From Embers to a Flame 5

Chapter 9: Revitalization Strategy 7: Staying on Mission with a Vision

mission-visionA church that needs revitalization needs a clearly defined mission and vision, argues Harry Reeder in this chapter. He makes a distinction between those two terms: “Your mission is what God has called your church to do for God’s glory, whereas vision is what he wants your church to be as the mission is fulfilled. To put it another way, mission is our purpose, and vision is our passion” (128). He illustrates with the words of Jesus in the Great Commission, which tell the disciples what to do (make disciples), and then before the ascension, he says what they will be (his witnesses).

This is a curious description of vision. And I’m not sure it’s adequate or accurate. Vision usually refers to the future; it’s an envisioning of where you want to go, who you want to be, and from there you figure out you want to get there, what strategies you will use. Fortunately, this is how Reeder actually uses the term, later.

A Mission from God

Reeder begins with Acts 13:36, where David’s mission is described. David “served God’s purpose in his own generation” before he rested with his fathers. Each church also has a purpose that is unique to their own situation, Reeder says. (This is true, but it is also true that all churches share the same basic purpose, which is to make disciples; I’m sure Reeder would agree). So, for First Cutlerville, the question is: what is our purpose here in this area, in Gaines and Byron Townships, in the neighborhoods near 68th Street between Byron Center Avenue and however far east one wants to go. What does it mean to be a church in this area?

Reeder reminds us that the questions that people ask change from generation to generation and from culture to culture. So we not only have to tell people the gospel, we also have to listen to them carefully, to get to know them, so that we can understand where they are coming from. When Reeder was in college in the 1970s, the debate was: Is Christianity true or not? Today the debate is: Is there any truth at all? And is your truth the same as my truth? Today we deal with radical subjectivism (I determine my own truth), relativism (your truth and my truth can be totally different) and skepticism (there may be no truth or no way of being sure about the truth).

State Your Mission

Here Reeder talks about creating and refining a mission statement. (This practice comes from the business world, and I wish Reeder would provide some biblical-theological justification for why we borrow this practice. He simply assumes that we should do so). In any case, Reeder says a mission statement should answer five questions:

  1. Who are we? Mission requires a clear sense of identity.
  2. What do we do? The mission statement makes your priorities clear, and helps you to evaluate new ministries that are proposed: Will this new ministry help us to fulfill these priorities? Reeder’s church prioritizes worshipping God and reaching people for Christ; any new ministry must help them accomplish those goals.
  3. Where do we do this? Our ministry starts locally, and extends globally.
  4. How do we do this? Reeder’s church specifies that they do this by equipping Christians.
  5. Why do we do this? In good Presbyterian and Reformed fashion, Reeder’s church says that their “why” is God’s glory. Or in other words, to please God.

Developing a Vision

“If mission is God’s purpose for your church in your own generation, then vision is the ability to picture that purpose implemented in your world” (134). Here Reeder offers a more conventional and, I think, more accurate understanding of what vision means. What will our church look like in the future if we fulfill our mission?

Reeder suggests the following issues to consider when developing a vision:

  1. The pastor’s strengths, weaknesses, and calling. Reeder does not think that a church’s vision is all about one person, of course, but because of the pastor’s office and training, the pastor “takes a primary role in setting the vision for the church.” Nevertheless, that vision must be shared, “given away, embraced, enhanced, and enlarged by the other leaders” in the church–here we think of our ministry staff, our office-bearers, other respected members, and our Church Renewal Lab Team. The vision has to be owned by the congregation if it is to become theirs, and if they are to invest in it. But because vision usually starts with the pastor, Reeder says (and I’m not sure if this is always true, largely because I want to be collaborative in my leadership), and because the pastor will be a key person in implementing the vision, the pastor’s passions and giftedness have to be carefully considered. The pastor should ask: Why has God called me to this congregation? What is my purpose here? In addition, the elders should play to the pastor’s strengths. Make the most of those strengths. Take the time to get to know the pastor and talk about what those strengths are.
  2. The ministries of other local churches. What are other churches doing, and how can our ministry be unique among them? Don’t duplicate what the church down the road does.
  3. The needs of the community. We have to be students of the culture around us, Reeder says (and Tim Keller often makes this same point). What are the problems and the blessings in your neighborhood? What is the ethnic mix? The difference between a “receptor church” and a “mission church” is one we can understand. In the old days, CRC churches grew when Dutch people moved into an area; that’s a receptor church. A mission church finds ways to connect with people from a different culture. Reeder does not, however, talk about how one does this.

