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Developing a Vision When You're Not a Visionary (Part 1)

My wife, Karen, and I are both in leadership at our church. So dinner-table discussions often come back to how to help other Christians step into leadership. Volunteers tell us, "I might be willing to facilitate, but I'm not sure I'm a leader." People don't consider themselves leaders, because when they say leader, they think of only one type: a strong, visionary leader. And they know they're not that.

But you don't have to be a visionary to lead well. We've found we can help people move forward as leaders when we say to them, "You can develop a vision even if you're not a visionary." Here are six ways that mortals like us can see where a group needs to go:

1. Tie in to a bigger vision that's already in place. First, ask, "Do I even need to come up with a complete vision from scratch?" Chances are, you don't need to. In most situations, a leader earlier on or higher up has already set a vision, and you can tie what you're doing into that.

Barb is taking on the women's ministry at our church. Does she need to create a vision? Not really. First, her ministry is part of a church, and churches have been going on for 2,000 years and already have a vision: to make disciples through worship, fellowship, teaching, prayer, missions, etc. Second, her ministry is part of our local church, which already has a vision to "Build a sanctuary of transformation" (read: "Become a place where people's lives change for the better because of God"). And finally, Barb's inheriting a women's ministry that already has a vision to encourage women and help them draw closer to God.

So Barb doesn't need to ask, "How do I come up with a vision?" Instead, she can ask, "What part of this vision do I want to build on? How can I improve our fulfillment of that?"

If you aren't starting with a vision, though, here are five ways you can work toward one.

2. Pray and wait on God. This is what most Christians think of when they think of "getting a vision." What does it look like? That varies.

Maybe you'll be reading Scripture, and the particular section captivates you. That's what happened to a guy named Francis: He wandered into a church and heard being read Jesus' words to the rich young ruler, "Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and come follow me." He actually did what he heard, and that's why he's now known as St. Francis.

Or you may be inspired by someone else's ministry. When you see what he or she is doing, you realize, "Oh, that's what I could be!" For example, hearing preachers like John Ortberg and Tim Keller moved me; I saw that preaching in a way that touches both mind and heart would be a great way to invest my life.

Or maybe you'll literally have a middle-of-the-night experience. Billy Graham founded Christianity Today because "About two o'clock one night in 1953, an idea raced through my mind, freshly connecting all the things I had said and pondered about reaching a broader audience. Trying not to disturb Ruth, I slipped out of bed and into my study upstairs to write. A couple of hours later, the concept of a new magazine was complete." (from The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham)

3. Gather a group and jointly develop a vision. When I used to take on a new role at work or church, I would (a) gather a group, (b) cast my vision for this area, (c) see who got on board with the vision.

Then I noticed that my wife did things differently. She would (a) gather a group, (b) talk and pray with all of them, until they all jointly came up with a vision, (c) not worry about who got on board, because they already were on board. When people come up with the vision, they want to help make it happen. Two years ago, Karen created an adult-education ministry at our church, and people said to her, "Wow! How you'd get such a strong team of people to help?" The answer was simple: She let them develop the vision.

If you use this approach to find your vision, be sure to assemble a "dream team," people with strong gifts in the area. Then, set a few basic parameters, so the group has just enough direction to start the conversation.

Why did I think I have to come up with the vision by myself? Now I try to gather a group of strong leaders and together talk and pray and develop a vision. That takes longer, but the ministry lasts longer.

In my next post, I'll give three more ways to develop a vision when you're not a visionary.

March20, 2007 at 5:20 AM

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