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There have always been visionaries, Christian and otherwise. They help the rest of us see new possibilities, invest ourselves in great dreams, and experience new realities. They're committed to moving us on. Always something new, usually something bigger, definitely something that demands more of us than ever before.

Usually, I like them.

Visionaries were there in Bible times (Moses, Nehemiah, and Paul come to mind) and down through the centuries (Benedict, Francis, Tyndale, Carey, and Wilberforce). And they are with us today (you fill in the blanks; I'll keep my favorites to myself). They're ubiquitous.

Visionaries will be relieved to hear that we probably can't get along without them. But someone needs to say (I'm not sure I have the courage) that everything in Christendom isn't about vision, growth, innovation and entrepreneurship.

I consider myself a visionary. Throughout my pastorates, I frequently had to identify, cast, and implement vision. Now that I've reached senior status, perhaps I'm in a position to reflect on a blind spot that afflicts many vision-fueled leaders.

Someone (whoever he/she might be) ought to suggest that visionaries often overlook a core dimension of ministry, something we might call pastoring. That's an old word with deep implications: it means tending sheep.

The word pastor or shepherd applies to those men and women who know people personally, care for them personally, mentor them personally, and love them personally.

Let's not call someone a pastor who is really a CEO, an entrepreneur, or a prophet. Let's honor these capable folk for their enormous gifts in leadership and vision-casting, but let's reserve pastor for the folks who work with the people, walk with them on the streets, and see them in their homes. A pastor is one who can be reached and seen not by appointment but immediately in a time of personal need.

The Lord is my Visionary?

The best description of pastoring (or shepherding) is found in Psalm 23. I paraphrase: "(My shepherd) leads me beside still waters, makes me lie down in green pastures, and guides me in paths of righteousness." That's a different spiritual ambience than the one most of us are used to these days. Just read the line five times slowly, and your jaw relaxes, you breathe quieter, and you even start thinking for a moment.

Or brood on this description by Paul (essentially a visionary) of Timothy (a spiritual shepherd): "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests."

The "vision thing," to quote one of the George Bushes, speaks to my activist instincts. I love being the visionary when given the chance. And I love marching to the cadence set down by a great visionary who sees things I've never seen. Some of my best friends are visionaries.

But the "pastoring thing" speaks to aches deep inside the soul where one needs to acquire the spiritual resources of courage, wisdom, Christian dignity, grace, and patience (to name a few qualities ...

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

From Issue:Vision & Direction, Summer 2000 | Posted: July 1, 2000

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