Visioneering by Andy Stanley

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Pastoral Ministry
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Andy Stanley asserts that visioneering is the combination and culmination of inspiration, conviction, action, determination, and completion (8).  It provides a destination for our journey.  A compelling vision inevitably evokes passion, motivation, direction, and purpose for what we do in our daily lives (9-12).  And, lest we should think that this is a cleverly disguised business model to manipulate us into action, Stanley reminds us that a vision must be from God if it is to have eternal value and longevity.

The vision is birthed in the in-between places, between what is and what should be.  This is hardly mere fantasy, but it does involve an element of dreaming of what is possible.  These visions are usually conceived through the experiences we have of our broken world.  It “begins as a concern” (19).  For Nehemiah it was a concern for the way things were shaping up in Jerusalem versus the way things were supposed to be.  This concern precipitated Nehemiah’s action: waiting.

Typically, when we feel called to do something we rush out to begin.  As the old adage goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Waiting and preparing is not inaction.  “Visioneering is a process” (20).  By patiently waiting we allow the vision to mature in us, we mature in the preparation for the vision, and we can realize and recognize the ways God is working to prepare the way for the vision (20-24).  Waiting and preparing is also a way to authenticate the vision.  Stanley believes that a “God-ordained vision will eventually feel like a moral imperative and it will be in line with what God is up to in the world” (25).

There are moments where the vision feels dead in the water.  There is no sense of movement to fulfill the vision.  It is in these moments where the vision typically dies.  How do we keep a vision energized: praying and planning.  The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer prays for things to be different and a visionary prays for opportunities to make a difference (32).  Prayer allows us to see those opportunities that are provided to us, as well as, ask for God to open up doors where they may be closed.  Planning may be the only other tangible thing we can do in those moments of inactivity.  What steps will we take and how can we go about achieving that?  A lack of preparation may mean that we are not able to utilize opportunities that present themselves.  That does not mean that the plans have to be set in stone, but it is important to have thought through the issues beforehand.

Another frustration in pursuing our vision might be the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We may imagine that our situation is not conducive to pursuing and fulfilling the vision.  However, as illustrated with Nehemiah, God uses our circumstances to fulfill His vision for us.  We may confuse the rewards of success with success itself.  However, success is being faithful to the process, not merely receiving the rewards of success (which might not come).  “If I don’t consider myself successful until I see something happen, then I am only inches away from considering myself a failure (47).  It is very easy to fold our cards at this point to protect ourselves.  It is important to remember that God uses our circumstances, even when it seems impossible, to shape us into the people/ community we are called to be.

A God-ordained vision always overwhelms our talents and resources.  It is beyond our capabilities to accomplish.  Stanley reminds us that “a vision God originates is a vision God orchestrates” (56).  Becoming too focused on the “how” of a vision can leave us floundering about.  Rather, we must continue to be focused on the “who” or “what” of our vision.  God accomplishes the “how.”  We are simply called to be faithful and partner with God in the process.  It is likely that we will not entirely see the “how” of a vision until after it is completed.

The temptation with any vision is to feel a sense of independence when the rewards of success become tangible realities.  A God-vision requires us to be dependent upon God for guidance and for success.  Living into a vision is a matter of faith.  We trust God to make good on His promises and to fulfill the vision He has given us.  Faith is trusting Him to do that and walking head into that vision when it seems least likely to happen.  Too often we wrestle back control instead of relying upon God.  Our temptation is to become “self-sufficient” when we experience success.  The bigger the vision, the more we must rely upon God.

Our initial reaction to receiving a vision might be to rush out and tell everyone.  However, Stanley warns his audience to “walk before you talk; investigate before you initiate” (75).  Investigation of the circumstances facing you and the vision is important.  Understanding the circumstances can give you insight into what it will take which allows one to communicate with others logically about the situation and the vision.  Investigation also either “confirms the divine origin of your vision, gives it further definition and focus, or tips you off that you were mistaken about the vision altogether” (76).  Counting the cost allows us to be prepared and to further confirm and define the vision that God has given us.  By investigating we do not become subject to our emotions and prematurely rush into action.

In beginning to cast your vision to others it is vital to communicate the problem and the vision that is the solution to this problem.  The problem paints a picture of what is and opens the eyes of others to reality.  The solution paints a picture of what can be.  A compelling picture will move others to join in the vision by freeing their imagination to creatively explore what is possible.  A God-ordained vision captures the hearts of others, it takes a community.

Beyond communicating the problem and the solution, the vision-caster must also why this particular solution will work and why it must be done now.  In communicating these two elements it is important to connect the significance of the vision with what God is doing and what He desires to accomplish.  Building the walls back up after hundreds of years lying in ruins was not enough motivation for the Israelites.  But, discovering and understanding that God had something much larger in mind gave people the initiative to use their resources toward this end.  Every vision must be connected to God’s greater plan in order for the people to “arise and build.”

While we may have a vision that is personal, we will also have opportunities to cast vision for others under our care.  Words build worlds.  Our words can have a dramatic impact on a person’s trajectory.  As such, we must be careful in projecting what could be and what should be in someone’s life.  The apostle Paul warns us to use words to encourage others.  He would often call parishioners saints even though they could hardly be called that by their conduct.  As such, we cast a vision based on someone’s potential rather than their performance.

