To be clear, I have nothing against Theresa May or the Conservative Party. It just seems they have become dull.
That’s not the case for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. In an astonishing reversal of fortunes, the momentum in British politics is now with Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has stolen the hearts of a generation of young voters here in the UK, with his big ideal “for the many, not the few”, and his grand vision of a fairer society. Positive outlook combined with elegant rhetoric have made something which has been around for generations (socialism) suddenly look like a shiny new thing we all want. Ideas that may in the end prove impractical, un-implementable, even dangerous, are capturing people’s imagination.
At least Jeremy Corbyn believes in SOMETHING — and he’s excited about it!
In contrast, the “strong and stable” Conservatives appear dull and grey. It’s fine to be strong and stable, but that doesn’t ignite people’s imagination. That needs ambition, boldness and, most of all, vision.
Which makes me think …
To what extent do we as churches communicate a vision to those around us – firstly inside the church, and secondly outside the church? Are we excited by what our church is doing in our community? Do we know how to explain that? Do we actually have a vision? Or are we so immersed in the grind of “keeping church going” that we have become unimaginative, anxious, and worst of all, boring?
Does your church have a vision? Really? Most often I think we fall into one of the following camps. Either:
- We don’t have a vision and we’re too busy to talk about it.
- We do have a vision – it’s a catchy phrase on the website — we pretty much ignore it.
- We do have a vision — it’s a Bible verse on the wall. We all agree with it (especially if Jesus said it), but we don’t know what to do about it.
- We’re scared of visions because it means something round here is going to change.
Of course none of these is a vision that anyone will care about (even you after a few weeks). Again, I’m not the one to criticise. I have been in churches where all of the above apply.
Too often our churches run in “maintenance mode”. We’re so busy running stuff we don’t stop to ask why we’re doing it. We think we know why we run coffee mornings, toddler groups, messy churches, and the rest but do we agree on their objectives? And what does it mean for the mission of our church? Usually nobody remembers why these groups were started in the first place: “we’ve always done it this way”.
What might a vision look like?
Pie in the sky when you die?
To be sure, we have an eschatological vision – looking forward to the end times – mainly because God took the trouble to write it down for us in the book of Revelation. This is of course fundamental, and it’s not pie in the sky. The fulfilment of the Kingdom of Heaven and the hope of eternal life is enthralling, comforting, even astonishing. But it can’t be the only idea we as churches have to offer. As the charity Christian Aid aptly say “we believe in life before death”. What are we doing here and now? For some Christians we are so concerned about getting into the kingdom we have forgotten about building the kingdom.
Moreover, an eschatological vision is not something that the average guy on the street relates to. They’re looking for something immediate, tangible, believable. Or as someone once said to me “… thanks mate, but I’d rather have steak on a plate while I wait”.
I found that hard to answer.
As someone said to me … ‘Thanks mate but I’d rather have steak on a plate while I wait’
Even ISIS have a vision. Their aims of imposing Islam by any means including Jihad is brilliantly portrayed by compelling videos. And it works. Thousands of young people looking for a cause will give up livelihood and security to become a minor cog in the wheel of something greater.
Steak on a plate while you wait!
If I was to pick a moment when Jesus, deliberately and succinctly announced his vision, it might be Luke 4:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Wow! This is great! I’m excited every time I read it. But Jesus didn’t leave it there (that would just be the catchy line on the website). He rolled this vision out on many occasions, translating it into what it actually meant for his audience. So for example, what did it mean for the blind and the sick? What did it mean for those who followed? What did it mean for the Pharisees and hypocrites? And of course what did it mean for him as a man of 33 explaining the Passover. Importantly he spoke much more about present life than eternal life. Re-stating and translating his vision for whatever he did, and whoever he was with was inherent to his ministry.
Overhauling the engines mid-flight
In the church where I work we are just developing a vision after several months of searching. Nothing very surprising, there’s no rocket science. We ended up with statements around growing disciples, re-creating community, and reaching neighbours. That was the easy bit. Now we have to ask what does it mean to work this out?
And it’s hard. Definitely a case of overhauling the engines mid-flight. To me our vision seems buried in the agendas of our meetings, underneath a pile of ‘really important stuff’, (that’s the maintenance). Just drawing attention to it, and communicating it to light up people’s imagination is a mammoth task, let alone testing and of course implementing it. I guess you can ask me in a year if we parked it on the website and forgot about it … I hope not!
To me our vision seems buried in the agendas of our meetings, underneath a pile of ‘really important stuff’
Maybe your church is too small to develop a vision? Well churches together could have a vision together — more than just the odd joint service. Even a coalition of chaos can have a vision!
Don’t get me wrong, apart from his initials I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn has much in common with our Lord. But at least Jeremy Corbyn believes in SOMETHING and he’s excited about it. Aside from going to heaven, do people in our churches really know what we stand for – and are we excited about it?