Understanding Church Vision (Part 1 of 4)

Vision is the buzz word that you will hear in almost every modern church. What about being a visionary is biblical and how does the Bible teach this concept? There is a difference between being a visionary to accomplish God’s call and being a visionary based on selfish ambitions and man-centered philosophies. There are false prophets and true prophets; there are false teachers and true teachers; there are false christs and one true Christ; there are false apostles and true apostles – so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are false visions and a true vision.

Throughout the scriptures we are given multiple examples how that man thought his ways pleased the Lord but God rejected this work and even judged these men. King Saul performed sacrifices contrary to the law and God sent Samuel to rebuke him. Even though he was sincere, he was wrong because he followed his own heart and did what seemed right in his own eyes. King David ignored God’s instructions for transporting the Ark of the Covenant and even though he danced and praised God, the Lord was displeased and judgment fell (2 Samuel 6). The Bible warns us in Proverbs 14:

12 There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

This passage is important enough for God to repeat the exact same words in Proverbs 16:25. Jeremiah 17:9 warns us that our hearts are deceitful above ALL things and desperately wicked. Only the Lord has the power to search our hearts, test our minds and lead us in the right way. As much as we would like to believe that we know what is right, the truth is that our hearts easily go astray and we can pursue what is wicked in God’s eyes even while we are convincing ourselves that we are doing what is right. Since the warning is that our heart is deceitful above all things, we should take heed and realize that there must be something other than our own intellect to determine right and wrong. Deception, by definition is to make someone think that a lie is the truth. Our emotions are easily confused with the stirring of the Spirit and our self-centered views easily sway us to believe we are right even if we are not.

James 1:26 warns us that many who view themselves as religious are deceiving their own hearts. Proverbs 30 warns of a generation that is pure in its own eyes but is unclean because of their own sins. 2 Peter 3 warns that in the last days that people will walk according to their own desires while 2 Timothy 3 warns that in the last days people will be self-righteous and even have an appearance of godliness but without power from the Holy Spirit. Since this theme is echoed continuously throughout the Bible, it should be self-evident that there has to be a standard given to us that we must use to evaluate against our hearts and determine if what seems right is indeed right. This standard is the unchanging word of God. Consider 2 Timothy 3:16-17  

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

A few years back a very popular Christian singer had an affair, left her husband and married the man she had an adulterous relationship with when he divorced his wife. Shortly after this marriage she made a statement that she believed this relationship was of God because it made her feel happy. In our current church culture where the Bible has been excluded from our daily lives, the church has become dependent on ‘doing what is right in our own eyes’ and acting according to the emotions of the moment because feelings alone are believed to be the affirmation of the Holy Spirit – even though the Bible warns us against this. Decisions within the church are approved solely based on how the proposal manipulates our emotions. False teaching gains acceptance by energizing people’s emotions in order to manipulate Christians into rejecting discernment. False church visions are introduced in the same way. Everyone wants to see their church grow and when numbers increase, this is presented as a reason to be excited and is provided as evidence that God is moving even if He is being rejected by rebelling against His word.

The masses have almost always been led astray throughout history. If you read our biblical history, you will see that the masses almost always followed false prophets and pagan leaders. In modern history, the masses often have gone astray. Hitler had few who resisted his emotional speeches. In 1933 at a pastor’s convention, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke to a group of Berlin pastors against the injustice Hitler was committing against the Jews. Every pastor left the room in protest and by the end of his speech, he was preaching to an empty room. Rarely will you see the masses acting upon godly discernment.

The masses only follow God when the culture is led by an influential leader who truly follows the Lord. According to surveys, approximately 87% of Americans claim to be Christians, yet the movement of the culture contradicts this. Look again at Biblical history. If you read the book of Judges, you will see that the culture turned from the Lord continuously. God would allow enemies to rise against them and when they cried out to the Lord, He delivered them by the hand of judges. As long as the judge was alive, the masses continued on the right path, but when he died, they again followed what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25). The most prosperous time in Israel’s history was during the leadership of King David and the beginning of King Solomon before he turned from the Lord. Because David followed God with all his heart and had the influence over Israel, the masses followed what was right; however, when those who exercised influenced turned from the word of the Lord, the masses fell into sin.