A vision never happens all by itself.  It needs people to join in the “good work.”  Bringing a vision to fruition takes a great deal of sacrifice.  A leader can never expect the people to risk and sacrifice more than she or he is willing to risk themselves.  One must lead by example in these moments.  If you are not willing to risk much for your vision, it is likely nobody else will risk much either.  It is at this point that you must be all in or get out.  Being faithful to God’s call, despite the overwhelming circumstances, is always a call to be all in.

Not everyone will buy into the vision.  There are going to be naysayers that criticize the vision, for whatever reason.  It is in these moments where we are called to pray and remember.  Pray for guidance in response to criticism and continually recall the ways that God has been faithful in the process of making the vision a reality.  And, it is important to remember that our plan and our vision may not always be the same thing.  It is easy to get discouraged and quit when our plan fails.  We may assume that the vision has failed as well.  However, there may be multiple ways to fulfill the vision.  Thomas Edison’s vision of a light bulb is a great example.  He failed numerous times, but each of those times he said he learned yet another way not to make a light bulb.  We must be careful to understand the difference between our plan and God’s vision.  “Visions are refined – they don’t change; plans are revised – they rarely stay the same” (158).

As you work with a group to fulfill the vision God has given you, there will naturally occur conflicts within the group.  Visions thrive in environments of unity and die in environments of division.  It is part of our responsibility of the leader who has the vision to keep people working together.  Conflict does not have to be a negative experience, if handled with care.  Rather, it can be an opportunity for growth.  Conflicts arise either over normal time or due to a “bump” in the road.  Whatever the cause, it is important to handle it immediately and with care.  Several indicators will become apparent in those that are the source of the conflict: “they will attempt to control rather than serve; they will manipulate people and circumstances to further their own agendas; they will exhibit an unwillingness to resolve their differences face-to-face; they exhibit an unwillingness to believe the best about other teammates; and they view team members’ failures as their own personal successes” (169).  To counter this conflict Stanley proposes that a leader must: “lead, don’t control; be a man or woman of integrity; resolve your differences face-to-face; and believe the best about other team members” (173-74).

Leadership and influence are not automatically extended to someone.  It comes to those that have “moral authority.”  Keeping to the vision at the expense of character will result in a loss of influence.  God will never ask us to compromise character as we live into His vision for our lives.  Establishing moral authority takes character, sacrifice and time.  If these three things are not upheld there will be a loss of that authority.  Although it may be re-gained if lost, moral authority will take more time and sacrifice to recapture.  Our walk must always match our talk.

Distractions to the vision usually come in the form of a good.  There are a number of good things that can be accomplished that may actually compromise the vision.  Distractions come in three forms: opportunities, criticism and fear.  Beyond good opportunities, criticism from others can distract us from the good work we are engaged in.  Anger toward our critics can distract us from the task at hand.  And, fear causes us to freeze because we are unsure about the unknowns of our situation.  Leaders must remain focused on the vision that God has given them.  Doing so helps us to prioritize what is most important in our lives and help keep us motivated to move forward through criticism and fear.

The vision is a means to an end.  Our vision is encompassed by God’s master plan: the salvation and redemption of the world.  We are called to participate in that larger vision.  We are called to be a light on a hill for the world to see.  In the pursuit of God’s vision there are three ways that Stanley proposes we embody God’s light: peace, healthy relationships, and character.  Each of these three elements is in short order in our world.  People lack peace, healthy relationships, and character.  When these are displayed in a person’s life, others take notice.  Christ is honored through our lives and it provides an opportunity to witness to those who are watching.  The vision often is the surface of the deeper thing that God is doing and desires to do in our lives and in the lives of others.

The end of a God-ordained vision is God.  Worship is the natural result when we see the wonderful ways that God has been faithful through the journey with us.  Nobody is unaffected by a God-ordained vision.  All recognize God’s hand upon it.  “Divine intervention, when it is recognized, results in authentic worship and unquestioned obedience.  Divine intervention, when it is remembered, can have the same results” (248).  God is glorified through the vision when we are faithful to God through the process.

Andy Stanley promotes the idea that “maintaining a vision requires adherence to a set of core beliefs and behaviors” (252).  In a study over “visionary corporations”, it was deduced that one of the characteristics of these corporations was their devotion to a set of core beliefs.  These beliefs provided boundaries that navigated the company in its choices.  When the initial emotions and excitement of maintaining a vision are high it is very easy to do the right thing.  When the going gets a bit rough, compromise may be an enticing option.  However, as discussed earlier, these sorts of compromise destroy the moral authority of a vision.  It is important that the vision’s integrity is protected by establishing a Biblical set of values that provide boundaries.

A vision requires constant attention.  People are quick to forget the vision and even quicker to chase other pursuits.  Keeping others on track requires bold leadership that must be anchored in the vision and carried out in conjunction with our core beliefs and values.

Don’t tolerate those things that have the potential to derail your vision.  Deal with them.  If you don’t, your tendency will be to begin distancing yourself from the problem people and the unaligned environments.  Things will only get worse.  After all, what is unmanaged generally becomes unmanageable… Visioneering calls for bold leadership.  Develop a healthy intolerance for those things that have the potential to impede your progress toward what could be and should be – those things God has put in your heart to do (267).

Visioneering is God’s call upon our life to participate in His redemptive program.  It calls others to join in the journey of living into this vision.  One must maintain her or his connection to God, for apart from God we can do nothing of eternal value.  Visioneering calls for faithful obedience, even at the expense of expediency, so that God may be glorified by all who see our good works.  And, it is in the redemption of others that we find ourselves being redeemed.

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