Creating a vision for your ministry is one of the ongoing tasks of leadership. It takes time to articulate a vision – time on the clock and time on the calendar. It takes relationships, too—a vision for a congregation isn’t created in a vacuum, of course.
Leadership starts with you. The vision starts with you. And one of the best ways to begin to work on a vision is to ask yourself, “What do I want?”
However, you may instead be asking, “Isn’t ministry vision about what God wants, not me? Isn’t it a little selfish to ask myself what I want?” Of course, prayerful discernment is part of the process. I suggest you prayerfully and thoughtfully begin to ask yourself what you want.
“Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4, NRSV
This doesn’t mean you get everything you want. One of my teachers says we only get about 25% of what we want, so we might as well want—and imagine—a lot. Instead, I think we often assume we can’t have what we mostly deeply want so we don’t even articulate it for fear of disappointment. I’d love to see pastors think bigger and more hopefully about what they want.
I saw an interview once with actress Sharon Stone. She said that growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, she told people, “I’m going to be a movie star.” Of course, everyone thought she was crazy. Yet she reached her dream. There are no guarantees—plenty of girls in small towns have dreamed of stardom. But few people reach stardom (or anything else) without dreaming about it first.
What do you want? What are your dreams?
Why vision is important
It’s hard to move forward in a sustained way if you don’t know what you want, or if you are working out of obligation. I once took my parents to lunch at a Sizzler restaurant (their choice…). My mother, well into her eighties at this point, enjoyed her lunch. I was going up to get dessert, and I asked her, “Mom, do you want dessert?” She said, “Well, I should…” (because it was included in the price!). I said, “I don’t think should is part of the equation when you’re talking about dessert, Mom.” She did have a bowl of ice cream, and enjoyed it, too. I was raised with a powerful sense of should. It’s been liberating to move away from should and toward mature wants.
We constantly find ourselves in ministry saying, “I should: get better at church finances, visit more, be more up-to-date with trends in church life, be able to grow this church.” You name it. You’ve got your own list, I’m sure. And while all these things are important, a life of obligation in ministry is not satisfying. You won’t be giving your best self if every day is filled with the shoulds and none of the wants, much less the love-to’s.
What do you love to do in ministry, and can you do more of it?
Getting what you want in ministry means putting a higher priority on what you want. That means sometimes you have to put a lower priority on what other people want, which can be challenging.
Many clergy grew up in a position of pleasing others in the family. We were programmed to be “unselfish” and conflict-averse, and to be more attuned to meeting the needs of others than our own. This isn’t true of all clergy, of course, but in my own coaching and consulting practice, I see this often. And I plead guilty myself.
Yet many pastors, when I ask them “What do you want?” say dreamily, “That’s a good question.” If you find yourself gazing off into the distance at that question, it’s a good sign!
Another challenge is the danger of resignation. We come to think we can’t possibly have what we want. Some congregations are more open than others, it is true, but when we start out by assuming nothing is ever going to happen, chances are nothing ever will. We don’t even start the conversation.
Warning: Some churches and lay leaders are allergic to pastors who are self-defined and know what they want. And no church actually says, en masse, “Sure, that sounds great, pastor!” Don’t take it personally when some say instead, “How can you say that, pastor! We’re not going there.” It’s just the beginning of the conversation.
Always remember, you are the biggest gift to your congregation. The more you lead out of your deepest self, the better a pastor you will be. This doesn’t mean you say, “That’s just how I am,” and never pay attention to feedback or work to develop yourself. It does mean that constantly adapting yourself to your congregation and what it wants is not actually in their best interests—or yours. What they need (whether they know it or not) is a leader who is clear and self-defined. Finding a way to connect who you are with who they are, will over time, have the most potential for productive ministry.
Start here: What do you want? Take five minutes and write about it now.