“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
(Proverbs 29:18 ESV)
The Hebrew word vision (chazown) is defined as, “Sight (mentally): -a dream; revelation; oracle; vision.” In various English translations the first phrase of Proverbs 29:18 is translated, “Where there is no vision (KJV, NASB)”, “no prophesy (RSV)”, “no revelation (NIV)”, “no prophetic vision (ESV)”.
These translations together capture the meaning of the Hebrew word vision. Proverbs 29:18 begins with a straight forward declaration: Where there is an absence of God’s Word, of His revelation, of His prophetic declaration, of His divine directives; of His truths – “people perish” (KJV); “the people are unrestrained” (NASB); “the people cast off restraint” (ESV, RSV, NIV).
Proverbs 29:18 concludes, “Blessed is he who keeps the law” (who obeys God’s word: who lives within its protective purposes; its prophetic declarations, promises, prohibitions, and safe guards). The Hebrew word keeps (shamar) opens a new depth of meaning and spiritual insight for us. It is defined as “A hedge of protection; i.e., to save; to preserve; to keep; to watch”. That makes it pretty clear for us that the protective, instructive, and corrective truths of God’s Word are essential safe guards for every Christian and for the life of every Christian church. Any people or any person who cast-off the truths of God’s Word, who rejects them, or ignores them, does so to their own present and eternal peril.
This introduction to our church’s vision statement is my way of saying to you that we have been ever so careful in writing a vision statement that is in agreement with God’s Word and according to God’s will. Our vision statement does not express plans for attracting large crowds, or building more or bigger buildings. Those things are in God’s hands. Our desire is simply to want what He wants for us and to do what Has instructed us to do.
For years, even into the early years of my pastoral ministry, I rehearsed the first half of Proverbs 29:18 as I had memorized it without clearly understanding its message. The imposition of my English understanding of “a vision” caused seasons of heaviness for me and raised questions within me during times when I was unable to clearly see where God was leading, or where He wanted me to lead His people. My hope and confidence during such days, was then and still is today, that I don’t need to know the things God has not yet made known. I need to keep my eyes on Him, to keep my mind and heart opened to His Spirit, and to remain faithful and true to His revealed word.
Vision statements (written or ingrained) are essential. Many people and all businesses have them. Churches also frequently create one-year, three-year, five-year plans. However, when it comes to churches determining how many new people they are going to add each year, or expanding ‘church campuses’ creates basic problems for me because I know well that the Spirit of God can’t be programmed. He moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. He is able to do many marvelous things that are beyond our comprehension, both in great and small things; in growing His church and in pruning it.
In February of 2014 I shared a perceived need in our church with our Board of Deacons that we “step-back and take a look at our church with fresh eyes, sensitive hearts, and open ears.” The Board gave me the discretionary authority to appoint and commission an Ad Hoc Discovery Group for the purpose of identifying our strengths and making recommendations for making our strengths stronger, and identifying our weaknesses so that we can strengthen them.
This group of fourteen people (seven spiritually mature men and seven spiritually mature women) represented all of our adult population, from young adults to the most senior adults.
After six months of many meetings and long hours they submitted there findings and their recommendations to the pastors, who then discussed them with the Board of Deacons, the Trustees, and the congregation at our Annual Meeting.
Their first recommendation was to develop a vision statement. Their second recommendation was that all ministries and boards be encouraged to familiarize themselves with the church’s vision statement and to develop goals within each ministry that support our overall vision. Their third recommendation was that our vision statement be used in all church communications (website, bulletins, outside signs, etc.) to clearly state our priorities; focus our efforts; and share our vision with visitors and the wider community.
As Pastor McDonnell and I gave careful consideration to these recommendations over several months, I kept remembering back to the vision the Lord gave me thirty-seven years ago, sitting in front of the ocean in Virginia Beach (my home town), just before moving our family to Peabody to begin ministering here. The vision was clear, concise, and brief. “Ralph, I’m going to build my church among the people at West Church.” That was all I needed to know. I didn’t ask for particulars. I didn’t try to replicate my previous pastoral experiences. I believed that God Himself was going to bring that vision to fruition. He has been fulfilling that vision through the years and He is still doing that today.
Since 1978 I have given every membership class our “Five Ministry Goals”, which together serve as our vision statement for strengthening the Body of Christ among us with the ultimate goal of glorifying God in all we do and say.
The following is the hand-out given to all prospective members in our membership classes:
OUR VISION STATEMENT
Many years ago West Church adopted five (5) long standing goals that define our desire and our commitment to glorify God as a community called together in Christ. Our vision is not focused on what we want, or on what we can do for ourselves. Our vision is fixed on discovering God’s truths revealed in His Word and implementing those truths as directed by The Holy Spirit.
Our vision calls everyone in the church to be faithful to God at all times; to be diligent in nurturing his or hers personal relationship with Jesus; to be loving and respectful in all relationships with one another; to be bold in witnessing to the life-changing power of the gospel; and to be actively involved in fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
The five ministry goals that shape our vision were first presented by our Senior Pastor and affirmed by our Board of Deacons in 1978. In 1992 they were officially adopted by our Board of Deacons for the church body. Throughout the years the ministry of West Church has been moving forward, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make these goals a reality in the hearts and lives of our people.
#1- TO submit to the LORDSHIP of Jesus Christ in our personal lives and our corporate life as a church community. The Lordship of Christ is always to be number one in this local church; in all our messages, in all our ministries, and in all our meetings.
#2- TO increase in LOVE for God, for one another, for our neighbors, and for the people of all tongues and nations; serving God and people as He leads us.
#3- TO LEARN together from God’s Word about Him, about ourselves, and about the world we live in, by means of preaching and teaching, and by personal and group study of The Bible.
#4- TO encourage and develop spiritually gifted lay LEADERSHIP from within the church to assist the congregation in fulfilling its pastoral and practical tasks of ministry.
#5- TO LOOK beyond ourselves to the fields that are white for harvest; praying for the Lord to send out laborers, and supporting those who are called to deliver the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
It is our expressed desire as a church family that our vision will be found to be in agreement with God’s Word and His Will for West Church as we strive to fulfill both His Great Commandment and His Great Commission. To that end we pray that the Lord will use us to bring glory to Him.
“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Pastor Ralph Wetherington