Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Vision Thing

Over at St. Cass's rant day, Quotidian Grace was looking for a biblical curse on visioning committees. I had to chuckle. Being in "call seeking" mode myself, I have read dozens of Church Information Forms in the past month. At least 3/4 of them seem to include a statement to the effect that the congregation has just completed a Visioning Process and is now ready to do Great Things, (assuming they can find Super Pastor to come lead them).

So what is it with the Vision Thing? When I look at the Bible, it seems that the people who received visions: Moses at the burning bush, Isaiah in the temple, Mary with Gabriel, Peter on the roof of Simon's house, Paul on the road to Damascus--had not put themselves through a committee process to prepare themselves to receive these visions. They were not, in fact, expecting a vision at all. They were knocked on their butts with surprise and most of them were none too pleased. Visions in scripture seem to be surprising movements of God's grace, not something God's people can produce through their own efforts.

Now there is in the bible and in church practice a tradition of discernment. This is probably a better word for what QG and these pastor-seeking congregations are actually doing; trying to discern what God is calling them to do as faithful disciples in their time and place. I honor that. I do worry, though, that for them and for me the models we often use for discernment come more from contemporary market research trends than classic spiritual disciplines. Instead of fasting, listening, prayer, confession, etc. it becomes all about collecting demographic information and finding out what the market will bear.

How do we move past this? How do we make way for the visions we didn't plan for and aren't sure we like? How do we engage in honest discernment that is not captive to market forces??


Emily said...

I especially like your last paragraph--how perfect for a weekend spent thinking about Moses and the burning bush--no visioning committee there in that call.

On a more serious note, I think there is value in studying demographics because often congregations can become blind to what is actually going on around them, and deaf to the needs that are out there.

Songbird said...

This really speaks to me, after a few days of gloomily sitting around fearing I won't fit into any of the jobs here in the vicinity if/when I have to leave my present church (seeming more likely all the time, for a variety of reasons). I've been so busy assessing the political landscape, I haven't left any room for God to get through to me! No wonder I'm depressed.
But how do we get around this when we are geographically limited?

Quotidian Grace said...

I love this post. What a great distinction you made between discernment and visioning.

Visions recorded in scripture usually were very specific --Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul et al knew EXACTLY what God was telling them to do. Discernment is the process of trying to discover what God's will is.

My presbytery committee and these church committees you refer to are clearly confusing the two.

LutheranChik said...

It's funny...several years ago I found myself in church on a Saturday morning "visioning" (I can't remember if we called it that) with other parishoners. I don't remember what our Big Ideas were, other than that they didn't really amount to much, but the Big Idea that is actually materializing -- adding a handicap-accessible addition to our building and moving the sanctuary there -- was not one of the things we talked about with any seriousness. LOL That's been a divine surprise.

PPB said...

I'm a fan of the "knocked on your butt" line. :0

Lisa said...

After years of committee meetings and prodding for members to become more involved with one another, our church finally stopped visioning and did two very concrete things. One was to start a "disciple" class which is a fairly intense (depending on the teacher) bible study. This, with the understanding that it is Christ who calls us and motivates us..not the preacher. The second was to cut the number of officers in half..dropped half the deacons and half the elders. Why? Because they are to be overseers, not the only ones carrying out the work of the church. The congregation at large will now have to step up and care for one another. There really is a more intimate feeling of community within the already warm church now. I think people are excited at the prospects of being more involved and ARE getting more involved. I think sometimes we use discerning and visioning as stalling tactics. Sort of like when I tell my son to stop playing guitar and do his writing assignment and he tells me he needs to "think" (for hours). That's my 2cents worth anyway.

Sue said...

Great post! I picked up the vision theme in my most recent post and linked to your site. I love the part about the Super Pastor -- isn't that just the truth though????

I'm pretty sure some congregations would turn down Jesus himself!