It is a word that gets used a lot by church leaders, and I am sure by those in the business world and public sector, too.
The first Visioning event I attended was for the Mulhurst Lutheran Church Camp Board on which I was serving at the age of 22. We had a facilitator provided by the Province of Alberta (free to charities!) who came to help our board work through the process. The camp had been floating along in a middling way for years, if not decades. They could only afford a part-time director, their weeks of summer camp were never completely full, and their ideal property with picturesque cabins and dining hall overlooking Pigeon Lake just 35 minutes south of Edmonton could never quite live up to its potential.
So on a mid-winter Saturday we sat in the dining hall and tried out the Visioning process. Right away the questions that we were being ask sparked my imagination:
What is the most important thing we do as a [community of faith]?
Why do we exist?
What is our purpose?
What are our values?
Who are we as a community?
I loved stepping back and contemplating the big picture. My mind was set alight by pondering these questions, helping me to sort through just what the camp and our job and role was in the ministry of Lutheran churches in the Edmonton area.
At the same time I could see that other board members were struggling. They seemed frustrated by having to step back from their usual modes of serving. The facilitator kept having to pull them back from trying to make concrete decisions and action plans. The struggling board members in this case were faithful old German-Canadians (men mostly) whose commitment and service was expressed in hammering nails, fixing things with their hands and putting in their time and energy for the camp. It was difficult to step back and ask about the identity and purpose of this place they had spent years and years caring for and serving. They didn’t want to ask ‘why?’ They didn’t want to interrogate their motivations or priorities. They wanted to remain in a world where they could believe everyone was on the same page about that stuff.
Of course, they weren’t on the same page and that was the problem! The camp had had a succession of directors come and go. They wanted to add to their facilities, but could never raise enough money. There were conflicts about what was most important and for which projects or staff they should use the available resources.
Though it took some hard work together to unpack what our Vision for the camp actually was, once we slowed down to understand our values and priorities, we were then able to have much more focused conversations about how to use our resources. In the years that followed (with more Visioning and strategic planning), the camp was able to build new or upgrade facilities, have longer-term directors and staff, and grow in some important ways.
Does that mean that Visioning is a magic cure-all for the challenges that we face? Certainly not.
But what Visioning does is provide a venue to have important conversations about who we are as a community, about what our values are, about where we are going and about where God is calling us to go.
Visioning can be hard work, especially if you are the sort who prefers hammering nails, fixing things, making things or staying behind the scenes. It can mean questioning our past and our decisions, it can mean realizing that we need to change our present choices in order to move into a vibrant future. Visioning is discerning work, it is important work. It is the work of following God’s call for our community and living together faithfully.
Now is an era for Visioning. Now, as the world changes rapidly around us and as we struggle with how to use our limited resources, coming together with a common Vision will be essential for us, as it is becoming for every church and faith community. It is hard work but holy work.