Snared by the "Vision Thing"
Berit Kjos <crossroad.to>
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"...the most important thing is you have to cast a vision."1 Jim Van Yperen, church management consultant, interim pastor.
"There is a need to prepare a community to think differently... to develop a cadre of diverse leaders capable of facilitating shared vision among diverse citizens; and to create a network of citizens throughout the community able to help manage change."2 A New Approach To 21st Century Governance: Consensus Democracy
"The first task of such a Stakeholder Group is to formulate a Community Vision which describes the community's ideal future and expresses a local consensus...."3 United Nations's Local Agenda 21, p. 8.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34
United Methodist Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell envisions great things. He describes himself as "just one of the people who prays with the president,"4 but his influence reaches far beyond his church and the White House. Not only did he visited Ground Zero with President Bush after the 7-11 attacks and give the benediction at his friend's inauguration, he has helped pave a new path for church leaders across the country.
According to an article by Adrienne S. Gaines, Pastor Caldwell "believes that Western culture has divorced people from the biblical concept of community." That may be true, but so does Caldwell's solution. It fits the pattern for the 21st century community, not the 1st century church.
"[I]t's the role of the church to cast God's preferred future for this community," he says, "and make sure folk have what they need to accomplish that vision -- be it faith, hope, grace, etc."5 President's Pastor-Friend Seeks 'Community Salvation',"
His answers beg the question: who is the source of that vision and grace -- God or human dreams and passion? Just how does the Biblical concept of community differ from that of the church growth community -- and specifically -- from Caldwell's 15,000-member Windsor Village in Houston, Texas?
To many church managers, the very size of his church seems to validate his vision. Its massive growth from only 25 members 20 years ago has caught the eye of church managers across the country. Brad Smith, president of the Leadership Network, a "network of innovative church leaders,"6 points to Pastor Caldwell as one of many "outside-the-box preachers" -- an inspired visionary who can show others the way to growth and success. But does God's view of success match the perceptions of today's visionary church managers?
New visions for a new world
Vision is a powerful tool for change, and -- like the Star Wars Force -- it has a two sides. In the hands of today's trained leaders, it stirs loyalty and quenches dissent. It motivates people to collective action, and it manipulates unsuspecting groups to join hands and march together under inspiring but often misleading banners. It tears down old boundaries, but it raises new ones. It gives an illusion of personal choice, but it helps conform people to a new consensus.
It helps fulfill the human longing for fellowship among likeminded people. That's a powerful motivator, especially in our times of alienation when churches, like corporations, face confusing values and "fresh" interpretations of eternal truths. Few things are more satisfying than fellowship with friends who share your faith, perceptions, joys and concerns -- even when that oneness has been achieved through the behavioral strategies of trained church facilitators.
God had given us an abundance of Scriptures that show His vision for us. High on His list is unity in the Church. But His vision differs radically from the world's view of oneness. Biblical unity is fulfilled in Christ through the cross, not through group dialogue, human passions, relational strategies or the world's illusive dreams. Yet, leaders across the country are embracing its politically correct visions, ways and management tactics. What's worse, they attribute them to God.
That leaders would claim the authority of God to back human visions is nothing new. In Old Testament days, man-made visions were often presented as God's message to His people. That's why God sent these warnings through His persecuted prophet Jeremiah,
“The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision.... Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land’—‘By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed!" Jeremiah 14:14-15
“They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, 'You shall have peace'; and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah 23:16-17
But this is a new era and leaders seek "fresh" ideas and ways to lead God's people. In a leadership training class, Jim Van Yperen -- author, marketing consultant, change agent and "intentional interim pastor" -- summarized the change in focus through the last decades:
"In the 1950s and sixties, a pastor was a pastor, and no one knew what a vision was or why it was important. As time went on, we went into more of a body life kind of experience in following the culture with a more relational kind of church.... A lot of the things we are doing on Sunday evening actually came out in the seventies. and some very neat things happened in bringing God's people together....