Our culture is no different. When the persuasive voices of the men who sought the Lord had an influence on this nation, the cultural Christian stayed consistent with the word of God. Within our church culture most of the pastors are led by the influence of the culture itself. Most pastors and church leaders draw their doctrine from the Christian culture and not from the study of the scriptures. The majority of Christian leaders I have met use books and sermon helps to provide doctrine rather than personal study of the Bible without outside influences. While the Christian culture respected the Bible and followed those who held closely to scripture, the pastors and vision of the churches did the same.

As the tide has changed and the church culture has begun to follow influential leaders who have little or no respect for the Bible, cultural Christianity has shifted to follow the ‘new vision’ and pastors have shifted with the culture. Everyone echoed the orthodox belief system when the church culture held to it. Now that the culture has shifted, the majority of pastors and churches have shifted with it and will continue to do so. Only those whose foundation is on the unchanging word of God will not drift with the culture. As the culture shifts, those who are truly following God will remain firm. As the church moves away from the scriptures, those who remain rooted in scripture will be isolated and will find themselves outside of the group. God will honor those who stand firm on His word, but the Christian culture of the last days will not.

When the winds of change blow through the culture, the masses have always been carried by the current. This holds true for the secular culture as well as the church culture. If you look at the track record of man you will see that the masses have always followed the current of the culture whether it is right or wrong. This has held true for the layman and the leaders alike. In fact, the teachers, preachers, and leaders are usually the first to succumb to the currents of the culture as they lead the congregations to follow. When the unstable culture begins to follow what is wrong, only those who are anchored on the truth of God’s word will remain firmly planted. The Bible instructs us that sound doctrine (the teachings of scripture) is the anchor that keeps us from being tossed with the culture. Look at Ephesians 4:

14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

We are also forewarned that those who do not adhere to the doctrine of scripture are the causes of division within the church (Romans 16:17-18). When the church shifts away from the truth, those who do not move are left standing alone and it is falsely taught that these are the ones causing division for not moving with the group. Those who are anchored in the word are not the divisive ones, those who follow the current of the so-called ‘new vision’ are actually the cause of division. Anyone anchored on the foundation of scripture cannot be moved unless they willingly break from that foundation. I have been in this situation where new visions were introduced that blatantly rebelled against the Bible. As the church was carried by the ‘new move’, the few individuals who were true to the word found themselves standing alone and being accused of being the ones who moved away from God. The hostility came from those wanting to follow New Age doctrines, not from those who held to the word of God.

When our heart says something is right and the scripture contradicts this, we must put our faith in the word rather than our feelings, intellect or any other influence. If we use the scripture as our standard, we will be corrected when we go astray, instructed in the right way and will be equipped for every good work produced by the Holy Spirit within us. The word of God prevents us from going astray and veering off course. From time to time, everyone begins to drift off course but those who are rooted in the word God has given have the promise that the word rebukes what is wrong and steers us back to the way that is truly right. It is vital that we put our trust in the firm, unchanging standard God has delivered to us through His word and not the deception of our hearts that seems right but has deadly consequences. When the culture pulls us, we must either turn away from the scriptures or allow the word to lead us back into the truth and against the current of the culture.

Since the word is our guide, measuring stick, compass for our journey and the truth that corrects our way, we must look to the word to evaluate our vision. The best way to examine the true vision of God is to begin with the scriptures so that we see what is true and then we can clearly understand what is scriptural and what is not. So let’s begin by examining the vision of Jesus Christ.

