking to come to terms with this issue. But it may not see it as that without some outside help. One of the best things a church leadership team can do in a time like this is to engage the services of a ministry that specializes in providing objective analyses about the church’s ministry. Often there are excellent denominational resources for help for this, but increasingly there are ministries that specialize in vision renewal and transition issues for churches in this situation. (For example, see Outreach Canada).
A church’s vision may be lost because leadership is distracted by daily administrative needs or because the pastor is dealing with burn-out in one form or another. In fact, it might well be said that burn-out for a pastor is all about the loss of vision. It’s possible for a church leadership team to work with its pastor to find constructive ways to experience vision renewal, but this is often a difficult conversation and the pastor ends up resigning.
I believe vision renewal is a spiritual matter in that a pastor or church has lost sight of what the Gospel and its implication is all about. It is this rewewal of understanding that re-ignites vision and provides the passion and energy needed for effective ministry. Much of this will come through a re-reading of the Scriptures and listening to others who emulate vision by this means.
For example, in addition to my own reading of Scritpure recently in which I have been greatly inspired about the nature of the Gospel I have also been impressed by the writings of people like Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, New York who has written, The Prodigal God. As I listened to his explanation of the church’s vision on their web-site the other day, I was deeply impressed with how their appreciation and understanding of the Gospel informed their mission and accomplishments.
Another writer whose ability to articulate a vision of the Gospel has given energy to his ministries and to those of many others is Henri Nouwen. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, he describes the meaning of the biblical text in such a way that it is impossible not to be moved by this amazing summary of what the life and ministry of Jesus was all about.
I believe vision is renewed in the life of a church when its leaders really grasp the meaning of the Gospel for their own lives and for the context in which the live, work, and seek to minister. And in my work as a transition coach for churches one of my goals is to help a church and its leaders grasp this connection. Once a church has this clearly established, it can go on to find a pastor who shares that vision and then there is no limit to what it can accomplish for the sake of God’s kingdom.