How to Become a Visionary Church Leader

Posted by Aaron Buer on May 5, 2022

Vision is the subject of many leadership books,  podcasts,  and conferences. How do you…you know…actually lead with vision?  Vision just seems like one of those things that’s hard to define and even harder to implement.  So, practically speaking, how do we lead with vision? 

Stated simply, it feels like this:

This is where we are going and how we’ll get there.  

But how do you actually do that?  I have a few ideas.

 

Define Your Personal Vision

The most effective leaders know what they are about.  They know their passions and they know where they’re headed.  In short, they have figured out the personal vision for their life.  

The first step in leading with vision is defining your personal vision.  How do you do this?  Reflection and self-discovery.  Taking time to do this hard inner work will get you moving in the right direction.  Reflect on these four questions:  

  1. What breaks your heart?  
  2. What keeps you up at night?
  3. What do you get excited about?  
  4. What could you talk about for hours and hours?  

If you’re having trouble answering these questions yourself, invite a few friends, your spouse or co-workers.  It’s likely obvious to everyone else.  

What is it that you were created to do?  What is your personal mission?  Leading with vision begins with clarity around your own passions and drivers. 

 

Collaborate Over Your Vision

It starts with self-discovery but if you are a leader, vision must become collaborative.  I believe that the best way to create organizational vision for your church is to collaborate in the creation of that vision.  What we’re talking about here is a “together” vision.  When this vision is built collaboratively, buy-in is automatic.   

I would suggest that a key aspect to leading with vision is inviting others to help create the vision.  When this happens, key stakeholders will help you drive the vision.  If you want to move in this direction, gather your key staff for a day and seek to answer only one question: 

If we do what God is calling us to do, how will the world be different?

Stated another way:  

If our church didn’t exist, what would our community be missing?

The answers to these questions will lead you to your collaborative vision.  

 

Champion Your Vision

Sometimes the problem isn’t a lack of clarity around vision.  Often, the problem is lack of movement toward the vision.  

There’s an off-site meeting where you create a compelling vision and everyone is excited.  Fast forward two months and no one can remember the vision statement and everyone has returned to old patterns of behavior.   Why?  No one championed the vision.  

In order for vision to be transformative in a church, someone has to carry the banner.  Someone has to be the vision champion. 

In our church we often talk about operationalizing our values and our vision.  That’s just a fancy way of saying, “How are we going to implement this vision?”  We get very specific and designate a leader to champion the process.  

For those of you who have achieved clarity on what the vision is but are struggling to create momentum toward implementing the vision, it may be time to designate a vision champion—someone who takes the vision into every conversation.  

A Roadmap to Your Vision

Maybe you have a clear vision and even someone who champions that vision.  They never stop talking about it!  And yet, you’re still struggling to make progress.  If this is you, then it’s time to talk about strategy.  

Strategy is a fancy word to describe “how.”  I like to think of strategy like a map.  The map tells you how to get to your destination.  

If you’re having trouble moving toward your vision then it’s time to make a map.  

If I could be a little vulnerable, this is often where I get stuck as a visionary leader.  I can imagine the future.  I can get people excited about the vision of where we are going, but I struggle in the implementation.  I often need outside help in creating the strategic map.  

Perhaps the best advice I can offer here is to break things down into simple steps.  Here’s an example from our student ministry.  I no longer lead this ministry, but I helped create the vision and strategy.  

Our vision is students who are committed Jesus followers as young adults.  

Here’s our strategy, also known as our map:  

  • Life-changing truth (We constantly point students to God’s Truth in the Bible)
  • Life-changing relationships (Every student needs a peer community and a spiritual mentor)
  • Life-changing experiences  (Our retreats, camps, and serving trips should be milestone events in the spiritual development of our students)

If our students are engaging in life-changing truth, relationships, and experiences, we’ve got a great shot at accomplishing our vision.  It’s pretty simple.  

If you’re struggling with making progress toward your vision, it might be time to develop a roadmap.  

 

Wrap Up

So, how do you lead with vision?  Here’s a recap of my 4 ideas:  

  1. Spend some time defining your personal vision.  What did God lead you to do?  
  2. Collaborate with other key players over the vision for your church or organization
  3. Designate a champion who can drive vision
  4. Create a clear roadmap to help you make progress toward your vision.

Leading with vision is not complicated, but it is difficult.  It takes tenacity and persistence, but it’s incredibly necessary and rewarding. 

Topics: Advice

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