Vision of Christ

This is actually a very simple concept that only becomes complicated when the vision Jesus gave is blocked by human philosophies and convoluted formulas. Most people do not realize that Jesus has given us the vision for the church in clear, concise, and in an easy to understand format. Look at Jesus’ vision for the church in Matthew 28:18-20  

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

The vision of the church was given in 5 easy steps:

  1. Jesus is the authority of the church.
  2. Go into the world to make disciples.
  3. Baptize them according to scripture.
  4. Teach all to observe and obey everything that has been commanded.
  5. The Lord is with us and guiding His true church every step of the way.

 

If this is not your church’s vision, you have a problem. The vision of Christ is not to have hundreds of church plants with hundreds of members. The vision of Christ is not to have the largest church with the most programs. The vision of Christ is not to have huge auditoriums with thousands of members. The vision of Christ is not to have a church that comforts seekers and avoids scriptures that challenge us to die to ourselves or convicts us of sin. The primary purpose of the church is to make disciples that will obey all that Jesus has commanded. If we are fulfilling this vision and the church grows into thousands, be thankful and remain faithful to His call. If a church only has a handful of people but these are followers of Christ, the church is successful in God’s commission to fulfill His vision. The size of the congregation is not the model of success; obedience and spiritual maturity is the measure of success.

The vision of the commission of Jesus Christ is the vision of the church. Methods, tools and outreach programs are good as long as they do not become the vision or take our eyes off Jesus’ vision. Think of the great commission as the target that each Christian and church aims for. As long as a practice, method or tool can be brought into the line of sight of our focus on the goal of the great commission, it is permissible and beneficial to the church. However, when we must take our eyes off the great commission in order to implement anything or any practice, it is not of God and is indeed a false vision.

When someone offers a new insight in reaching the culture around us, look at the five points of the great commission Jesus gave as our vision and ask two questions:

  1. Does it fulfill the great commission?
  2. Does it take our focus away from the great commission?

 

This is the acid test. Apply the test of Jesus’ great commission to the seeker sensitive movement. In a radio broadcast a caller questioned Robert Schuller about his teaching on avoiding sin or what he calls ‘negative self-image’. His response was telling. First let us look at the doctrine in question. In Schuller’s book, ‘Self-Esteem: The New Reformation’ he makes the following statement:

“The core of original sin, then is LOT — Lack of Trust. Or, it could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a ‘negative self-image,’ but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness. … positive Christianity does not hold to human depravity, but to human inability” (p. 67).

He enforced this thought process in this statement quoted from Time magazine:

I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. (Time, March 18, 1985)

In the seeker sensitive movements, rather than preaching the word that changes our lives, the seeker is taught to be blinded to their own sin. The individual’s spiritual condition remains unchanged, they are just told not to recognize this fact. When questioned on air about these doctrines the man questioning quoted several scriptures that contradicted these teachings. Robert Schuller’s response illustrates the problem with the seeker sensitive movements:

I hope you don’t [preach this] because you could do a lot of damage to a lot of beautiful people. … if you preach that text, oh man, I sure hope you give it the kind of interpretation that I do or, I’ll tell you, you’ll drive them farther away and they’ll be madder than hell at you and they’ll turn the Bible off, and they’ll switch you off, and they’ll turn on the rock music and Madonna. Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean you should preach it.

Schuller went on to emphasize how damaging it is to quote scriptures that harm the self-esteem of those who live contrary to the Bible. In truth, all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable – not damaging to the individual. Schuller is not alone for this thought process is at the core of the seeker sensitive and church growth movements. Robert Schuller boasts that he is the founder of the seeker sensitive and church growth movements – and indeed he is. Schuller mentored Rick Warren and several other big names in this movement. His ‘Hour of Power’ website states:

We are the home of the world’s first Church Growth Institute, -launching the mega-church movement in the 20th century. Tens of thousands of pastors, including famous graduates Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Bishop Blake, Walt Kallestad, and Sundo Kim of Korea, were mentored here. (http://www.hourofpower.org/Jubilee/who_are_we.cfm)  