"In the 80s and 90s, we got into the marketing thing where we now have to be professional marketers in order to be pastors. And the most important thing is you have to cast a vision."7
"Cast a vision"? What does that mean? And what does Pastor Caldwell imply when he says "cast God's preferred future"? It's an interesting question, especially since neopagans equate the verb "cast" with a mental exercise by which a blend of thoughts, will and imagination can manipulate reality and "do magic."8 Twist-4
At their gatherings, Neopagans usually begin their rituals by "casting a circle." With their words and imagination, they create a sacred space and invoke the presence of their favorite spirits. Wiccan author Margot Adler, a member of the the Covenant of the Goddess and daughter of Mortimer Adler, explained the process in her book, Drawing Down the Moon:
Craft ritual usually starts with casting and creating this magical space.... When the circle is cast, often the gods and goddesses are invoked. Some covens use music, chanting and dancing to raise psychic energy within the circle.... The "cone of power" is really the combined wills of the group, intensified through ritual and meditative techniques, focuses on an end collectively agreed upon. Usually a priestess or priest directs the cone... it is focused and directed with the mind and shot toward its destination."9
Through the media, education, psychology and the entertainment industries, these pagan beliefs have infused the public consciousness and changed the meaning of our words and God's truths. Emphasizing positive thinking, group synergy and the power of the mind to influence reality, they are even preparing churches to embrace the envisioned global community.
Church and world together
You can see the same transformational pattern everywhere. Corporate leaders, educators, politicains and social activiest are all part of the planned transformation.
Among the clues are tell-tale buzzwords and tactics such as surveys, assessment, group facilitators and data tracking. All involve human resource development, systems thinking and the need to continually measure and monitor progress. All cheer the new understanding of synergy, solidarity and synthesis.
Together, these buzzwords describe an enticing plan for managing people, marketing a message and changing beliefs and behavior. As Pastor Jim Van Yperen says, "Probably marketing should be redeemed like everything else and used in the church in the same way that drums and a piano replaced an organ."
But he attributes the process to God, not to his training as a "marketing strategist" and "communications consultant." So he cloaks his vision for a "healthy church" in Christian phrases:
We are to facilitate God's work by His Spirit through the community.... One of the functions of leadership, if not the leader, is to help identify what the vision is. It's not my vision; its not your vision; its God's vision and our interpreting and hearing and obeying that vision.10 Leadershp 4-22-02
Global managers and secular visionaries may not mention God, but they follow the same blueprint for managing people and changing beliefs and behavior everywhere. Their ultimate vision is global solidarity, and their plans are detailed in workbooks and planning guides such these:
"DEVELOP A COMMON VISION... Two vision-building tools are discussed: holding community meetings and conducting surveys." The Community Action Toolkit, written to change public opinion and win public support for President Clinton's Goals 2000.11
"The first task of such a Stakeholder Group is to formulate a Community Vision which describes the community's ideal future and expresses a local consensus...."12 The Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide, the United Nation's environmental action plan for communities around the world.12
"Through a series of meetings and events, the community develops a vision for its future." "In Portland, Oregon, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Seattle, WA... citizens are participating in community "visioning" exercises. Through these, they typically envision a safe and healthy community...."13 Sustainable America: A New Consensus, a report by The [U.S.] President's Council for Sustainable Development, which -- together with more than 150 other such natinal councils -- strive to implement the guidelines from the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
Building consensus and quelling dissent
The words "healthy church" may not be mentioned in church's vision statements, but it fits right in. Church health is usually measured, not by Biblical guidelines, but by the politically correct UN standard that calls for flexible beliefs, tolerance toward contrary values, universal participation in dialogue and group thinking, willingness to adapt and compromise, the absence of dissent and submission to the "vision" and its facilitators.
Issues that might be divisive or controversial are ignored. Concerned parents who question the contrary influence of public schools, Harry Potter, rock music or the growing grasp of the United Nations are usually silenced. Such topics might offend other church members. They are almost certain to offend visitors and the rest of the community.