Vision at Work

Reeder describes the desire to be an “epicenter church,” just an earthquake has a starting point and radiate waves from that center. “The kinds of tremors that we want to see are evangelism, discipleship, church-planting, church revitalization, and deeds of love, mercy, and justice” (140). Reeder emphasizes the importance of communicating that vision to the congregation, because “nothing motivates people for creative, sacrificial, joyful, and continual support of a ministry more than vision” (141). Vision is even better than guilt, which is what we often use as a motivator!

Churches in need of revitalization often believe that their vision must be small, because they don’t have enough resources to go big. But Reeder argues that “resources seldom precede vision and ministry.” Don’t wait for the resources to come in before you develop goals. Instead, develop your mission and vision, and then begin to implement it; then your people will start supplying the resources you need (143).

Farsighted Vision

Vision should extend beyond the near future, beyond short-term goals. We should be thinking about the next generation, and generations to follow. In Reeder’s church, they set ten year goals, which, for example, included averaging a hundred professions of faith every quarter of every year and graduating a hundred members a year in Evangelism Explosion. Another goal was to plant a strategic network of a hundred epicenter churches. (All ten goals can be found on pp. 145-146). These goals are lofty, even for a large church. But Reeder quotes a fellow pastor, Randy Pope, who says, “We want to attempt something so great for God that it is doomed to failure if God is not in it.” A revitalized church will have a God-sized vision, not a human-sized vision.

Chapter 10: Revitalization Strategy 8: Servant Leadership Multiplication

Where are the Good Leaders?

Reeder argues that in the past, “the church defined leadership for the rest of the country and produced many of the country’s leaders,” but this is no longer the case.

What is Good Leadership?

Good leadership can be defined by three maxims:

Good leaders learn from the past, but they don’t live in it. (See chapter 3)

Good leaders live in the present, but they don’t accommodate to it. They are thermostats rather than thermometers; that is, they don’t just reflect their environment, they seek to change it.

Good leaders look to the future, but they don’t wait for it.

One can also define a leader by what a leader does: A good leader influences others to effectively achieve a defined mission together.

The Influence of Godly Leaders

This is how an effective leader in the church influences others:

  1. Education. Paul taught Timothy so that he could in turn train others to be leaders (2 Tim. 2:2). Reeder emphasizes that “good leaders in the church will always be teaching others about the ways of God” (152).
  2. Embodiment. Good leaders also embody the truths they teach, and serve as models for others.
  3. Empowerment. Good leaders, through inspiration and motivation, empower others to lead and serve. Having confidence in them is one way of doing so. (I would add that micromanaging and controlling them would do the opposite).
  4. Evaluation. Good leaders stay connected to those whom they lead, so they can affirm what has been done well and identify areas where improvement is needed.

The Effectiveness of Godly Leaders

An effective leader is one who “learns to do the right things in the right way at the right time for the right reasons” (155). First, one has to do the right things. Busyness is not an indicator of effectiveness. A good leader needs to distinguish between the apparently urgent and the genuinely important, and prioritize accordingly. Doing things in the right way doesn’t mean comparing yourself to others, but doing the best that you can do with the gifts God has given you. Doing things at the right time (and for the right reasons). Reeder actually does not discuss the “at the right time” part, which is unfortunate. But I would say that one learns, over time, that there are appropriate times in which to mention things to someone.