I underlined two statements in the quote above taken from the radio that are at the root of the problem in the purpose driven perspective. First, it is not our purpose to keep the church environment cozy so that those who are rebelling against scripture are not driven away. Second, we are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God and not just the things people want to hear. Consider this pointed passage from 2 Timothy 4:2-5  

2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The Bible warns that in the last days people will not endure sound doctrine but will gather under teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. We are now living in that time. The seeker sensitive churches are led by the very teachers the scriptures foretold would lead the church into the falling away in the last days. Notice the commands given – Preach the word; convince, rebuke, exhort and endure with patience continuing to teach. You are also commanded to watch so that you recognize the falling away and endure, evangelize and fulfill your ministry. You will be criticized and challenged by those promoting the man-centered gospel. You may not build a megachurch, but you will build a faithful church that will be honored by Christ Himself.

A pastor who is faithful to the call of Christ will have a vision that is a strategic plan to fulfill the vision Jesus gave to the church. Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is compared to being a warrior. In war, the entire military has one main goal and each officer in the military is commissioned to uphold the mission given and to come up with a strategic plan for the area they have been given responsibility. Think for a moment about World War II. What would have happened if each general in the military came up with their own vision and determined a purpose out of their own heart? The military would have been divided and the overall objective would have been impossible. Each branch of service, each general, and each soldier took their direction from one head and even though they were scattered throughout the world, they all worked together to defeat the enemy by completing their orders to fulfill the mission already determined. The church is the same way. The mission or vision of the church was given at the birth of the church and each faithful pastor and elder will seek out ways to fulfill that objective while staying focused on the mission of the church. Any who depart from that vision and call others to follow their own vision has committed mutiny and will be judged accordingly; however, the faithful pastor who follows and upholds the vision of Jesus Christ has the promise of 1 Peter 5:4  

when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

Do not fear losing those in rebellion against God for we are called to make disciples, not gather members. Those whose sights are focused on building the organization have the wrong target in their sights. If your goal is to build the local membership or create a megachurch, you have failed the acid test because the methods of your efforts do not align with the line of sight vision of fulfilling the great commission. If you must take your eyes off the vision Jesus gave, you are following a different vision and are no longer serving God. If you are preaching to keep the tithers happy, you are not fulfilling your ministry. People often serve themselves or serve an organization while falsely assuming that they are serving God. Any method, practice, tool or goal that takes your sights off the vision of fulfilling the great commission is sin and rebellion against God.

You cannot build your kingdom and the Kingdom of Heaven at the same time. Either God adds to the church or you add to the organization falsely called the church. God adds those He is calling and these will respond to the truth if you will preach the word. If you ignore God’s call in order to please those you are calling, you have lost sight of the true vision of Christ. God calls disciples to the church and then commissions us to bring them into spiritual maturity by teaching them the word and teaching them to observe and obey all that has been commanded.

The seeker sensitive movements assumes that we are issuing the call and forgets that no one can come to God unless he is drawn (John 6:44). If you are looking to your own methods or vision to add to the church, the result will be a people that care nothing about the things of God and you will not fulfill your ministry because the members added require you to amuse their interest. As long as you keep the entertainment flowing and gratify their self-centered desires, the so-called seeker will keep coming. God doesn’t call us to build numbers but disciples. This can only be accomplished through study and application of the whole counsel of God.

So there is a true vision of God and there is nothing wrong with applying methods that can relate to the current time in which we live. We can use music, programs, methods and many tools and resources. As long as our sights can remain on the target of fulfilling the God given vision of fulfilling ALL of the great commission, we are effectively serving the Lord in our ministries. Anything that can be brought into the line of sight while we remain focused on the command given to the church by Jesus without drifting from our goal of hitting the target is most likely beneficial to the church. Jesus is the one who gave the church the vision and He alone is our Shepherd. If the pastor and congregation are following Him, we will fulfill our ministry.

