The church down through history has been blessed with men of vision; men who can discern great needs and great opportunities; men who through faith and hard work find solutions to hard problems. The need for such men still exists today; in fact it is greater than ever before, for a number of reasons.
The Great Need for Men of Vision
First, as days grow darker spiritually and morally, the need for clear minded leadership increases. People have lost their way and the true church knows the Light of the world and the way back to God. But God’s love and truth cannot be locked up in mothballs, in outdated forms and methods that have long ago lost touch with the real world. The Lord Himself warned His disciples about this danger when He described a servant who wrapped what had been entrusted to him in a napkin and buried it in the ground. (Luke 19:20 KJV). No, God’s truth and it’s bearers must, like the Lord Jesus, come to the people and reach out to them where they are, and in a way they can receive. This in turn requires the church to be among other things, a center for training and equipping messengers, all of which requires thoughtful, creative design. For this, we need men of vision.
Second, true spiritual vision comes only from intimate communion with the Lord through spending time in His Word and in prayer. Busy schedules, computers, and “emergencies” have a way of stealing away precious quiet time with the Lord. One hears much of preachers, teachers and administrators in the church today, but leaders with spiritual discernment and vision for the work of God are not common. As a Gentleman, the Lord does not shout over the competition.
Third, because of misuse, many are fearful of the word “vision.” How many times have I heard Prov. 29:18 (“Where there is no vision, the people perish….”) reduced to something like, “Where people don’t have a Bible, they stumble…”? Now that is true, and many other Scriptures tell us that, but is that all that is meant by this verse?
In any case, the way to correct misuse of a word is not to abandon it, but to use it correctly. Our English words “provide” and “provision” speak of seeing needs in advance, and making timely arrangements to address them. Where no one leads or anticipates the needs of God’s flock, both people and churches suffer. History is filled with examples. We need men of this kind of vision.
The Nature of Vision
A growing local church will constantly face new challenges arising from the needs of people being added to the fellowship. The early church experienced this as described in Acts chapter 6. Luke supplies an important context: “…when the number of the disciples was multiplied……”(Acts 6:1).
Sadly, however, many church leaders and elders are uncomfortable with the changes growth can bring. They are much more inclined to adopt the role of the maintainer than of the innovator. One con- firms our present level of comfort; the other challenges it. Life has enough storms, why rock the boat?
Now if it were simply a matter of how best to keep the peace, I wouldn’t pursue the subject. But the failure to anticipate and provide for the needs of the church and its people, much less discern that those needs exist, has been responsible for the slow decline of many a work for God. Indeed, some Christian leaders act as if the challenge of spiritual warfare is to make sure there isn’t any, which is best accomplished by keeping the peace with the foe. But this cannot be right.
An Old Testament Example:
King David and the Temple Let’s consider an example of spiritual vision from the Old Testament and then suggest some applications for elders and Christian leaders today.
In II Sam. 7, David shares some early thoughts about a permanent resting place for the ark of the Lord with his friend Nathan the prophet. Nathan’s simple answer gives David the encouragement to move ahead: “Go, do all that is in thine heart, for the Lord is with thee” (vs. 3). This of course led to the creation of detailed plans, the gathering of materials, and eventually the actual construction of the temple by Solomon his son.
Years later, speaking at the dedication of the new temple, Solomon reveals an interesting insight not given to us in the II Samuel account. “And the LORD said unto David my father, ‘Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart.’ ” (I Kings 8:18). Several points are worth noting:
1) The Lord did not suggest the idea of a temple and provide the plan for David as He had done with the building of the tabernacle in the days of Moses. The Lord acknowledged that the idea came from David’s own heart.
2) The Lord did not criticize David but commended him. True, David’s plan needed some midcourse correction which the Lord supplied, but we don’t hear the Lord saying, “The tabernacle has always worked; let’s just stick with that.”
3) We don’t know many of the details that led to David’s idea, but the text does offer some clues. In II Sam 7:1, 2 we learn that David had come to a time of rest from warfare; that he “sat in his house” which may imply that he was doing some thinking, and finally that it didn’t seem right to him that his own palace was more elegant and durable than the Lord’s dwelling. Here is the soul of an innovator! It’s not difficult to reconstruct his train of thought.
As a tent, the tabernacle was designed to be portable, carried by men whenever the congregation moved. Accordingly, the various pieces of furniture had handles. But now, settled in the promised land, the need for portability no longer existed. Further, it was designed to be repeatedly dismantled and set up again, another obsolete feature. Finally, there was not much rain in the wilderness to cause rapid wear of the animal skin coverings. But Mount Zion would en- joy alternate sunshine and showers from heaven. Curtains were no match for the durability of cedar wood and gold!
The conclusion? A new structure was called for, larger, more accessible, immovable; one that would better serve the needs of a nation settled permanently in its own land. The tabernacle furniture, which so clearly demonstrated God’s great spiritual lessons for worship of the Lord, could all be carefully preserved and incorporated into the new temple. But the building itself must reflect David’s desire for the presence of the Lord to be the very center of the capitol city, easily accessible to all those who would seek God’s presence. Best of all, the Lord’s dwelling would be grander than David’s own palace!
Spiritual Lessons Before Practical Application
What lessons can we glean from the above account? Let me suggest three.
1) Godly leaders must seize opportunity for contemplation and reflection about needs and opportunities in the Lord’s work. The storms and trials of life are no time to dream! But the Lord in grace does provide some seasons of rest. These must not all be devoted to diversion and relaxation. The needs of people are great and ever changing, and rarely will the sheep take the lead in solving the problems growth and change bring, nor should they have to!
2) Are we at least as concerned for the care and expansion of the Lord’s house as we are for our own? In New Testament times, the house of God is identified as the Church. Are there any areas in which we enjoy prosperity while the work of the Lord in and through the church struggles or lags behind? Those who travel in the Lord’s work often see the stark contrast between the outdated, worn furnishings and rest rooms of the assembly meeting place and the modern and, in some cases, luxurious appointments in the homes of those who lead the church. Of course the church is not a building of brick or stone but of people, but these things can be indicators of spiritual priorities.
3) The great principles of the church as God’s revelation and gift to His people are perfect and need no adjustment. But the packaging (or structures) in which that gift is made relevant to and useable by the people must be constantly changing according to their needs. This does not mean that bigger or more modern is better, but only that, like David, we want the Lord’s things to be as lovely, as accessible and of as good report as our own things. It is a strange logic that requires our personal dwellings and possessions to be comfortable and up to date for ourselves and our guests, while the facilities and amenities of the local church are permitted to be unattractive and obsolete, fit only for “pilgrims who are just passing through.” Of course, the problem is not confined to material things but can extend to every aspect of the life and ministry of the church. Could it be that in the same way, the actual spiritual work of the Lord in the local church suffers from this very dichotomy?
To summarize thus far, becoming a leader with spiritual vision for the Lord’s work means making time to “consider our ways.” True, not all elders are innovators, but thankfully, vision and creativity are not spiritual gifts! Two great objectives must be kept in mind continually: being faithful to the Lord and His house (the church), and at the same time being relevant to the needs of people.
If we give serious thought to these things, and make real sacrifice so that they become a reality, we will be able to say with king David, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth”(Psalm 26:8).
In the next article, we’ll look at some practical applications of the above principles that can open new avenues of joy and blessing in the local assembly work.