“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18b, KJV).
Vision is defined as “an experience in which a circumstance or event appears vividly or credibly to the mind, although not actually present, under the influence of a divine or other agency.” Vision occurs for Christians when we allow God to show us our future path. It is sometimes lacking in the life of the contemporary church. As a result we wither and do not live toward our potential. A people without vision perish!
The church needs to carefully discern vision. Brethren believe that vision is best discerned in a corporate context. It must arise from the interactions of the faith community with God. Not all vision is from God. A God-given vision is known by conformity to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament and by the redemption that occurs as a result. Vision that is not of God is often too easily attainable and does not challenge or call forth the development of the fruits of the Spirit, nor the gifts.
Striving toward vision requires many things of us. An individual, a congregation, a district, a denomination, and the wider church need to possess or develop several traits that are necessary to move toward the fulfillment of vision. These are: 1) a willingness to invest in the future, sometimes called risk-taking; 2) a willingness to let go of the past, sometimes called change; 3) a willingness to give up that which is good individually for that which is best for the entire group, sometimes called sacrifice; and 4) a willingness to proceed in a manner that brings the greatest number of persons along, sometimes called patience or long suffering.
We must be willing to invest ourselves and our resources into fulfillment of vision. All that we are and that we have, after all, is God’s. We are merely the stewards for a lifetime. One of the greatest examples of this is found at Camp Bethel. Since the 1920s we have been investing in outdoor ministry. More recently we purchased 246 acres of land adjacent to the existing property. This purchase made possible the doubling of the available land area and prevents the creation of housing tracts that could diminish the serene and peaceful atmosphere so necessary in hearing the voice of God.
Most importantly, however, the guiding vision is to provide a context where the transformation and redemption of human life in Jesus Christ is enhanced and multiplied. Many persons and congregations gave generously toward the initial phase of a vision whose realization will take decades to achieve. This willingness to invest in the future is a selfless act, since most or all of us will not personally benefit. It is both an act of stewardship and an act of vision.
As we know, the various expressions of the church are change-adverse. The gospel brings with it core values that are indeed timeless and fully applicable in every generation. Do faith, hope, and love go out of style? However, the methods by which we reach out to individuals and society do change. They change because our world is ever changing. So much of our church life is characterized by a continuing repetition of attitude, of behavior, and methods that are no longer effective. We must be willing to let go of past ways of doing things in order to reach our generation. This means that we must be willing to experiment, to try the untried, and to go places, both visible and spiritual, where we have never been before.
Vision calls forth sacrifice. Sacrifice entails giving up what is good for the individual or clique, in order that what is best for the whole body might be achieved. Many times we are bound by our selfishness, prejudices, and biases to such an extent that we are not striving to reach those whom God seeks. It has often amazed me that people may feel a call to set-apart ministry and are unwilling to learn, to move, or to grow in order to fully follow the leading of God. But it is not just those who are called to set-apart ministry who are ministers. Each of us must ask ourselves what we must give up to follow God’s call.
The achievement of vision requires a willingness to proceed in a manner that brings the greatest number along. This is sometimes called patience. God has been working at the redemption of the human race for ages. This work began with the first man and woman, continued through the patriarchs, the calling out of a people from Egypt, the establishment of monotheism, the coming forth of the Messiah from the midst of that people, and continues today as the Holy Spirit moves in our midst.
Our society is obsessed with a “drive through” mentality. In our Information Age, we expect immediate instantaneous response and gratification. While God is able to perform wonders and miracles in an instant or a moment, that is not normally the way God works. God is patient.
We must learn patience with God and with one another. There is great truth in the old cliche that “Rome was not built in a day.” How much more so is it true of the Kingdom of God, which is already but not yet? Our task is to be faithful in our generation. We must place our trust not in our own efforts but in the providence, graciousness, and goodness of God.
A people without vision perish! What is our vision? And how do we get there? Great questions for Brethren and Christianity at large, as we move deeper into a new century and a new millennium.
–David Shumate is the moderator of the 2009 Annual Conference, and serves as district executive minister of Virlina District. This devotion opened the meetings of the Standing Committee of district delegates, on Tuesday, June 23.
The News Team for the 2009 Annual Conference includes writers Karen Garrett, Frank Ramirez, Frances Townsend, Melissa Troyer, Rich Troyer; photographers Kay Guyer, Justin Hollenberg, Keith Hollenberg, Glenn Riegel, Ken Wenger; staff Becky Ullom and Amy Heckert. Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, editor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.