Developing a Personal Vision

In August of 1964, standing before the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King delivered the speech of his lifetime and perhaps the speech of his generation.  It was a speech that served as the seedbed of social change.  Dr. King was a leader.  “I Have a Dream” was his vision for change that a generation of African Americans already felt in their hearts.  What he saw was a better America–an America of equality and brotherhood.   And his dream fueled a thousand other dreams, many of which have become reality.  This is the power of vision.   Every movement begins with such a vision or dream.

What is vision?

Steven Covey has written, “All things are created twice.”  First there is the mental creation and then, second, comes the physical creation of that idea.  Vision pertains to this first creation.  We have to envision something before we can shape it into reality.  From a Christian perspective, vision is the ability to clearly see and articulate where God wants us to go or what God wants us to do in a given situation.  Vision is the bridge between present and future reality.  As one man stated, “If you want to find a needle in a haystack it is almost impossible. Yet if you place a magnet on the edge of the haystack, the needles jump out.”  Vision is that magnet that attracts followers and resources.

The importance of vision

The authors of The Flight of the Buffalo (Warner Books, 1993) write, “Vision is the beginning point for leading the journey.  Vision focuses.  Vision inspires…Vision is our alarm clock in the morning, our caffeine in the evening.  Vision touches the heart.  It becomes the criterion against which all behavior is measured.  Vision becomes the glasses that tightly focus all of our sights and actions on that which we want to be tomorrow–not what we were yesterday or what we are today.  The focus on vision disciplines us to think strategically.  The vision is the framework for leading the journey.”

 The story is told of three bricklayers working on the same job, each of whom was asked the question, “What are you doing?”  The first responded, “I’m laying bricks.”  The second said, “I’m putting up a wall.”  The third responded, “I’m constructing a grand cathedral.”  All three were engaged in the same work, but only one had a vision for what he was really doing.  To stay motivated, your staff, volunteers and student disciples must embrace a personal vision of what God wants them to do on campus.  Most people can’t thrive on corporate vision alone…it may be too large for them. But they do need vision for their own ministries.  Don’t allow them to set foot on campus without vision.  The strenuous work of campus ministry will soon drain them of life and energy if they are not empowered with vision. Proverbs 29:18a — “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  (King James Version)

{pagebreak}Characteristics of vision

  • Vision always refers to a future state or condition that does not presently exist. Vision shapes the future. You can determine what you will and will not do based on this vision. Vision gives you a sense of priorities and destiny.
  • Vision refers to a change for the better. If we seek to maintain the status quo, we will never see the need for vision.
  • True vision is energizing. Fulfilling God’s vision may require sacrificial work, but when the work is a fulfillment of a vision it is somehow energizing. People don’t want to be left out.
  • True vision calls, summons, and pulls us forward. It’s “the magnet that attracts.”

Cultivating and creating the vision

Much of the process of developing the vision falls on the shoulders of the primary vision-caster.  John Kotter in A Force for Change (HBS Press, 1994) charges leaders with three responsibilities: 1) Establish clear direction, 2) Communicate vision and secure commitment to move ahead–alignment, and 3) Energize (motivate and inspire) people to overcome the obstacles that will surely arise.  Teams are vital to the process of refining the vision but you as the team leader must begin the process.  So what do you do?

Take time to think, read, study, listen, ask questions, pray and reflect. Vision is the product of learning from the past, correctly assessing the present and seeing how the future could be different and better. Sometimes vision is the fruit of months of thinking and reflection. At other times it is that flash of brilliance that is suited for your situation. Vision often arises from an unmet need or untapped opportunity as in the case of Nehemiah in Nehemiah 2. Ask God to give you His vision for your campus.

  • Ask yourself, “What am I really dissatisfied with?” “What needs to be done that is not being done?” “What are we uniquely positioned and equipped to do?” “What untapped opportunities lie before us?” “What is God doing around us?” “What are my dissatisfactions, desires, hopes and dreams for the future?”
  • What passages from the Scriptures reflect what God wants you to do? How can you personalize them?
  • Look over vision statements from churches, Campus Crusade movements, other ministries or businesses. Read or view “I Have a Dream.” Which elements seem inspirational? Which parts tap into your dreams for the future?
  • Make it worthwhile. Daniel Burnham, the chief architect for rebuilding Chicago after it’s great fire, is credited with saying, Make no small plans for they have no ability to stir men’s blood.” Think of the scope of the vision that Jesus cast–“Preach the gospel to all the nations”…”Make disciples of all the nations.” To ask God for a God-sized vision fits well within the parameters of Ephesians 3:20–“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..If the vision for your ministry is not greater than the vision your students have for their own lives, it is doubtful that they will exchange their plans for what you are doing.
  • Begin recording your vision in a 3-ring binder with dividers to section off the specifics elements of your vision. This simple tool allows you to record and modify the vision. The first draft is almost always formulated by the primary vision caster. Make up a binder for all who will eventually help shape the vision. The notebook should include: Purpose, Mission, Vision, Values and guiding principles, Position, Target audience, Strategic imperatives, Core competencies, and Key objectives.
  • Formulating this vision is akin to decorating a room in a style so distinctly yours that when you bring a piece of furniture or artwork into the room, it either fits or it doesn’t. It enhances the decor of the room or clashes with it.
  • Challenge the vision. Step away from it and let it bake for a while. Is it clear, energizing, visual, future- oriented, culturally relevant, realistic yet challenging, etc?
  • Revise and modify the vision with your team–those who are responsible for its implementation. The process takes time and is messy and difficult, but is as necessary as the product itself.

