How do you keep your congregation's passion for ministry from deflating?

Whether it's across the table with another church leader, at a planning retreat, or talking to the whole church—every time you talk about what could be and should be, you're casting vision.

for instance, every one of the newsletter articles that I send out to our church is vision oriented. I don't write devotional thoughts—those I can give on Sundays. If people are going to read a newsletter, I want every article to remind them of our mission and vision.

When we talk about the vision, it needs to be in a way that's clear and compelling to those we are addressing. Three components help me keep the vision compelling:

  1. Define the problem. You must ask the question, What problem is my organization attempting to solve? There is something that will not get done if we don't do it. If we don't do what we do, there's a group of people that won't be reached. When you talk about vision, you need to begin by talking about why your church exists. What is the problem that God has called you to solve?

  2. Offer a solution. Your vision is the solution to a problem, and when you can couple a problem that people feel emotionally with a clear solution, you are on your way to capturing their hearts. Then you can also capture a piece of their time and effort. Is your vision for your church a solution to a problem?

  3. Present an urgent reason. In other words, answer the questions, Why must we do this? And why must we do it now?

I'll never forget when we started North Point. Most of the people who came to our initial meeting about starting a church passed about a dozen churches on their way. What do you say when you stand up in front of those people and tell them about starting another church?

Some natural questions have to be faced: Why in the world are you starting another church? What is it that's not being done that needs to be done? What can we do about it? And why are we the ones to move in that direction?

So I talked about the need for "relevant environments" where lost and disillusioned people could connect with their Heavenly Father. I explained that it wasn't God who turned people off, it was usually a person's previous experiences with the church. Our vision was to create a safe, relevant place for lost people and Christians to bring their lost friends. The reason for the now was simply the urgency for people to come to Christ, not knowing when he will return.

I had to answer those questions so clearly that everybody who heard me talk about starting this church knew "Andy's going to do it anyway."

With clear answers to those questions, something comes alive in people, and the vision drives them to contribute their time, talents, and treasure.

If you can develop a phrase that you can say over and over to your people, whether it's across the lunch table or in your sermons, then you are on your way to casting vision.

At North Point, we put it this way: "Our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating environments where people are encouraged and equipped to pursue intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders."

Learn to Live It

Your willingness to embody the vision of your organization has a direct impact on your credibility as a leader. The moment you begin to look for ways to celebrate something that's not happening in your own life, people will know. One of the things that my wife Sandra and I are committed to is developing relationships with unchurched friends.

My oldest son, Andrew, is 11. He was selected to be on an All-Star baseball team this spring. This community baseball team was our mission field, and we were there to be an influence, to connect with and pray for the kids on the team and their parents.

As the season went on, Andrew wasn't getting much playing time. Occasionally he'd be put in right field. The coaches promised to play him but rarely did. He tried to be strong, but his heart would break every time.

At one point, we had won enough games to qualify for the state finals. One night as they played the remaining, relatively meaningless, regular season game and were losing 12-3, Andrew was still warming the bench. Eventually the coach put him in right field. Then, just before Andrew was due to bat, the coach pulled him out for another batter.

There was my son, batting helmet on, having to trot back to the bench in a game that didn't matter.

I felt a level of anger I had never experienced as an adult.

I got up and went around to the other side of the ball field to nurse my anger. I was thinking of what I was going to say to the coaches. There was no excuse for this!

Then, just as the game was about to end, a guy behind me said, "Andy."

I turned around. He told me his name and started talking. I'm thinking, Look … I'm focused. I'm angry. I'm rehearsing my speech.

"Andy, I just got to tell you," he said, "I hadn't been to church in over 30 years. But my wife started going to North Point, and she started trying to get me to come."

As he's telling me this story, inside I'm thinking, Oh no you don't, Lord. I came over here to be mad! This may be Andrew's last game. Nobody treats my son this way! And you are not going to mess me up with this unchurched person.

He went on and on. The game was over. He shared about how he'd been coming to North Point and had begun to read his Bible, joined a small group Bible study, and his life had changed.

I know I was supposed to be happy, but I didn't want to hear it because I couldn't wait to go over and lecture the coach. But as he talked, I felt like God was embracing me. Remember why you're here. Remember. Remember.

After the game, both teams were supposed to go for ice cream. I was thinking, I'm not going. I can't face those coaches. But Andrew wanted to be with his team, so we got the whole family in the car. I was still steaming; I couldn't even talk.

Nine-year-old Garret picked up on my emotions. "I can't believe the coach," he said, "I can't believe it!"

I can't describe how close I was to losing it, but the reality of the situation finally dawned on me.

By God's grace I said to my family: "Didn't we decide this spring we're not here because of baseball? Right, Andrew? I think that maybe something good will come from this. We can't quit, because this isn't about baseball." And I made myself get some ice cream.

Not long ago I saw one of the coaches and his family in the third row of our church. In a meeting with the coaches and parents at the season's end, the coach praised Andrew for his attitude and said the rest of the team needed to have the same attitude.

But I can't describe how close I was to losing it that night.

Life is brutal on vision. It can cause serious vision leakage. But if we as leaders can live through the stuff of life to maintain a focus on the vision, our people will, too.

Excerpted from our sister publication, Leadership journal, © 2004 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit

The full-length version of this article is available from CT Library.

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