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Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're Gonna Do What???

Over the last month or so, imagine/Northampton has been working through what we're calling Visionation: I've been immersed in that, both at the front-end, and in the process. It has been a substantially more arduous task than I expected, sometimes bewilderingly so. I guess I'm still a rookie at this.

Those of you who know me well, know I am most alive in trying to pursue a heart-mesmerizing vision, one chock full of promise and worth, especially when it furthers the Kingdom in a creative and compelling way. I naturally live there and am repeatedly inspired around people who throw their lot in as well. My imagination juices surge; my mind comes fully alive, and my heart strains toward what could be, if only . . .

Truth be told, I'm not much good for anything else.

The fully-realized potential of imagine/Northampton's vision of building Kingdom-focused communities where we creatively engage the culture to help people discover and follow the God who is far more than they imagine aims me toward striving ardently to realize it on my watch. I see it in my minds-eye. I pray it when I walk. I reach for it when confusion and darkness impedes my view. I long to see real life spring from what began as a inchoate nudging in Simsbury almost 5 years ago.

But, lest you think from the paragraph above that I'm merely pursuing some ersatz monument to inflated human pride, rest assured Jesus commands the center off my passion. I want him seen and known by how we live, what we care for, and what we give our lives to as imagine/Northampton. He needs to increase as we follow him through love and service in his Name.

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago,  communicating the vision has been much tougher than I thought it would be. It's one thing to have a picture in your head and a concept grabbing your attention like my granddaughter, Maddie, grabbing your face. It's quite another to get others to see it with the same fire and acuity you do, including people who are on-board from their hearts. Ideas and dreams need time to settle in for more than a meeting or two. 

So here's what I'm coming to understand regarding this vision business.

1. God-sized visions scare most people. Because they are only possible by his power, they just look impossible, more than can be handled, impractical, overwhelming, unrealistic and way more than anyone thinks possible at the time. By their nature, they require Kingdom-sized faith, guts, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity and grace which can only be called amazing in the end. The Holy Spirit needs to open and lead the way as we all follow behind. Also, while people like variety, even a new challenge from time-to-time, they don't want to feel they're going to be chasing after the wind. When it looks too big, it seems to big. When it seems too big, it is accepted as just too big, and people wilt. 

2. Vision has the task of inspiring a convinced willingness to risk much, even everything for what is worth more than everything risked. Without the habit of faith-infused risk, things imperceptibly settle into management of the manageable, predictable, and routine. 

"VISION is to PURPOSE as HOPE is to STRIVING. Vision DEFINES purpose; hope ANIMATES its heart."
 People truly inspired by a vision God has given them are steeled by the hope God will help them create and do what he's asked of them, i.e., his heart is in what he has summoned them to. It is God's character and initiative which gathers their trust and fuels their striving.

3. Vision illuminates what could be better, even worthy of wonder. For people graciously inflamed with God's Kingdom reign and mission, the future holds the possibility of the sick being healed, the poor being clothed, fed and set on their feet, the oppressed being freed, the voiceless finding an advocate, the defenseless being defended, the weak being protected, and the lost being found. They see ways of bringing life into death and hope into despair. While there will always be suffering, strife, and sorrow until Jesus returns to set everything to right, in the meantime, his grace can be generously offered to calm a storm and unlock the afflicted, giving them a hope and a life.  

4. Vision well-conceived and clearly said entices people to seek their place in a compelling movement or cause. There is a joint hill to climb, a battle to fight, a wrong to right - all riveting enough to galvanize their time and money and talent, even blood, sweat and tears. The task or mission ennobles them and helps everyone feel they are making a real difference in something grander and more important than all of them. Such people contribute the means to make it happen, however large or small. The question animating them is "What if we really could do this?" God has put a spark in the human soul which ignites when it locates its purpose in the right, true, freeing and beautiful. One of life's greatest pleasures is being able to say "I helped make that happen," especially when the "that" actually changed people's lives for the better. God -breathed visions unfetter motivation.

5. Over time, vision can cool and fade.  I remember hearing Andy Stanley say "vision leaks." It sure does. What seems so compelling by some isn't embraced or remembered by others. I've known very few people in my life who spent much time prayerfully pondering what each word of a vision implied so they could intelligently take responsibility for seeing it realized in and through them. In other words, it functioned as a personal mandate, a persisting reference point and gut check. For most, intriguing visions seem to have genuine buzz initially, and then fade quietly into the background as the details of life overtake their days or the visionary gets lost in the weeds. I have to say I've been guilty of letting the weeds choke out the vision. As Paul Simon once wrote in a lyric, I've had "a short, little attention span," even when I felt deep loyalty to an idea or mission. Life can glitter and sparkle from a thousand paths.
6. Visionary leaders must be courageous and resilient. I am convinced it's the responsibility of visionary leaders to keep the vision flaming at the forefront of its execution at any given point in time, almost like a standard or rallying point:
  • always reminding people of why we gather and strive at all; 
  • challenging them, young and old, to step up and keep the focus on the mission actualizing the vision; 
  • checking the all-too human impulse to head down rabbit trails or amble off into sparkling distractions; 
  • keeping fear at bay when the going gets tough, squabbles escalate, resources are few, and the way forward seems impenetrable so people lose heart. 
Such leaders are keepers of the flame when time and tide subverts the life. These folks help people see what could be as if it's truly reachable. They help all of us look beyond the comfortable ordinary and safe into hints of Kingdom life which actually frees, and love which actually heals. Visionaries may be dreamers, but dreamers after God's heart tap into a Reality for which the entire Creation groans.

Vision in the hands and hearts of the courageous helps everyone become resilient in the face of disappointments, delays and setbacks. When malaise smothers enthusiasm like a fog, courageous leaders stay at the helm, calling people forward, keeping hope stirred, and drawing from people what they thought they couldn't give. 

7. What visionary leaders see, and the future they are transfixed by needs to be shown as possible before anyone will really come aboard.

People who have to live with visionaries need to recognize that for these folks "why not?" and "Who says we can't?" are normal for them. They dwell in possibility. They make their home in what could be and what must be- in the liminal state between what is and what could be.  The status quo is a wasteland for them when the status quo is easily settled for. Visionaries aim for the stars in hopes of finding transcendent value. Christian visionaries long for the Kingdom to come in ways that are dazzling and wondrous because living death is pushed back. injustice is slapped down, human pride and greed are put in their place.

If you want to peer into the heart of Jesus's redemptive dreamers you'll find love: love of God and love of others, especially the unloved, the unlovely and the unlovable far from him. Such Christian visionaries who are yoked to Christ, and desire for him to be glorified in the vision - to be seen, exalted and followed. Therefore, they will tirelessly help people see what they see and work diligently to realize it. They will paint a picture that the vision can be fulfilled because God is in it, and then throw themselves into leading the way toward achieving it.

I've found if others can see it and believe God is in it, they will help, some sacrificially so. They trust God and the man or woman leading the way. When that happens the world gets changed by the Kingdom for which it waits. 
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