 {pagebreak}Vision summary

Your ability to consistently cast the vision often comes down to the ability to concisely and clearly articulate the vision.  Your vision statement or vision summary is this expressive and vivid summary–the high water mark of what God wants to do in your ministry.  It consists of just a few words that enable people to see what you are about, where you are going and why it matters.  A good vision statement will have the ring of authenticity and will carry with it a sense of “Wow!”  To be effective it must be 1) relevant, 2) motivating and 3) memorable.  Although President Kennedy’s vision of April, 1961 to “put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” was short, it was a very clear and compelling image of what could be.  Here are a few sample vision statements from ministries that you can study and evaluate–“Win the campus today, win the world tomorrow,” “Winning a campus to reach a nation,” “Building a spiritual legacy,” Building a community to reach a community,” “Reaching every Freshman–Sending every Senior,”, “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission,” “Reaching the successful disillusioned,”  “A place of ministry, a base of ministry,” “Helping the lost, the least and last,”, “Putting the gospel within arm’s reach of every student on the plane ,”  “Whatever it takes–wherever it takes us,”

The singularity of true vision

The strength of vision lies in its singularity.  To have dual or multiple visions of what you are about and where you are going is to invite misalignment.  This actually constitutes false vision where someone else’s vision is imposed upon you but is never really embraced.  Although you may mouth the words, you’re not really inspired by this additional vision or committed to it.  False vision is dangerous in that it serves as a substitute for what God may really want you to do.

 What is not visionary?

  • Stale programs and strategies
  • Numerically-driven objectives. “You cannot capture people’s souls for a number”
  • Statements that begin with, “Well, back when I was on campus…”
  • Someone else’s vision that you haven’t embraced
  • Programs that just use people
  • Broad, generic statements of consensus
  • Slogans without implication

What is visionary?

  • A vision that is worth exchanging your time and life for
  • A picture of change that will genuinely benefit those involved
  • A simple vision that is genuinely embraced by you and your team. All of you “own” it
  • A vision that is specific enough to motivate action but broad enough to allow personal initiative
  • Ideas that develop and empower people
  • Statements or ideas that “feel right”
  • Something that compels you to recruit others. You know that it’s exciting.
  • Although spiritual in nature, it is firmly grounded in reality. It involves both the head and the heart.

 {pagebreak}Casting the vision to others

Creating vision is one thing… passing it on to others is quite another.  Vision casting involves a sender, a message and a receiver.  The sender initially is you as the leader.  Who you are as a leader and a person is of utmost importance since the credibility of the messenger influences the message.

Aligning with the vision is to align oneself with the vision caster.  The credibility of the vision caster is based on perceptions of his track record, his character and his personal commitment to the vision.  Young Joshua and Caleb did a great job of casting the vision in Numbers 13, but they lacked the credibility of experience to align the Israelites with the vision of entering the Promised Land. The vision was cast but not caught.   Imparting the vision is too important to be left to chance.   To effectively cast the vision you must:

  • Be personally committed to fulfilling the vision. “You can’t light a fire with a wet match.”
  • Know your audience. You must know how fulfilling the vision will benefit your audience.
  • Use example, metaphor and analogy. Use story-telling more than statistics. Engage the hearts and minds of your audience. Speak positively.
  • Use multiple forums (big meetings, small groups, formal and informal interaction) and repetition.
  • Write down your vision, publish it, post it, make sure it is frequently talked about (Habakkuk 2:2).
  • Meet with each ministry leader or leadership team. Help them to catch the vision by helping them see their ministry in light of the vision. This is vital in recruiting others to the vision. The primary tool you have in recruitment is the vision itself. It is “the magnet that attracts.” Begin with those who are most influential and will most likely be aligned with you and the vision. Don’t be surprised if people come on board at different rates. Some may never be aligned.
  • Listen to and welcome feedback. Make revisions as you progress so that although it is a singular vision it has many, many fingerprints on it.

Catching a vision

Catching the vision is ultimately more important than casting the vision.  To catch the vision is to be aligned with the vision.  Without alignment to the vision you will not be able to move in the same direction and have the synergy to keep moving ahead through the obstacles. This act of alignment is the critical step between vision casting and implementation.  To bring about significant change requires a team to own the dream.  To introduce a plan before aligning your team is to insure a slow, frustrating death of the vision.  People who disagree with the “ends” will argue about every “means.”  In the process of aligning your team you are really building the foundations of team commitment, cooperation and community.

How do you know when people have caught the vision?  The simplest test is this: those who catch the vision are able to cast the vision.   They have moved from “customer” to “salesman.”  They are actively involved in recruiting others.  Picture the freshly-recruited Andrew inviting his brother Peter to join the Lord’s following.

The litmus test

Vision can be inspiring and energizing but ultimately vision must filter down to what people do differently because of it.  Ultimately, the strategies, tactics and programming communicate the reality of a vision more strongly than the actual vision statement.  The viability of a ministry’s vision can be measured by its programming.