“Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). This rather dramatic scripture verse underlines the reality that organisations, communities and even individuals who are not future orientated will lose momentum and hope. Rather than striving towards a better tomorrow, one can stagnate and become maintenance focused. At best, the status quo is upheld. At worse, people lose interest and become apathetic.
But what is a vision? It can rightly be argued that the one vision given to us is the Good News of Jesus Christ. We follow Jesus Christ, and he is the only one on whom to set our gaze. While this is true, it is also true that we need to translate how we live out this vision into our own context. How do we grow and share our faith in Jesus Christ at this time and in this place?
I recently encountered a parish priest who offered a striking image of how he has shaped his own vision. He shared how he had become despondent, feeling like his community was going backward, and was even struggling with his own faith life. He was helped to shape a vision, to dream what his community could be in three years from the present. He said it was like being asked to picture a postcard of his parish community in the future, where all that he hoped it could be had come to past. He was able to visualise this picture clearly, and that helped him to set about creating goals and actions to bring this vision to life.
One of the tricky things about visions is that each person in a community may hold their own vision. Musicians may have a vision for how they see worship coming to life, the social justice group may have a vision for the parish mission, and the youth ministry may have a vision for how the youth can engage on a wider scale.
It is like each group or ministry, and each school and other special interest group, is one of many boats in a harbour of the parish. Each one has its own course set and is built for its own particular purpose. Each may seek to invite people to board its own vessel. This all sounds great, except that too many ships in a harbour may run the risk of crashing into one another or competing for the same passengers. Perhaps some of the ships have similar roles, or tugboats are tugging the same larger vessel in different directions.
If the parish is to function as the Body of Christ, a community of communities, united with a diversity of gifts, then it benefits from a shared vision, a shared sense of purpose. All the vessels can be formed into a fleet, and they also can be purpose fit to launch out into the deep, to take the mission beyond the safety of the harbour.
Communities need to take the time to shape a shared vision together, to engage in a shared hope of how they want to be the Christ-centred church of tomorrow. Such communities honour existing members while attracting newcomers, they take risks, reimagining what it means to follow Christ, like saints have done time and time again, and equip their people to live into this vision they have formed.
We are called to set out into the deep, propelled by the Spirit to live out the mission in uncharted waters.
Richard McMahon is the Director of Pastoral Planning & Implementation for the Diocese of Parramatta.