Since the typical vision statement includes mission to the surrounding community (which is good), church must be marketed as a safe and welcoming place. So dissenting voices must be silenced (that's not good). They supposedly clash both with the stated goals and with the implied boundaries of the vision. As Pastor Van Yperen says,
"A good vision will guide us in God's direction. We are narrowing what we can do. The assumption is, we can't do all things for all people. We can't. There's too many needs out there.... A good vision will tell you what shouldn't be doing as well as what you should be doing."14
Contemporary church leaders, who are trained in "quality management" and motivational strategies, know how to write (or cast) the kind of vision statement that matches their dream of success. "One of the functions of leadership... is to help identify what the vision is," says Jim Van Yperen. "It's God's vision and our interpreting and hearing and obeying that vision."15
But those who "identify" and "interpret" the vision for the people may also use it to control the people. We see it in our nation's courts. Judges who interpret and define today's laws are reshaping the standards used to measure human behavior. Likewise, church leaders who interpret God's truth and adapt it to their social goals are transforming the churches. They may grow in numbers -- but there's a cost to be paid.
For in God's economy, big is rarely better. When the gate to God's Kingdom is thrown open so wide that the world's masses feel at home, we should wonder where we missed His path. After all, Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." Jn 6:44
Human plans don't bring the lost into the churches; God does. And He has told us that without the miraculous work of the Spirit in the sinners heart, the world will neither know nor come to Him. Instead, His Word show the world's hostility toward the true church:
"...to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'the stone which the builders rejected has become ... a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” 1 Pe 2:7-8
"For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." 2 Co 2:15-16
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34
Apart from the gift of repentance through genuine conviction of sin and Spirit-breathed faith, we simply can't enter. Why? "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:14
God's vision or ours
Christian author and pollster George Barna wrote a book titled Leaders on Leadership. In it, he explains that vision "is a view of the kind of world God wants us to live within, a world He can create through us if all those He has called as leaders would lead according to the guidance provided by His Spirit."16
Do you see the contradiction? We don't know "the kind of world God wants us to live in" in the coming years. We don't know what circumstances -- even war and terrors -- will best prepare us for His coming. He hasn't told us just how He plans to cleanse our hearts from distorted values or our minds from the deceptions and decadence that surround us.
Perhaps His best way for us would be a time of persecution. Revelation 13 and 17 suggest that the world's growing hostility toward Biblical Christianity will culminate in an unrivaled blood bath. Are we, like His first followers, ready to give our lives rather than betray the Lord we love?
That's an important question, for such a scenario seems to fit His Old Testament illustrations and New Testament warnings far better than does the wonderful visions of global peace and earthly unity. Remember what Jesus told His disciples shortly before His crucifixion:
"If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.... for they do not know the One who sent me." John 15:20-21
"...because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:12-14
That world of lawlessness will -- as it always has in the past -- hate those who live according to God's law of love and truth. So it's not surprising that the followers of Jesus have been called "not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." Philippians 1:29.
This privilege of sharing in Christ suffering contrast sharply the popular visions promoted by Mr. Barna and other prominent members of the current church leadership networks. No human manager can usher in a better earthly future than God reveals in His Word.
Nor does His revealed plan match Mr. Barna's call for "
evaluative tools prepared so you can assess how well you are doing along the way, fine-tuning your implementation efforts as you go along."17 God knows that if we continually measure our successes, we may shift our focus from His will and sufficiency to our own vision and achievements. That's why David was punished severely when he disobeyed God by measuring (assessing) the size of his mighty army. 2 Samuel 24
Instead, He tells us to love Him, study His Word and follow His ways, then leave the result with Him. He will produce the fruit. And that spiritual fruit may have little in common with the world's illusion of peace, unity, prosperity and popularity.
By faith not by sight
So, can the world's "quality management" systems and strategies be applied to the church without violating God's guidelines?
While management is needed in every organization, God has some clear guidelines that churches need to follow.
God plans our individual paths in unexpected ways. Therefore, we must be more tuned to His voice than to our human leaders. While we must see His Word as unchanging and absolute, we must remain flexible in our daily assignments -- always ready to follow the Holy Spirit as He trains us in obedience.
