I have seen it; you have, too. We have seen someone's vision, as it plays out in life. I saw it last week on three different fronts. In one case, it was an old vision. In a second case, it was a new vision. In another case, it was a growing vision. Please let me explain.
In one case, as I wrote a few weeks ago, I was invited to preach at a traditonal church. It was the close to a month of missionary emphasis. I remember the church from years gone by. I remembered, as I sat there, the original vision of the founders of the church. The church was to have a particular focus; it was to reach a particular population segment of the city. That was way back in the late '80's and early '90's of last century. What happened? Did they accomplish their vision? They did not. The church began well, in terms of reaching its target group; but it has not continued well. More about that in a moment.
Last Sunday we snuck away to another church. It was amazing to see God at work. The founders of that church had a vision. The pastor had a vision, too. It was a continuation of the vision of the founders. The associate pastors had a vision. The laity involved in the nuts and bolts operation of the church also had a vision. And it moved forward, flourished, changed with the times, yet maintained its original concept. They actually tried to transplant this church's vision in other parts of the world. One of the original "visioneers" admitted that their attempts were not well-received.
During the week I had the privilege of attending the opening day of a local seminary. It's a new seminary. The truth is, I think many would call it a Bible institute; but that's not the point. The rector of this seminary pointed out their vision. Since the seminary is new, we can assume the vision is relatively new, too. At the present, the participants, both faculty and students, are pumped. And the seminary is operating according to the vision the rector proclaimed.
In each case, there was a vision in place. In one case, the original vision could not even be seen. In another, the original vision was in place, yet modified to accomodate the hour. In the third case, the jury is still out.
There is someting important that stands out to me: carrying out a vision is hard work! The first church I mentioned did not lose its vision; it was just too hard to continue that vision. It was easier to allow the vision to quietly disappear and to allow the church to become whatever it could become. When the founders left, instead of seeking like-minded leadership, those present accepted whatever came along (don't take that in terms of doctrine, only in terms of vision). So the original vision eventually died. As in the case of the Hebrews in Egypt, "There arose a pharaoh who did not know Joseph." When one visits that church now, aside from its location, there is no evidence of the original vision. They do not reach the original target population segment. They are so far-removed from that original target group, that only a miraculous move of God would make it possible.
In the second case, the founders' orginal vision is still operating, but growing. The pastors have worked hard to continue the vision, but with the proper adjustments to be able to communicate the vision in today's realities. This church is actually older than the first church I mentioned. Yet it is far more vibrant, looks and feels less tradtional, and has an influence that reaches far and wide. They keep things simple, yet they work very hard to keep things flowing (in accordance with the Holy Spirit's presence, as well as their vision).
Something else is obvious to me: when vision is not communicated often and in the simplest of terms, it tends to degenerate. Look at today's church. Everywhere we turn, someone is lamenting today's church. Someone bemoans the fact that today's church doesn look anything like what they believe the church looked in the days of the Apostles. In other words, the original vision degenerated and something else took its place.
Someone once told me that such programs as Evangelism Explosion or Continuing Witness Training have a life of three generations. They degrade after the second one. Why would that be? Answer: the workers tend to fail to communicate the original vision. I think that is one reason why "new" programs are invented.
We are speaking a lot on different blogs about simplifying the church. That's fine. I won't argue that point either way. I will say this: whatever form the church takes, if it is to be effective, the church's vision should be simple, communicated simply, and the leaders must work hard to ensure that all they do fits within that vision.