Keeping the Vision
Last year I heard a sermon by Tim Brown, a leading pastor in the Reformed Church of America and professor of preaching at Western Seminary. With appropriate fatherly pride, Tim told the congregation about a phone call he had received from his son Jon who was doing a seminary summer assignment in a church in rural Minnesota. Jon had told his father story after story of the faithful ways of the congregation he was serving – the story of the man who had lost his leg in a baler accident decades ago but lived with gratitude and joy; the family whose daughter had died in another farming accident but who radiated the love of Christ; the story of generations of children who left that farming community with a firm foundation of faith and were vital kingdom citizens throughout the world; the story of a congregation that was salt and light in its community in unspectacular but significant ways.
Jon could have gone to that church with a different attitude. He could have gone with his briefcase full of things this church should be doing. Instead, he listened, he loved, and he lifted up what this congregation was doing. He saw how Christ was active in this congregation long before he pulled into town, and how Christ would be active long after he left. He sought to affirm, encourage and challenge the church in its enduring vision of ministry. I predict that Jon will be a very effective pastor because he will lift up the congregation’s own vision and build upon it.
True enough, you say. But the fact is that while Christ has the vision and the church has the vision, scores of churches are languishing today. They are struggling and they know it. Their worship lacks genuine spiritual vitality, their nurture is weak, their fellowship is uninviting, and their witness falls short. They need help, and they need it now
And this is where it is imperative that the pastor also has the vision. Pastors must have deep convictions about what God has called the church to be and must proclaim that message clearly. Pastors must be passionate in articulating what God’s church and kingdom ought to look like. Pastors must be bold and courageous. They must be self-sacrificial and give their lives to turning the Pentecost dream into reality. They must be risk takers.
Pastors must proclaim the vision by letting their lives carry the message and only use words when necessary. They must embody in their personal lives and relationships the love and discipleship to which they call their congregation. They must earn the right to proclaim the vision by showing their congregation that they are walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
A pastor-colleague of mine has led a Grand Rapids inner city congregation with strong conviction for over twenty years. He has articulated a vision of ministry that has led that congregation through painful chapters of change and renewal. But this pastor and his wife have been effective leaders because they have never asked the congregation to do something they themselves have not done. A pastor who adopts two Down’s Syndrome children, opens his home to strangers, weeps with the weak, and calls into judgment himself along with the strong – that pastor has the credibility to call the congregation to dream dreams and see visions beyond the status quo. The point is not that every pastor has to do these things, but that pastors must model the love and commitment to which they call their congregations.
Dr. Duane Kelderman Professor of Preaching, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids
Calvin Theological Seminary Forum Fall 2003
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