As I began thinking about this post, I realized that I had put myself in a bit of a difficult position. I planned on listing some times when a clear vision will benefit the small church but as I was thinking about the topic, I realized that it isn’t as easy to come up with a list of times when the small church needs a vision. One example came to me immediately but as we will see, it probably isn’t the greatest example of such a time.
Part of the difficulty comes from the fact that the small church doesn’t always have to have a vision. As long as ministry is going well and the church is responding to the needs it sees through the leading of the Holy Spirit, it probably doesn’t need to waste the time, energy and resources developing and implementing a vision requires.
As I continued to think about the need for vision, I realized that the time for vision in the small church depends not so much on the chronological time but on what the New Testament calls “kairos”. This kind of time describes a set of circumstances that come together and create the right setting for something to happen. God seems to work on this time rather that clock time.
There are then “kairos” times in the life of a small congregation when the vision process is a benefit and the resulting vision can help the congregation. The times I mention here are not a complete list and I would be really interested in hearing from you about your thoughts on the topic, either disagreeing with the things I have suggested or adding to the list.
A small church can benefit from the vision process when:
1. They have been static or in a plateau period for an extended period of time–probably more than a year or two. Such a period will also probably be accompanied by a small but noticeable decline in giving, attendance and ministry activity.
2. When there has been a crisis in the church. The crisis might be the result of a dispute in the congregation, loss or damage to the building, a leadership failure of some sort, a significant community event like the closing of a major employer or any one of a number of negative events that take the energy, resources and enthusiasm from the congregation.
3. After a long and successful or a short and disastrous pastoral tenure. Either of these can have a significant effect on the congregation that can disrupt their ability to minister well.
4. When the congregation has a sense that something more is needed in their congregational life. It might be a sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling that something in missing, a touch of boredom. This is a somewhat intangible item but wise pastors and congregations pay attention to it.
5. When there is a major new opportunity for ministry. If a major housing development is planned for the areas served by the congregation, that opportunity would require some planning and vision so that the congregation might make the best of the opportunity.
I haven’t forgotten the first example of a time for a vision that I mentioned earlier–I just didn’t want to include it in the main list because that situation comes about when the pastor is doing advanced education and requires congregational participation. I know several congregations that have developed a vision in response to the requirements of their pastor’s Doctor of Ministry studies–including my own D. Min. studies. These visions tend to do a great deal more for the pastor than the congregation although a well designed D. Min. project can greatly enhance the ministry of a congregation.
There are probably other times when it would benefit a small church to develop a vision and if you know of any, I would love to hear them.
Even when the “kairos” is right, good vision doesn’t just happen spontaneously. It requires work on the part of both pastor and congregation to develop and implement the vision. Some of the work required to discover if a vision is needed and then the develop and implement the vision is work that should already be taking place in the congregation. We will look at that work and the vision process beginning tomorrow.
May the peace of God be with you.