The Good Shepherd

The Bible warns of false shepherds that will not spare the flock; however, we who belong to Christ can avoid being trapped in this error by looking to our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. One thing every Christian must realize is that there is only one Good Shepherd. The pastor is not your good shepherd, Jesus alone holds this role. Look at John 10:

14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.

Many will come in their own name and try to lure away the sheep after themselves as we will examine in the next section, but those who belong to Christ will hear His voice and follow His word. Those who belong to Christ will hear His voice and those who have never received Christ cannot hear His voice. Consider this passage from John 8:43-47  

43 “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.  44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.  45 “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  46 “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  47 “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

Why is it that so few people can understand the plain teaching of scripture? While the interpretation of scripture can be plainly understood by even the novice, understanding the spiritual application of scripture is hidden from anyone who does not have the Holy Spirit. When you present the truth of scripture and someone cannot recognize the difference between the truth of scripture and the error of those teaching a man-centered doctrine, the reason is because the Holy Spirit is missing and they are unable to comprehend the difference between truth and error. This is explained in 1 Corinthians 2:

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

When someone cannot receive the scripture and believes that worldly philosophies are good and scripture is damaging, this reveals that the Holy Spirit is not present and that the natural man is evaluating the application of the word. When the natural man of the flesh sees the scriptures, he will call it foolishness and indeed it is foolishness to the flesh for the focus of the natural man is on personal comfort, self-gratification and a life founded on this temporal world with no true faith in the hope of God’s promises. The Bible straightly tells us that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world and the wisdom of  this world is foolishness to God (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 and 1 Corinthians 3:18-20). The wisdom of God and the wisdom of this age are incompatible for one is grounded in this present world and the other is grounded in the eternal promises of God. The flesh and the Spirit can have no unity for they are opposed to each other (Galatians 5:17). Where you invest your life will determine from where you draw wisdom.

Do not be surprised if people reject the scriptures for this will become more and more common as we enter the last days. The one sign given that the last days has indeed arrived is the falling away of the church (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The falling away does indeed separate the true disciple from the follower of religion itself. Consider this passage from John 10:

5 “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Jesus said that His sheep will NOT follow the voice of a stranger but will flee from him. Many who claim to be Christians flee from the word, but the sheep of His pasture follow the Good Shepherd wherever He goes – even if it does not bring immediate comfort. So if we build our churches around insulating the seeker from hearing the scriptures that may offend them, we are starving the sheep that are His and preventing those who would come from hearing the message that will call them to come to Jesus Christ. If we preach the word and people do not receive it, we know these are not His sheep. Look at John 10:25-27  

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.  26 “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.  27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

The reason someone does not believe is because they are not His sheep. In the passage we read a few minutes ago, Jesus asked, “Why can’t you understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” Why couldn’t they listen? God was not their father because they did not receive His word and were not born into His kingdom. Jesus made it clear that unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. While the false prophets are saying that they will ‘teach you how to become a better you’ and that salvation is found in loving yourself, the Bible teaches that you must first die and then be born again. God does not reform the old man corrupted by sin. God crucifies the old man and puts our old nature to death with its sinful passions (2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:3-9). The gift of salvation is a new you. You become a new creation that was created for eternal life.

There is nothing to gain from self-esteem for Jesus said that we must hate our own life in this world (Luke 14:26). The greatest boost in self-esteem you can ever have is dying to your flesh and then living in the confidence that God has created within you a new creation that has the power to conform to the image of Christ. We can have absolute confidence when we know that Jesus is with us until the end leading us into the way He has equipped us to serve and accomplishing His work through us by the Holy Spirit. The old man cannot be transformed; our old nature must be killed and God raises us up in the newness of life. Only when we are a new creation will we have the power to hear His voice and understand His speech.

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