If you were to take a drive through the Arizona desert, from Las Vegas down to Phoenix, about a hundred miles outside of Phoenix you’ll stumble upon a town called ‘Nothing’
Yeah, this is no lie... there really is a town called ‘Nothing, Arizona’.
There’s a sign in the middle town that reads like this. “The staunch citizens of nothing are full of hope, faith and believe in the work ethic. And through the years, these dedicated people had faith in nothing, hoped for nothing and worked at nothing for nothing.”
Well, that vision for Nothing really worked because ‘Nothing, Arizona’ was founded in 1977. It had a population of people, a gas station and a convenience store.
But if you go there today you’ll find an abandoned community. The building are boarded-up, broken down, and it’s only a matter of time before the desert reclaims the town. And so their vision - or rather lack of vision – for Nothing came to fruition
We can laugh about Nothing Arizona. Apparently it was actually founded as a joke by some local people after a drinking session one night
But there is something of a parable here. About how, if we have no vision, then eventually we end up with nothing. Just like the writer of the book of Proverbs said: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’
So what is vision?
Vision is different than a Church mission statement. Our Mission statement describes what we are now, a vision talks about what we will become. Vision is what the mission will look like when it is lived out in your church and your community.
Vision is aspirational. We aren’t there yet, but we want to get there over time. It is the desired change, or the end result of our mission statement.
But our vision needs to have purpose, direction and a desired end goal. We easily lapse into the vagueness of Alice in Alice in Wonderland:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat.
"I don't much care where," said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the cat.
Vision creates a compelling picture of the desired state of affairs that inspires people to respond. Vision motivates people to action, and promotes faith rather than fear. More than anything a godly vision glorifies God
Aubrey Malphurs, in his classic book on church leadership, Advanced strategic Planning, says this: Vision encourages unity, creates energy, provides purpose, fosters risk taking, enhances leadership, promotes excellence, and sustains ministry.
Who doesn’t want that? It sounds like the sort of church I want to join!
Vision is serious stuff. It needs commitment and ‘buy in’ from the church as a whole. When Jesus called his first disciples, he started calling two guys who were already disciples of John the Baptist. Those two guys saw something in Jesus that intrigued them and called out to them. They started stalking Jesus! Andrew catches enough of this vision to go and grab his brother tell him he’s found the Messiah. Jesus then calls Peter to a whole new way of being, he even gives him a brand new name – Peter rather than Simon. The old life has gone, says Jesus, a new life has begun. Now come... follow me
Would you be willing to give your life for this vision? That’s the question that Peter was confronted with, and because Jesus was so captivating, he went with him. Would you be willing to say, “Though none go with me, still I will follow”? That’s vision...
See what vision does? It captivates, it energies, it gives forward momentum. It helps us to see what’s possible in the future – and then we can move towards that future.
So, how do we get vision? Some people recommend some sort of vision process. Meetings, working groups, a committee, flip chart paper, marker pens, post-it notes. In other words, we go through a process to come to consensus on a new vision statement.
But is that really the way vision happens? I don’t see the great visionary leaders of the bible formed a committee! That kind of ‘common consensus’ vision tends to end up in a binder on a shelf gathering dust - or it may be a slogan, or on a logo or website. But it won’t make a jot of difference in our lives. And it won’t make a difference in our church or our community.
Rick Warren puts it this way I believe that the lead pastor gets the vision from God. Frankly, being the bearer of the vision is one of the most essential functions of the senior pastor. It can’t be done by committee. The very first task of leadership is to set the vision for the organization. If you don’t set the vision, you’re not the leader.
Wow! Challenging. If that’s true then I need to get on my knees. Because nobody wants to follow my vision. We all want to follow God’s vision together.
And that why, right now, I don’t want to answer another question that’s probably on everyone’s lips. ‘What is OUR vision’. The truth is that it hasn’t crystallised yet.
Over the next five weeks we’ll get more into this in what we are calling ‘2020 Vision’. It is a stewardship mission – and will enable us to think more about where we are right now with regard to people, resources, skills and money. Think of it as ‘taking the temperature’ – a diagnosis of where we are right now as a church!
Through this Stewardship Campaign, and with tons of prayer, I intend to answer the question ‘What is our vision?’. It’s my responsibility to do so as vicar. And that will be in the last sermon of this series, in five weeks’ time, on February 23rd.
As we go into this mission, I want to offer a prayer that I think will inspire us. It’s from someone who you wouldn’t normally think about a great man of prayer – it was written by no less a person than Sir Francis Drake.
I hope that it will challenge and disturb as well as inspire us.
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity;
and in our efforts to build on earth, we have allowed our vision of the Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.