Mission-Centered Leadership Series
“Translating Vision into Reality: An Overview”
by Lloyd Elder, adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 2
- Mission-Centered Leadership
written by James D. Williams, Ph.D., with Lloyd Elder, Th.D.
Leadership, Always a Journey
“Translating vision into reality” is a lifelong journey,
just as servant leadership is. Throughout my several decades in Christian
ministry, I have been partially shaped by converging influences leading
to this concept of mission-centered leadership. Travel with me for a shortcut
of that journey:
My home church pastor, mentor, and deceased friend,
Rev. Bill James Bell, consistently displayed a passion for our local
church’s mission in every part of his ministry. I noticed that,
and held him in highest esteem. In fact, when I felt a calling to pastoral
ministry, my first response was, “No, I could never be like Bro.
Soon after, with serious theological thinking and humorous
candor, one of my favorite college professors would often lament about
some minister: “He’s so heavenly minded about everything,
he’s no earthly good for anything!”
Much later, Stephen R. Covey, author of the popular
book, Principle-Centered Leadership, influenced me with his thesis:
“A mission statement that results from broad-based involvement
and that is based on principles [is like] a compass needed in the hands
of every associate.”
Along the way other teachers in the areas of leadership,
mission, and vision contributed to my understanding. But I credit the
title of our studies to the noted author, Warren Bennis, in my recent
rediscovery of his succinct statement: “Leadership is the
capacity to translate vision into reality.”
“Translating Vision into Reality”
That’s it--“translating vision into reality!” That’s
what Dr. James Williams and I wanted to research thoroughly and present
as simply as possible. We developed a conceptual process, termed Mission-Centered
Leadership, to accomplish this impelling challenge. Now being adapted
for electronic publication as a series of articles, the concept in a nutshell
Mission-centered leadership is the capacity
to lead the congregation:
to establish a kingdom-size mission as
its true center;
to assess its actual situation, opportunities,
to cast vision, objectives, and goals
toward the future; and
to empower the members to translate vision
Translating: expressed also by transforming, converting,
changing, altering, transposing. “Translating” states
that actively and intentionally, the mission of the church is transformed
into a higher reality: that its hopes and dreams are transfigured
actually to exist; that plans and actions are converted
into a new and desired existence; that images are transposed
into real forms; that one condition of the congregation is changed
to another state altogether; what is carefully planned is converted into
the congregation’s experience; and what is experienced at one level
today is altered to a new and higher level.
Vision: conveys eyesight, insight, foresight, discernment,
perception, mental image. “Vision” expresses a thoughtful
statement of what the congregation understands it should become and should
be doing in order to fulfill its eternal mission from Christ. Vision is
the formation of its direction, goals, needs, and actions into a mental
and heartfelt image of what the church should be at some future period.
This is the product of the discernment and strategic planning of the congregation,
its leadership and members.
Reality: means a real quality or state that exists, truly,
actually, objectively, in fact. “Reality” conveys
that a congregation, in its present time and condition, is on an eternal
mission as mirrored in its vision statement. As it pursues that vision
and works to fulfill its challenge, a new reality exists objectively in
the life of the church. Anticipation becomes substance.
- Mission-Centered Leadership
Mission-centered leaders can be inspired by God to guide the
creation of a vision within the church. Likewise, such leaders can be inspired
by God to translate that vision into reality. When it happens it will be the
result of plain hard work, of empowering members to act, refocusing a strategic
posture for the church, applying analytical techniques to a variety of strategic
plans that are developed, and constantly studying and praying that the enduring
mission of the church will be the dominant force of every action and activity.
In the midst of that kind of commitment, we rediscover once again the everlasting
truth of Ephesians 3:20; namely, “God is able to do immeasurably
more than all we ask or imagine” --bringing vision into reality!
“ Mission” - By this we focus on the central
purpose Christ has for His churches. What is His reason for the church? What
is the church of the living Christ supposed to be and to become, to attempt
and to accomplish? Often the word “purpose” is used to signify
the same concept as mission, and the functions of the church spell it out.
What is our job, our business? So, we mean leadership that keeps the congregation
centered on its main kingdom assignment.
“Centered” - “What is at the very core--the
center of your church?” That is what congregational leadership must
always be asking--and finding the right answers. You have options, and too
often a church may choose to function with something other than a God-given
mission at its center. Churches that are built on other forces do not endure;
all of our plans for the church are worthless without God’s empowerment.
But God’s ordained purposes for the church last forever.
“Leadership” - As leaders--individuals and teams--set
the direction, inspire the members, provide the example, develop relationships,
and keep the entire life and work of the congregation centered on the pattern
of Christ, the Lord of His church. A leader serves with others the purposes
of the kingdom of Christ, which includes serving the best interest of all
- What’s at the Center of the Congregation?
From my experiences in local congregations, as well as in
other organizations, it seems that a mighty struggle is waged to displace
Christ and His kingdom cause from the central place. Something else becomes
the primary organizing principle, someone else wants to sit at the head table,
or some force or family pushes the congregation away from the main thing.
Or sadly, the church just drifts away from Christ, the center of our becoming,
our being, our doing. Stephen R. Covey expressed it well in his writings:
“Whatever lies at the center of our lives becomes the primary source
of our life-support systems.”
Just what is at the center of the church of which you are a ministry
leader? That is the impelling question that has to be addressed. Never forget!
There are alternative influences that could move to the center and misguide
the congregation. Healthy, New Testament churches are built on divine purposes.
Christ must be at the core of all our being. He said, “I will build
my church” (Matt. 16:18). The church is His, not ours. But, miraculously,
churches grow by the power of God working in and through the skilled efforts
of His people. He expects us to use the very best principles and methods.
He blesses and empowers human endeavor when it is done in His name and led
by His Spirit.
- A Mission-Centered Planning Model
The thesis of this leadership article is a mission-centered model of planning
that moves the church from vision to reality. There are many different models
of church planning that are included in the rich literature of church administration.
Some of those are very sophisticated and based on such theories as MBO (Management
by Objectives), PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique), etc.
For those who desire a much less formal approach, consider following the model
by Robert L. Perry. It is called Values-Based Tactical Planning. His approach
is less cognitive and data driven and depends heavily on the vision-casting
leader. This approach minimizes committee work and attempts to apply history,
storytelling, and organizational learning as the basis for tactical church
Bobb Biehl in his book, Master Planning, a 1997 Broadman and Holman
publication, has developed one of the most detailed and comprehensive models.
A church leader would do well to study this and various other models. However,
for our purposes, a very simple, direct plan for planning has been modified
from a work by Kenneth Gangel, Team Leadership in Christian Ministry.
Keep in mind that the strength of any plan depends on implementation.
When Christ’s kingdom mission is at the center, the church can move
ahead with guidance, power, and assurance for its life and service. Mission-centered
leadership starts at the core, and from that, shapes every other area of church
life. Mission/vision planning, as we have developed and pictured it, is expressed
in four intersecting tasks:
- Defining the eternal mission and casting vision for the “here
- Assessing the continuing situation, inside and outside the congregation
- Setting direction: priorities, goals, and action planning
- Implementing toward reality: including steps, resources and results
This model will be cited from time to time in articles throughout this
series. Its success depends on the mission/vision-minded leaders and followers
giving themselves to the challenge.
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© 2006 servantleaderstoday.com; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership