Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Skimming for the Vision?

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As I continue to read on coaching and the opportunities it provides, I found an intriguing concept in a book entitled, “Coaching for Christian Leaders” by Linda J. Miller and Chad W. Hall (Chalice Press, 2007).

I have mentioned here before that coming up with “the big vision” was always hard for me. For me, it reeked too much of egoism and presumption.  And yet, I recognized that a vision for a body of believers has an important place. Additionally, people had the expectation that there needed to be a vision for a church.  “What is the vision for your (or “our”) church?” was a phrase that I heard over and over through the years.  In my last church there was a continuing battle over who was to provide that vision:  the pastor or the board of elders.  But the presumption either way was that the official leadership of the church was to be the source of that vision.

Miller and Hall introduce an intriguing concept: “skimming for vision”.  Let me quote a couple of paragraphs and then comment on it:

Where is vision and how does the leader get it?  Three common responses are that God gives vision to the leader, or that the leader “goes to the mountain” and sees the vision in isolation, or that the vision comes to the leader in a dream.  Certainly each of these options is a possibility.  But the vision caster who takes a coach approach has one more option: the vision may reside with the followers.

Ministry leaders, especially those in faith families who value the priesthood of all believers, possess a theological impetus for believing that vision resides with the community.  In such cases, the vision caster is charged, not with coming up with the vision in solitude, but with discerning the vision from amidst the community.  This could be termed “skimming for the vision.”  The picture is that various members of a church (or any organization) have a piece of the vision. Through experience, intellect, relationships and capability, each of these members carries God-given hopes, dreams, concerns, and suggestions for the church.  The vision caster who dialogues with members uses the skills of a coach to draw out the vision from each person.  The vision caster asks question, listens intently, suspends judgment, and even encourages forward movement in an effort to support the “persons being coached” while simultaneously picking up one more aspect of God’s intent for the church. 

Skimming for the vision is not an abdication of the leaders duty to discern vision.  This is not “vision by committee.”  Instead, skimming for the vision is a way to discern.  The leader must have eyes to see and ears to hear the vision as it is revealed piece by piece.  Talk about active listening!  The leader must distinguish what is and what is not a piece of the vision, hold onto each piece as it is revealed, prayerfully recognize patterns and themes that emerge, and then put these pieces together with God’s help.  Skimming for the vision is not a shortcut to discerning the vision for a church, but it is a way of tapping into the genius of the community.  A leader’s decision  to take an initiative or recommend an action comes from that leader’s intuition, experience, and intelligence.  A coach approach enables the leader to tap into the intuition, experience and intelligence of many people.”  (p. 88)

I am not ready to buy into the concept that this is the only way in which vision should be determined for a congregation.  Even Miller and Hall don’t state it that way.  But they add it as one more way in which God may bring his vision to a congregation. 

I think that in my church in Garden City, KS that concept really worked well.  We had “Listening Posts” on two difference occasions where the people shared their hopes and dreams for that church and what they believed that God was saying to our church.  And then a very small group (with me at the helm) sorted through that and came up with a plan of action that we believe came from God. It wasn’t perfectly executed, but I still believe it came from God and he richly blessed it. And I could buy into it because I knew it wasn’t me imposing my hopes and dreams onto a congregation.

Now, in the church I served after that, the same concept didn’t work and that was partly due to the emphasis of the local elder board on doing everything by committee and de-emphasizing the role of the senior pastor.  That, combined with lobbying by a very vocal group pushing their one agenda really destroyed the process. 

As Miller and Hall say, this is not an easier way to do vision creation.  It is (IMHO) much harder.  It takes wisdom and strength on the part of the leader to set boundaries and to be able to see patterns.  It also takes a group of people who are willing, even after their hopes and dreams are shared, are willing for those not to be adopted.

But I think the concept has enough merit to consider.  What do you think?  Have you heard of this concept elsewhere.  What was your reaction to it then?  Share you feedback with all of us….

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