Making the Dream Vision Real

September 05, 2017

by Dave Zietlow

One of the primary functions of leadership is to articulate a powerful vision that motivates and energizes people toward a preferred future state while encouraging them to implement plans to make that vision a reality. The Mission of the organization remains constant and serves as a reminder and the foundation for the work of the organization. It is important to shape that mission and visit it on a recurring basis every five to seven years to ensure that it remains the organization’s core focus. As an example, at Assurance UMC, a church where I am a lay leader, we have had a mission for several years to “Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples through Growing in Spirit by weekly worship, daily prayer, and small group connection in order to Go Serve Others and Go Share the Good News that Jesus loves them to all people.” This Grow and Go is integrated into all we do as a faith community in many ways and communicated frequently. A vision emerges from that organization’s mission and becomes something to be lived out. As an old English churchyard saying goes:
Life without vision is drudgery
Vision without actions is but an empty dream
Action guided by vision is joy and the hope of the earth
Churches find their mission through having an open heart and mind which positive processes like Appreciative Inquiry provide. We rely on our faith in God and our knowledge of scripture to reveal dreams and visions built on the foundation of that mission. Assurance UMC’s Grow and Go mission focused outside the walls of the church led to a dream and vision for a missional campus in a community we left several years before. This campus called Connections is in a very different community than the Northlake campus of Assurance. During some of our first steps in that community six years ago, our Connections Pastor Danny came across a story that still resonates with our work in the center of our community today:
In meeting people in the community, I ran across a man named John. John was one whom I perceived to have lived a life of homelessness and the like. I met him during a walk through one of the tougher parts of the community on a Wednesday evening adjacent to the community store whose inventory comprised 90% spirits. John approached in typical fashion, looking for some spare change for a sandwich but what unfolded was a truly holy encounter, In reflection, I see John as an angel, one of God’s messengers affirming our ministry. John and I began some small talk about life on Freedom Drive. I shifted the conversation to God, faith, and the church. Authentically emotional, he looked at me and asked if I was a pastor. I affirmed his question. He placed his hands on my shoulder and he said, “Look here, don’t take no offense, but we have a church on every corner … see over there and over there … they are everywhere.” Then he paused, looked down, then he pierced my heart with a look and statement that I pray I never forget. He said “the problem with the church is that it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The truth is the problem with the church is while we can see the buildings, we in the community don’t feel their presence.”
We are thankful everyday at Connections for that observation by a community resident and that God gave us an opportunity to be a presence in this community. We found ourselves talking about the church’s mission and found ourselves dreaming of being something more than we currently were in our desire to be following Jesus. Our language was hopeful, but we talked mostly about what we did not have rather than how we were blessed. We talked about things that we could accomplish, but seemed to hit roadblocks more often than finding paths to move forward. Have you been there and experienced those “buts” in your church community dialogue? Language is a powerful part of the environment that can either hinder or enhance life in a community of faith.

We know that God is a God of abundance not scarcity. He is also a God of possibilities and not barriers. We knew that our language needed to change from one of scarcity to one of abundance. We needed to eliminate the “buts” of scarcity and begin to use the “ands” of abundance. Listen to the change that the language makes in this statement:

“We are being called to meet the needs of people in our community that look different than us, but we don’t know where to start or how to communicate with them or meet their needs!”

Substitute an ‘and’ for the ‘but’ and possibilities open up to begin bridging that gap. What is our reaction to that language of scarcity and its barriers? Perhaps we might congratulate ourselves on our good thoughts and intentions. Next we might reach into our wallets and give some money to a local food pantry. Celebrating our generosity! Scarcity invoked by the word “but” would keep us inside the walls of our church, protected by the sure knowledge that we would not be able to communicate with them anyway or possibly begin to meet their great needs. What is our reaction to the language of abundance and possibilities? We get excited that God has given us the inspiration and mission to meet the needs of the people in this community and we discover what we need to accomplish that mission: get started and learn to communicate with the diverse population of the community.

What a difference a word makes! We now see things through the lens of what we possess – our strengths, gifts, and blessings. We start to look for opportunities to get started rather than dwelling on reasons not to begin the work necessary. We start to move forward and live into where God has called us as a community of faith and began to accomplish the mission with Him. We develop a way of speaking that is positive and appreciative in order to move forward as a community of believers living out God’s calling for us. There is a model of change that was developed by David L. Cooperrider and Diane Whitney called Appreciative Inquiry that uses positive language combined with a curiosity regarding God’s gifts and blessings.

The Appreciative Inquiry Model formed the change process for our pursuing the vision of the Connections missional faith community. The focus on God’s abundance and not the scarcity of the world view allowed us to continue the journey filled with wonderful celebration in the midst of hardships and major challenges. The focus on possibilities and living on faith rather than barrier allowed God’s vision for this community to continue through barrier after barrier thrown in its way over the past six years. Here is the vision that has been lived out in this community for those years:
“At Assurance, creating a Kingdom worship experience means creating a sacred space that reflects the breadth of diversity that is God’s tapestry. The challenge remains that both formal and informal segregation has been the norm through much of the United States since its inception. According to research conducted by sociologists Deyoung, Emerson, Yancey, and Kim. 92.5% of Catholic and Protestant churches through the United States can be classified as “monoracial” meaning 80 % or more of attendees reflect the same ethnicity and socio-economic stratum. Out of the remaining 20% which can be considered “diverse”, only 2.5 % represent the Protestant church. Old models of homogeneous church are becoming less and less reflective of the communities in which they are located, causing a gap between the very people they are called to serve. Assurance Connections Missional Campus seeks to cross this divide by intentionally building an infrastructure that invites the diversity of God’s splendor. It is our intent to be a multi-ethnic, economically diverse, cross generational community of faith that seeks to know God and make Him known through the pursuit of unity, in accordance with God’s plan for humanity in Christ Jesus as depicted in John 17:20-23. This authenticity and organically cultivated community is patterned after the New Testament church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26).”
We pray that your faith community forms a strong mission grounded in scripture and prayer which leads you to dreams and visions to live out that mission.
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.