If you’re in leadership in God’s Church, you hear a lot of talk about vision, about how vital it is to have a vision, to be a visionary leader. Search Amazon for books about “church leadership and vision” and you get hundreds and hundreds of titles.
The prophet Ezekiel knew a lot about vision. In this week’s readings in the Daily Lectionary, Ezekiel speaks about how vision needs to come from the Lord and not from the leader. He condemns ungodly leaders who lead not out of a vision they have received from God, but “out of their own imagination” (13:2). He has a hard word against such false leaders: “Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!” (13:3).
But even worse, these leaders who lead out of their own agenda nevertheless believe that God will do what they have come up with! Ezekiel says, “Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled” (13:6).
How like us! We come up with our own plans, our own agendas and then expect God to bless them.
Jeremiah gave a similar word about false shepherds: “They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (23:16). He emphasizes that these ungodly leaders have not prayed, they have not spent time in God’s presence. “But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?” (23:18).
Jeremiah emphasizes that it is in God’s presence, what he calls “the council of the Lord,” that we see God’s vision. It is when we spend time in prayer that we hear his voice and it is this revelation that enables us to serve and to lead others in accordance with his will. It is the time in prayer that makes all the difference, Jeremiah says. “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people” (23:22).
That was Jesus’ way. In John 8:38, Jesus said, “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence.”
There is tremendous power in a God-given vision. But such visions come not from the flesh or from strong personalities. They are born out of seasons of prayer, in which we earnestly seek the Lord and his will for us.
I encourage search committees not to ask clergy candidates, “What is your vision for our church?” That just encourages the idea that vision is really just the personal agenda of the leader. I think a more helpful search process question would be, “In your ministry, how have you led a congregation in discerning God’s vision for the church?”
Let’s be people who walk in such intimacy with our God that we can discern the actions and words and timing which the Lord wills for us to follow.