What I learned from interviewing with churches: There’s no vision

Church vision and directionI talked with almost 40 churches over the past several months before taking the youth ministry position in Minnesota. Several reoccurring themes seemed to keep popping up as I asked questions and learned more about each church and their ministry.

First, most churches do not have a strong sense of where God is leading them. Instead of seeking God’s vision for their congregation and community, they steal God’s vision for Saddleback or Willow Creek, modify it a little and say, “This is our vision.” Most churches carry the generic mission statement of “making fully devoted followers of Christ.” I’ve observed through the interviewing process that Mark Batterson’s observation is true: the more vision a church has the less internal problems it has. He says, “Most church problems are vision problems.” (A post on this is coming sometime next week.)

Second, I like to take risks and experiment with ministry in new ways. In theory, most churches are attracted to new ideas and talk a lot about innovative plans, but few actually feel comfortable implementing them in practice. They feel safe and comfortable with how things have been running for the past 50 years. They’re more concerned with not offending anyone and eliminating controversy than they are about reaching lost souls.

Finally, many churches are content to coast on success they had years ago rather than continuing to pursue it for this current year. I heard lots of stories about big events and ministry ideas that were implemented and left a big impact on the community, but they were never repeated or improved upon. Discussion seems to stop at, “Wow, look what we did! That was so cool!” and they’ll tell their one story for years to come.

Posted on January 12, 2007

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  • Hi Tim,

    I’m enjoying your blog. I’m going to push back on this thought though. It’s likely just symantics though. I’d suggest that most churches do have a deeply rooted vision for the future. It is generally not a singular vision, since most churches aren’t willing to do the work to develop one. Churches have vision, and deeply rooted values. They just don’t know that they have vision. So as you observed, they attach themselves to the most compelling messenger of “vision” and that’s how they hire a youth pastor. Unfortunately in the interview process, a message is sent to the potential youth pastor that “We have no vision, bring us yours” and the youth pastor believes the church.

    just some thoughts.

  • Tim

    I would argue this: If you don’t know that you have a vision, then you don’t have a vision. You can’t miss a real vision, something that inspires, something you cling to as you pursue the ministry God has for you, something that determines all your decisions and direction.

    During the interviewing process I’d often ask something like, “What’s your vision for the church? What are you guys passionate about?” Except for two churches, I always got a blank stare, Ummms, or someone would say, “Oh yeah, we have a mission statement, but I don’t know what it is. I think we have it written down somewhere.” If you have to go dig out a piece of paper to know what your vision is, that’s no vision at all.

  • I’m not argueing, just thinking out loud.
    I would agree that if someone has to dig out a piece of paper that it’s not vision at all. I would suggest that that is not actually what their vision is, it’s only what they’ve been trained to do. In other words, their vision is something other than what’s written on the paper. Vision is born from what people value. Again, churches can have a piece of paper with “values” on it, but what the church actually values is different. And whether a church has vision/values or not, and whether a church member can repeat the vision/values because they’ve been communicated really isn’t of ultimate importance. Values and Vision can not be imposed on people, they must volunentarily own them. Until they own a pastor or youth pastor or churches or even “God’s” they have to give up their own. An that takes me to my earlier point, everyone has a vision and values for the youth ministry, whether they can articulate it or not. These vision and values are firmly held but exist under the surface. so while blank stares are certainly common and very disappointing, that does not neccesitate a lack of vision/values only a lack of articulation or self awareness.

    And you are a right to avoid working for these folks. Because the way you find out what they value is the same way they discover their own values. You do something that violates their vision and values.

    Good stuff, Tim.

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