2 of 6 Proofs of a Healthy Church

Growing up I helped my Dad prepare for the planting season. My job was to till the garden. My Dad believed tilling was one of the most important steps to cultivating a healthy crop. It helped prepare the soil, get rid of leftovers from last season, and uncover pesty rocks. As much as I loved helping my Dad, it was more work for him. Tilling makes the rows straight, and I couldn’t get it right. The tiller was as big as me, and out weighed me by 20 pounds. It was impossible, until my Dad helped me fix my gaze.

“Son, fix your eyes on a distant object straight in from of you. Forget the tiller, just walk it toward your gaze.”

To my surprise line after line was straight. The tiller did the work. I was the guide.

Casting vision is like tilling. For a church to produce a healthy crop it needs to fix its gaze straight ahead on God’s desires. If the church’s gaze is fixed on God its works, plans, and service will be exceedingly and abundantly more than it could image.

Recently we discussed, life transformation, one proof of healthy church. This week we will discuss the importance of casting vision within the church and surrounding community. Lets look deeper into the proof of vision casting.

Vision Casting (Acts 2:17)
Vision should leak out of everything the church says and does. Ultimately, any church’s vision should point back to God’s ultimate purpose. God desires people to enjoy him and constantly express his greatness. The process of casting vision is prayerfully forming a mental image in order to express God’s direction, plan, and guidance. Vision casting is important because is provides the Church with a sense of God’s direction for a specific time, place, and reason.

How can you align your Church with God’s vision?

Byproduct of Vision Casting
A Clear Philosophy of Ministry Strategic Implementation of Activities that Express the Vision
Preaching that Expresses the Vision Ministries that Purposefully Align to the Vision
Core Values that Align to the Vision A System of Monitoring / Checks and Balances the Activities of the Church for Vision Alignment.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Kevin Glenn, the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Las Cruses New Mexico. Calvary has gone through a significant transformation. Here is how casting vision helped them gain momentum in their pursuit of becoming a healthier church.

Remember, the principles found in these answers are contextual. They are not meant to be copied. Each church must answer these questions with there context in mind to better assess their church’s health.

How is the vision expressed through the church’s philosophy of ministry?
It is important for a church’s vision to be described in terms that are memorable, portable, simple, and applicable. This allows the vision to be communicated efficiently, while being unpacked systematically. If your vision statement can’t be memorized quickly and shared in an elevator, it’s too complicated. If it doesn’t contain enough content to unpack over a sermon series, then it’s too simplistic.

Calvary’s vision statement is very simple. To be “A People and Place of GRACE.” The statement represents our commitment to the Great Commission, our core values, our philosophy of ministry, and our strategy for putting shoe leather on the vision.

Calvary has undergone a significant change in its philosophy of ministry over the past 18 months. We are intentional about being a faithful presence of God’s love in our time and place. This represents an incarnational philosophy of ministry (in contrast to one of fortification, domination, or assimilation). Being a people and place of GRACE can only be embodied when followers of Jesus show up in the culture to encounter and engage people with the Gospel. This means going to where people are, listening to their story, actively loving them where they are, earning the right to be heard, and faithfully sharing the Gospel in both word and deed.

How do the sermons reflect the church’s vision?
It is so important that pastors and church leaders make the vision crystal clear in their own minds before communicating the vision to others. Howard Hendricks said, “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it will be a fog in the pew.” I think he was correct. In my own coaching with leaders, vision is often communicated before it has been thought through, clarified, and simplified in the leader’s own mind.

Once such clarity is accomplished, however, the vision can, and I think should be implicitly and explicitly reflected in every sermon. If the vision is one reflected in scripture, then it stands to reason that the visions can be tied in to the sermon through the exegesis of the text itself, through illustration, or in the application of the text to the real-time life of the church as individuals and as a Body.

How do the church’s core values express the vision?
You’ll notice that the word “GRACE” is in all caps. This is because the word reflects the heart of our approach, as well as the values at the core of how we “do” GRACE at Calvary.

G – Get Acquainted – expresses our value of radical hospitality, as defined in Romans 12:10-13. In this passage, the word hospitality (philoxenia) combines phileo (family love) with xenos, (stranger). Calvary takes seriously Jesus’ loving us enough to meet us wherever we are, and loving us too much to let us stay there.

R – Respond to Christ – expresses the value of seeing that a clear decision to follow Jesus is provided to everyone. Of course, we celebrate first steps, when someone responds to the grace of Jesus in salvation, but we also place a high value on next steps; when followers of Jesus move toward maturity, and further formation of their faith.

A – Acquire Wisdom – expresses our value toward God’s Word, and its role as our authority for faith and practice. We believe knowing the Word is incomplete unless or until such knowledge is applied. Wisdom teaches us this skill. Acquiring wisdom is all about learning to think, believe, and behave in the real world by integrating the truth of God’s Word to the big and small decisions we face every day.

C – Connect with culture – expresses the value we have for the people with whom and spaces wherein God has placed us. We take seriously Jesus’ prayer in John 17 where he sends his disciples to be in while not being of the world. We also adopt Paul’s approach in Acts 17 where he understands, engages, and is present to share Christ in Athens. Finally, we are committed to seeking the Shaloam of our city, as Jeremiah instructs Israel to do in Jeremiah 29, understanding that as we work for the common good of the people around us, we do the work of cultivating the ground for seeds of the gospel to be planted and bear fruit. We take very seriously the call for followers of Jesus to be culture-makers in ways that resonate with the image of God in people, while also defying the tragic and destructive cultural messages of sin and death.

E-Engage in Ministry – expresses our value for the gifts, abilities, experiences, and skills God has given each member of his Body. At Calvary, every Christian is “called” to ministry, not just staff. The pastoral staff are seen as trainers and coaches, taking to heart Ephesians 4, where pastors are called to equip God’s people for works of service.

How is the church strategically expressing the vision?
Each area of our vision (each letter of GRACE) Calvary is aligning current ministries and developing new ministries that train interested people to engage in ministry in that specific area. Since this vision is only 18 months old, we are still largely in the equipping stage, although some ministries have already been launched.

How are ministries shaped and guided by the church’s vision?
Each ministry department, ministry team, ministry and missions endeavor are evaluated in terms of how they embody and carry forward the vision in whole or in part. For example, we have a huge community wide Fall Festival on October 31 each year. While it’s always been a success, the past two years have been more focused, as our folks saw the event in terms of the “Get Acquainted” part of our vision. They were more intentional in their efforts to interact with the community and saw what we were doing as an extension of hospitality, rather than just filling a calendar date with an event. This same approach is now used to help clarify the purpose, intent, goal, planning, and results of ministries. This provides a strong “why” that motivates the “what.”

How is the activity of the church monitored (checks and balances) to ensure the vision is expressed?
It begins with the leadership. Elders and staff at Calvary support the vision and have aligned their ministries to carry the vision forward. They each align, oversee, evaluate and course correct current ministries to the vision, as well as insure that new ministries are created that run in tandem with Calvary’s vision. Most of this is through sharing the vision with folks unfamiliar with it, and at times discontinuing existing ministries or saying no to ideas that might be good, but would not move the vision forward.

When vision is clear, church leaders must guard against distraction and dilution. This requires learning to say no to anything, even a good thing, which would dilute or distract from the vision.

Calvary’s momentum is unique to their context. Embracing the need to cast vision will look different for each church, but the byproducts will share common distinctives. Calvary fixes their gaze on God’s vision for the  church and community and they are seeing His greatness revealed. This is not unique. Every church can become healthy. Vision casting is a vital part.

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