This blog post originally appeared in Outreach Magazine’s print edition.
As leaders, I’m sure most of us have a mission and vision statement. There are many leaders who’ve developed an even more specific vision that includes a strategic plan over the next 3, 5, or 10 years. I’m for all the above.
However, the book of Acts has given me a different understanding of vision—and it is this version of vision that I believe pastors, church leaders, and churches are in desperate need of today.
Two of Paul’s more famous visions are found in Acts 16 and 18. Acts 16, Paul has a vision of the Macedonian man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 18, while in Corinth, Paul has a vision where the Lord says, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
The word for “vision” in these two passages—in addition to other passages like Acts 7:31, Acts 9:10, Acts 10:3—is “horama” and can refer to something seen while awake or something seen or experienced in a dream. Although the word for vision isn’t used, there are other instances in the book of Acts where people clearly experienced something while awake or in a dream (see Acts 7:55–56, Acts 23:11, and Acts 27:23–24). While there is no consensus in defining the exact meaning of visions or dreams in the book of Acts, I would define a God-given vision as a Holy Spirit prompted communication that inspires people to faithfully follow God’s plan for their life.
In studying the role of visions in the book of Acts, I believe there are three facets of the role of visions in the book of Acts that I believe are relevant and applicable to pastors, church leaders, and churches today.
God-given visions come at different seasons.
Every time God gives a vision in the book of Acts it’s always in a different context and within varying situations and circumstances. I believe it would be safe to conclude that God-given visions come at different seasons and circumstances in life.
We’ve been in a global pandemic since March 2020. During that time, pastors and church leaders have had to minster to those grieving over the loss of loved ones, and in many cases, were the ones mourning the loss of family and friends. In grief, leaders were also tasked to lead through a heightened time of racial and political division which lingers on and shows no signs of subsiding any time soon.
It would be wonderful news if I was able to say that none of these challenges have affected the ministry and mission of the church. But I can’t say that. While I’m certainly aware of outliers, many churches are struggling. Many have seen a reshuffling of the deck as members have left their church to go to the one down the street who holds more to their political ideology, racial stance, and COVID policies. Many have seen their church substantially dwindle in size. As they attempt to relaunch ministries, many churches are finding it difficult to fill their volunteer slots.
I could go on with the challenges churches in North America face, but I think you get the picture. Many pastors, church leaders, and churches find themselves discouraged, depleted, and even depressed. If you find yourself there, you’re not alone. The Apostle Paul was there in Acts 18 while he was in the city of Corinth. In his discouragement and fear, God showed up in that season and gave him a vision. In like manner, I believe God wants to meet you in your season of darkness and give you a bright vision.
God-given visions facilitate some element of God’s mission.
Another facet of God-given visions in the book of Acts is that they are always attached to God’s mission. For instance, the vision Stephen saw encouraged him to be faithful to the end. Ananias’ vision told him to find Saul of Tarsus, minister to him, and share with Saul God’s call on his life. Cornelius’ vision was about sending for Peter so that he and his household could hear the gospel. Peter’s vision involved God’s mission to the Gentiles. And Paul’s visions in both Acts 16 and 18 involve God’s direction and encouragement during his second missionary journey.
God-given visions will never be separate from his mission. That is the reason why I define them as Holy Spirit prompted communication that inspires people to faithfully follow God’s plan for their life. God’s plan for people is always in accordance with his mission of redeeming a people from all peoples so that they might reflect his glory in all spheres of life.
What kind of God-given vision do you need that will help facilitate God’s mission through your church? Do you need guidance? Do you need wisdom? Do you need encouragement? Do you need power? Do you need direction? Do you need laborers? Do you need resources? Do you need strategy?
Regardless of what you need to participate in and mobilize people for God’s mission, I believe God wants to give you the vision you need in the season you’re in.
God-given visions are fully backed by God’s provisions.
The distinguishing factor between a vision and a God-given vision is that God gives the provisions necessary to see his vision become a reality. We live in an age where vision casting and strategic planning is commonplace. However, most visions—while grand, positive, and well-meaning—aren’t God-given but God-invoked. In other words, pastors and church leaders create a vision and then invoke God to bless their vision.
Throughout the book of Acts when God gives a vision, he provides the resources necessary to turn that vision into reality. For instance, in Acts 18, one of the things Paul needed to have an effective ministry in Corinth was protection. The protection God gave Paul allowed him to stay in Corinth for 18 months. A sign of God’s protection can be seen through Gallio’s positive ruling regarding the case the Jews brought against Paul (Acts 18:12–16).
It might be helpful to think of God’s provisions for his visions as nutritious energy supplements that endurance athletes take to fuel their bodies during a race. It’s not that we need a long-term vision since we already have a long-term mission; we do, however, need short-term visions backed by God’s provisions that move us further and deeper into the long-term mission.
As I see it today, pastors, church leaders, and churches are in desperate need of a God-given vision. But keep in mind, God-given visions are contextualized to where we are, what we need, and how we need God to show up and provide.
In closing, I leave leaders with the following three questions that I would encourage you to sit with as you seek the Lord for a God-given vision.
- Where is your church?
- What is your church in desperate need of?
- How does your church need God to show up and provide?