- Pray for discernment and "lean not on your own understanding." Prov 2:3-7, 3:5
- Test the Spirit by God's Word and don't follow tempting illusions. 1 John 4:2-3)
- Trust God's unchanging Word, not the world's changing ways. 2 Tim 3:16
- Pursue unity but not at the cost of compromise. Matt 10:34-36
- Understand the world system but refuse to conform to it. Romans 12:2
- "Reason together" based on Biblical truth, but shun the dialectic process.
- Base visions on Scriptures, not human dreams and wants. Jeremiah 23:16
Since we must always be ready to follow our Shepherd along the turns and trails that He leads us, vision statements that rule out Biblical corrections or a Spirit-led change of direction would hinder rather than help us walk by His Spirit. We may not know just what He wants to accomplish on any one day, but we follow His directions because we have glimpsed to eternal glory ahead.
Today's typical vision statement is aimed at mobilizing and inspiring people, as well as define the limits of that responsibility. It sets boundaries for our obedience to our Lord and the distance we may go with Him. Therefore it clashes with the wonderful message of Hebrews 11. For when we keep our eyes on Him rather than a strategic human vision, He will use our faith and obedience to accomplish His purposes. We don’t know how, when or why, but we simply trust Him to take us and use us according to His plan and purpose.Isn’t that what God’s humble heroes show us? The path may seem both illogical and impossible as it did to these faithful friends to God:Hebrews 11:7
“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.... for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."Hebrews 11:13-14
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward."Heb 11:6-28
"Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy.... And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us."Heb 11:36-40.
Should we, those who have "been crucified with Christ" and share in His heavenly inheritance be any less faithful and focused? Our joy is in the fellowship we share -- not because of human visions and managers, but because we have all glimpsed the vision of an eternity with our Lord. As His Bride, we can walk together through the tests and turmoils of this world until we, like them, reach that heavenly city of peace and joy with Him forever.
While still pilgrims on this earth, we walk by faith, knowing that
2 Co 4:7-10, 16-18
"the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body....
Though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
Van yperen, Monday Evening , Leadershp 4-22-02
2.President's Pastor-Friend Seeks 'Community Salvation':
Leadership Network: "The ministry of Windsor Village and Kirbyjon Caldwell is one of the shining examples of how ministry will be conducted in the 21st century. Their commitment to discipling the whole person for ministry and everyday life is exceptional. Their understanding of how to transform both the person and the city is phenomenal."See Church Networks and Reinventing the World
y -All are designed to bypass traditional government and govern people through a form of "citizens" or "grassroots participation" which the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to as "totalitarian democracy" and Communist leaders have called "People's Government." In the US, this system is already bypassing both state and national representative governments. As in Lenin's Soviets, neither UN forums nor the US community meetings on education will acknowledge dissenting voices. Resisters are silenced by trained facilitators who only recordvoices that echo the "right" ideology.10
9. Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986), page 109.
10. Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), page 72.
Casting the circle is nanenacted medtation. Each gesture we make, each tool we use, each power we involke, resonates through learers of meaning to awaken an aspect of ourselves....
When we cast a circle, we create an enefgy fourm, a boundary that limist and contains the movemnt os subtle forces. In Withceart, the funcition of the cirlce is not so much to keep out negative energies as to keep in power so that it can rise to a pealk. .. The casting of the circcle is the formal beginning of th ritual, the complex "cue" that tells us to switch our awareness into a deeper mode. In ritual, we "suspend disbelief" just as we do when watching a play: We allow the critical and analythical funciton s of Talking Self to relax that Younger Self may respond fully and emotionally to what happens.
11. Community Action Toolkit, Community Action Toolkit, cog-5 and 8.
12. The Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide, the United Nation's environmental action plan for communities around the world.12 (p. 8)
13. Sustainable America: A New Consensus, p. 88 and 76.
For more information, read Establishing a Global Spirituality and Biblical versus Cultural Christianity