The Legacy of Godly Leaders

Here Reeder emphasizes the importance of working together in ministry. An effective leader is not one who does all the ministry alone, but who “attracts, develops, and deploys others” to carry out ministry with the leader. The goal is to equip the saints for works of ministry, Eph. 4:11-12. In this way, effective leaders “must be reproducing themselves in the body if the body is to remain healthy.” A good leader delegates, but a good leader can also take charge and be decisive in an emergency. Delegation, however, is the more necessary skill.

Profile of a Multiplication Leader

A multiplication leader has the following qualities:

  1. A multiplication leader is a learner.  If you quit learning, you no longer have the credibility to teach, lead, or coach others.
  2. A multiplication leader seizes on learning moments. These come more often in difficult times than when things are going smoothly.
  3. A multiplication leader is always teaching and coaching others.
  4. A multiplication leader always helps others seize their personal learning moments.
  5. A multiplication leader uses teaching maxims. That is, a leader “learns to put ideas in clear, memorable terms that people can hold on to and practice.”

A Curriculum for Leadership Development

Reeder suggests a basic outline for planning leadership training in one’s church, one that corresponds to the three parts of Hebrews 13:7 (but in reverse order): Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Reeder suggests that leaders be trained in character, content, and competency.

  1. Character. A person can have good biblical and theological knowledge, but lack character. A leader of character does not care about being upstaged by others who perform well, and is not threatened by the excellence of others. Reeder observes: “circumstances do not dictate your character, they reveal it, and they become an opportunity to refine it”(167).
  2. Content. In addition to the scriptures and the important confessions of the church, Reeder points out other things that might be neglected. First, they should have a good understanding of history (see chapter 3). Second, they need to know the Bible well and be able to find their way around the Bible. Finally, Reeder says leadership trainees should know the doctrine of providence, the teaching that God is ultimately in control. This will help them to avoid despair when things are going well. (Here Reeder, by the way, gives numerous examples of virtuous civil war generals, all but one from the Confederacy. He does this throughout the book, apparently unaware that continually finding examples of integrity and character among leaders who treated African-Americans as subhuman property, and who fought and died to maintain the inhuman practice of slavery, might be considered not so convincing to anyone who is not white, or Southern. I found this a very poor choice).
  3. Competency. Here Reeder identifies three competencies that leaders must develop in others: a) Ministry skills; b) Mentoring skills; and c) Management skills.

Reeder then compiles a list of leadership principles and practices:

  • Effective leaders take risks, but they don’t deny reality.
  • Effective leaders are innovative, but not ridiculous or novel just to get attention.
  • Effective leaders take charge, but do not oppress people.
  • Effective leaders have high expectations that stretch others and raise the bar for all, but don’t set people up for failure by demanding the impossible.
  • Effective leaders maintain a positive attitude, but stay in touch with reality.
  • Effective leaders create opportunities for success in small things that encourage others to tackle the greater challenges.
  • Effective leaders lead from the front, but stay in touch with those who are following and supporting.
  • Effective leaders give their people public credit for success, but take responsibility themselves for any failure or setback.
  • Effective leaders plan their work and work their plan, and always remember that their plan and their work are people.
  • Effective leaders establish priorities in their leadership plans, and stick with them.
  • Effective leaders establish accountability for themselves and for those who work under them.
  • Effective leaders raise the bar of performance for themselves.
  • Effective leaders avoid bitterness and animosity toward those who are in opposition.
  • Effective leaders avoid rationalizations and the public blaming of those who work under them.
  • Effective leaders clearly communicate their objectives and methods, as well as their expectations of others.
  • Effective leaders ensure agreement and support by those who work with them on matters of vision, goals, philosophy, and tactics.
  • Effective leaders are aware of the preferences, strengths, and weaknesses of those who work under them.
  • Effective leaders develop thoughtful loyalty from leader to follower, as well as from follower to leader.
  • Effective leaders are courageous, yet avoid being foolhardy in the name of bravery.
  • Effective leaders develop clear objectives and overall strategy, but maintain the ability to be flexible.