The Vision Thing


A question was asked toward the end of the congregational meeting in January. The same question was asked on two separate occasions by two “stewardship” consultants, each from different companies, both interviewed as part of an exploration into retiring our mortgage with a capital campaign. The question: What is our vision for Northampton Presbyterian Church?  Both consultants discouraged us from launching a capital campaign until we could define a “compelling vision” for NPC, a vision attractive enough to inspire sacrificial financial support from the congregation.  Since we had no such compelling vision, the Session tabled the campaign.

The Session decided at our last meeting to give serious attention to the vision thing.  All agreed that our ministry together needs focus and energy.  We need a compelling vision.  These are my preliminary thoughts.

The vision thing originated in the business world. A vision sets the direction for an organization, describing where an organization wants to go, how it intends to get there, and why the destination is important.  A clear vision helps keep an organization focused and people motivated.

The church is not a business, so we go about the vision thing differently.  The big difference is the source of the vision. For the church, the vision is discovered not created.  Since the Church is created, owned and operated by Jesus Christ, Christians look to Jesus in order to discover his vision for them.  Since the church belongs to him, since he bought it with his blood, we have an obligation to discover his vision, not create one ourselves.

We need look no further than the Scriptures to discover God’s vision for NPC.  Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:19:20).  The vision for any Christian congregation begins with this commission.  Our primary task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Disciples are devoted followers of Jesus.  And they live out their devotion to Christ in the fellowship of other disciples; they are “baptized” into this fellowship. A disciple (literally, a “learner”) worships, learns from and follows Jesus in all aspects of life.  Disciples reproduce themselves; they help others live as disciples of Jesus.  God’s vision for NPC is that we would be a congregation of disciples who are helping others become disciples.

We know this.  But congregations and their pastors get distracted and side tracked by other concerns, like running the programs, maintaining the facilities, or filling the committees.  In their book The Trellis and the Vine, co-authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne describe the ministry of discipleship as a vine and describe the supporting institutional structures as a trellis.  They argue that many congregations exhaust themselves maintaining the trellis to the neglect of the vine. Churches become pre-occupied with organizational issues intended to support the ministry of discipleship and lose sight of the goal of making disciples.  Trellis work is important and necessary, but vine work, the work of helping people grow in discipleship, is the essential and primary work of the church.  The trellis serves the vine, not the reverse. 

God’s vision for NPC is that we would be a flourishing and fruitful vine, rooted in Jesus Christ, a vine that speaks the gospel of Jesus Christ to people near and far, inviting them into the discipleship life of Christ, a life of worship, trust, and joy.

Yes, NPC needs a fresh vision, we need focus and energy. The vision starts with discipleship.

– Pastor Chris