What about vision casting? Isn’t it a basic premise of “good church leadership?” Isn’t that what you are supposed to do to get people to follow you and submit to your leadership–where you think God wants to “take them” or “where God wants to take the church”? Well, the scriptures never use the phrase. It’s inferred from Proverbs 29:18 and Habakkuk 2:2 – that’s it. That’s all there is. “Casting a vision for people to follow” is one of the biggest myths and sacred cows ever foisted on the body of Christ. What might be acceptable on Madison Avenue, is not acceptable in Jesus’ kingdom.
The case is made at best from Old Testament, Mosaic, leadership models (which we have addressed elsewhere as inadequate for the new order in the new covenant) and an inference from Proverbs 29:18 and Habakkuk 2:2. Proverbs 29:18 says the people perish from a lack of vision. The alleged implication is that good leaders provide vision, or envision their people. In Habakkuk 2:2, it is alleged that good leaders are to “make the vision plain,” implying that the alleged “set-man’s” vision must be clearly and strongly presented so every one can “align with it.”
In application it goes like this:
God’s governmental order is the envisioning of his leaders and the submission of the people to their envisioned leader. As your leader, God has given me the vision and direction for this house of God, and your lives in God in it, as the people of God. Now, if you are really a son of my heart and a son of this house and submit to the house vision, you will, or we expect you to, or we hope you will, give your time, talent, and treasure, to fulfill the vision God has given me.” In fact, if you do not learn to submit to me as your leader, God will never give you your own ministry. You must learn to be faithful in that which is another’s (conveniently, mine) before you can have your own. If you don’t do this, all your ministry for Jesus will be illegitimate, unsanctioned by heaven and this local church. Your works will be burned up at the judgment seat. You will be operating in a rogue spirit, an Absalom spirit, or a Jezebel spirit, as you obviously have a problem submitting to authority.
Variations on this theme are abundant. Let’s see if this holds up under closer scrutiny.
Without vision the people perish. (KJV)
There are two problems with the common interpretation and application of this verse:
- Importing western value systems into the text.
- Preaching it out of context. The second half of the verse is rarely mentioned in leadership forums. For some folks, context doesn’t matter. Whatever God “speaks” to them is all that matters. That is a corrupt and commonly practiced paradigm that abuses and distorts the scripture. Context matters!
Projecting western cultural and leadership values onto the biblical text gives it a meaning that has no basis in exegetical reality. The verse has nothing to do with esoteric visions, inspirations, projects, and goals of an executive leader.
The passage refers to spiritual and prophetic insight into the Word of God, specifically the Torah, as the second half of the verse contextually makes clear. God’s people perish not from failure to submit to a leader’s dreams of kingdom accomplishments but rather from failure to have spiritual and prophetic insight into the scriptures! The lack of restraint refers to living apart from the constraints of God’s moral law as revealed by prophetic insight through the prophets,[i] not by refusing to give one’s self to the vision of the house! The former is legitimate and makes total sense; the latter is a modern imagination.
Christ and Him crucified and equipping the saints is the vision of the New Covenant era! A “visionary” leader is not one who necessarily sees and accomplishes great things to be admired by man. That which is highly esteemed by man is an abomination to God. Shoot, you don’t need the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things. You can do it with a winsome and warm personality, the skills of a used car salesman, the passion of a teary-eyed evangelist, pictures of a few starving children, and graduation certificates from Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins.
Make the vision plain upon tables that he may run that readeth it. (KJV)
Isn’t part of being a leader being visionary, making the vision plain? Well, again, this is not a leadership verse. The context (YES, CONTEXT MATTERS) has to do with the Lord answering Habakkuk’s specific prayer concerning the nature of injustice. The vision the prophet receives is of the Messianic Age when God will finally defeat His enemies and restore righteousness and justice in the earth.
Now, if being a visionary leader means making Messiah (Christ), His ultimate victory, and His kingdom rule plain before all, then I agree! I want to be a visionary leader! However, most who consider themselves visionary or revelatory don’t read the verse as make the vision plain, they read it as make the vision.
The vision has already been made for us. It is Christ and Him crucified. The leader’s job is to make Him plain, not put forward his or her grand dreams with which subordinates must comply. If being visionary means having lots of grand and great ideas, plans and dreams to accomplish “for God” if the necessary troops will just submit to it (and keep the tithe and offering flowing), you will have to look elsewhere for a justifying scripture. This one doesn’t do it. The annoying detail of so many “visionary” dreams is that they usually have the delightful side effect of making our kingdom great as well as the Lord’s, maybe even greater.
Allegedly having great “revelations” (a poor choice of words for alleged insights) does not make someone apostolic. To be biblical, whatever we think we understand or “see,” must have an object: Christ and Him crucified. Being “apostolic” and “visionary” is about seeing Him clearly, and from that sight, facilitating sight in others.[ii] Even the eighth-century Irish monk, Dallan Forgaill, understood this when he wrote (verses one and four):
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
Folks, Christ and Him crucified is the vision.
Now, there is nothing wrong with mutually cooperating with others, voluntarily, to help someone accomplish a large assignment: smallness is not necessarily holy, and largeness is not necessarily success. However, it is not legitimate to require people to do so in submission to a misguided and dubious principle of biblical leadership! It is also illegitimate to spiritually, psychologically, or socially marginalize folks who will not “sign the covenant pledge to support leadership vision,” or who do not want to be “a spiritual son or daughter,” or do not share the passion for the “house vision.”
How can you tell if you are in an abusive leadership situation, disguised as submission to authority, so-called covering (a concept with no scriptural justification), and the so-called “set man’s” vision? Practice a powerful tool God has given you: say no. That’s it—not in a bad spirit or defiance and not concerning core apostolic doctrine or overt sin, but in all other areas, politely and firmly say no when it is authentic to say no. Be real. Be who you are. Be what God has made you to be. Tell a leader no sometime and watch how he or she responds to you. If you feel the icy flow of withdrawal, separation, and suspicion come upon you, get out of Dodge before the sun hits the horizon. If on the other hand you are respected, dignified, and perhaps engaged in further dialogue, you may have found a healthy local church home.
One of the most liberating things I ever did as a local church pastor was give people under my care the explicit, articulated, right to tell me no, and the right to disagree with me. It was remarkable to watch the effect it had.
It was not jailbreak of the carnal unsubmitted as many of my more authoritarian friends dread as an inevitability. Rather, gospel liberty and genuine identity in Christ emerged from years of suppression under authoritarian, rigid, and legal styles of leadership. Peace, harmony, unity, oneness, and yes, order resulted. Some with literally decades of experience in the church were shocked that it was actually “all right” to tell me no. Of course it is all right! I am a fellow pilgrim, trying to care for their souls, not their God! The reason the result was so positive is because I was not there trying to implement “the vision God gave me” but rather to release people into the vision God gave them. People intuitively know when you are genuinely “for them.” It is amazing how conflict subsides and order sets in when liberty and personal dignity instead of government and authority are preached and practiced. The former is the kingdom norm; the latter is for crisis.
This blog is an excerpt from the book: Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement by Dr. Stephen R. Crosby
[i] Gill, John, Exposition of the Entire Bible, E-Sword. Any other commentary will indicate the same.
[ii] Paul’s apostolic mandate was to enable others to see (Ephesians 3:8-11).
Copyright 2014. Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.stevecrosby.org. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.