Wednesday, January 3, 2007

team is the vision

A major part of Jesus’ ministry was the creation of family.

The epistles make this clear: we are to be one, we are to regard one another as parts of the body—each part essential in its own way. Further, the ministry of reconciliation tells us that, because of Christ’s work, Gentiles and Jews can now be co-heirs, brothers, sisters, no longer divided. We are to put aside stances of hostile regard one towards the other.

The historical account of Jesus also makes this clear: Jesus summoned a rather unique group of individuals to follow him. Among these we may note that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector did not keep company with one another before Jesus called each of them to follow him. This is not simply because they did not know each other. It is because, before they met Jesus, they would have regarded one another as enemies.

Think about that: had Matthew and Simon known each other prior to meeting Jesus, they would have, in fact, despised one another.

Until Jesus.

Until Jesus.

So…if both Matthew and Simon were to go about the business of following Jesus, each of them needed to come to grips with the fact that they would also be keeping each other company, too. In light of the fact that Jesus selected his disciples intentionally, we can only assume that Jesus meant to bring together a group of diverse individuals for the purpose of creating a family where no family existed (and where no family was likely to exist). Think of it as the miracle Jesus performed on every page of the Gospels.

Yes, Jesus meant to bring together a group of diverse individuals for the purpose of creating a family where no family existed.

This also accords with Jesus’ prayer on the doorstep of crucifixion recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus’ heart reveals that he wishes us to be “one”, even as the Father and the Son dwell together in perfect unity.

We cannot grow to be like God if we will not learn to live together in unity. There is no such thing as being Christ-like while at the same time abiding in persistent division with one another. In John’s first epistle we are reminded that the person who says he loves God but hates his or her brother (or sister) is a liar.

This is because a major part of Jesus’ ministry was the creation of family. To live in isolation from one another is to live in the darkness, out of the light of Jesus’ ministerial blessing and intention. (Remember, in Jesus’ day, if you wanted to follow him, you had to live in family. There was no choice. And if, let’s say, “the family” became unbearable and you were to decide to leave behind “the family”, you were at one and the same time leaving behind Jesus also. For to follow Jesus was to live with the family. And to live with the family was to follow Jesus. There was simply no other way about it.)

Now: if we define “ministry vision” in terms of a goal towards which we strive, then we could state the above principle in these terms: “The creation of family constituted a large portion of the earthly ministry of Jesus, and still constitutes the major portion of Jesus’ ministry among us today through the work of his Spirit.” More simply: “Family is the vision of Jesus.”

Now, as a church planter, I hear ministry leaders talking about “vision” frequently. What they often mean by this is:

“Here’s our strategy.”
“These are our values.”
“Here’s where we’re headed.”
“Listen to our mission.”
“We hope to meet these goals by the year 2010.”

For example, the other day I met with a friend for lunch who happens to be the “field leader” for his mission’s ministry in Spain. And, naturally, they have developed their vision. This vision includes recruitment targets and church reproduction goals and philosophy of ministry statements as to how they will relate to the “national church”.

And, about two months ago, I met with another friend for dinner who happens to be the founder of a new ministry here in Spain that’s hoping to mobilize churches and equip church leaders to (fill in the blank). S/he wanted to meet with me to run some vision ideas past me to see what I thought.

In early March we’ll have a “leadership summit” for our mission in Lisbon. There, I’ll have the chance to see many other team leaders of various projects across Europe. If I want, I could steer just about every conversation to the “vision” thing by asking: “So, where are you headed? What’s your vision? What do you hope will happen this coming year? What strategies are you employing that you are excited about?”

And, I have another friend who’s a church planter in Spain. Were I to ask him about their vision he would, believe me, be able to give me an earful, and, perhaps, even produce charts and projections and timelines.

Now: what strikes me about all this is this: Jesus’ vision is often absent from our own vision. Very rarely do I hear plans laid out as to how we are to go about creating family where family does not exist.

Sure, the creation of family may be one thing for which we are aiming, but is it “first” on our heart as it was (and is) on Jesus’ heart? And is the creation of family hidden somewhere “between the lines” of our vision statement or is it spelled out clearly, front and center, as we see in the New Testament? Rarely do I see the latter. The question is: “Why?”

For me, these are convicting questions. But they must be asked, uncomfortable as they make us feel. To ignore them is to ignore the heartbeat of Jesus.

In one meeting with a team leader I know, he spelled out for me some new strategies and emphases he was hoping to employ in his ministry. As we discussed these new, exciting ideas, however, we discussed some of the possible reservations his team members would have. It became clear that, should he “move forward” with these new ideas, some of his team members would be “losing” some things while others would “gain” some things. In light of that, I cautioned him: “Don’t sacrifice team for the sake of vision, my friend. Just don’t do it. You can make all the plans you want and have the most savvy, up-to-date, cool kind of ministry that others would drool over, but if you don’t have team, you don’t have anything.”

In fact, without team, vision is just a bunch of ink on paper (or ideas floating in the air, like dissipating wisps of smoke). And, without team, it won’t make a bit of difference what kind of great, fantastic ideas you have because none of them will come to pass. And, should the ideas happen to bear fruit, you’ll be missing the point anyway because what Jesus wants is for us to live together in unity, after all is said and done. Sure, you’ll have built this great machine but your creation will lack the soul of family.

Often, we think of these two words as if they are in different categories: “team” and “vision”. When we think of team we think of a certain set of “things”. And when we think of vision we think of a different set. But this misses the point of what Jesus wanted to do.

In Jesus’ ministry team was the vision. Family was what he was after (not, let it be noted, higher Sunday attendance statistics). Yes, the creation of family was his aim. And no amount of “ministry effectiveness” would get in the way of that. In fact, “effective ministry” in Jesus’ terms is to be gauged in terms of “family health”. In Jesus’ ministry, family was the vision. And it still is.

Let us re-orient ourselves to care about the things that Jesus cares about most. Let us be intentional and single-minded. Let us live together in unity, to dwell together in love, bearing with one another, forgiving one another. May team be our vision and family be our aim, as it was (and still is) with Jesus. After all, without family, you’ve got nothing.

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