I Don’t Need Another Vision Statement

by Michael Frost

Most church vision and mission statements sound great. They usually include clear biblical values and are crafted to be interesting and memorable. But what difference do they actually make?

Recent research suggests that rather than value statements shaping our behavior, our actions can actually shape our values.

Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” And the apostle James says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (Jas. 2:18). Faith, then, is not an act or even a belief system; it is a habit.

French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu referred to this phenomenon as habitus. In his view, the practices and actions that a society endorses in turn shape the way members of that society think. For example, desirable milestones such as getting married, building a career, buying a house, and raising a family reinforce American values of monogamy, professionalism, home-ownership, and reproduction. Not everyone lives out each of these practices perfectly, but they are expected societal practices nonetheless, shaping the way American people think, feel and act. They are examples of an American habitus.

Habitus is, I think, a much overlooked aspect of discipleship. Have we been focusing too much on transferring values to the exclusion of passing on missional habits?

Missional habits are those practices we nurture in our lives that unite us as believers, while also propelling us into the lives of others. The best missional habits become rhythms that energize us, replenishing our reserves and connecting us more deeply to Jesus.

My church committed together to a set of missional habits:

  • We will bless three people each week;
  • We will eat with three people each week;
  • We will spend at least one significant time each week listening to the Holy Spirit;
  • We will spend at least one significant time each week learning Jesus;
  • We will journal the ways we were sent to mirror the work of God in our world.

We find that we rarely need to preach on these values, because they have been unleashed by the habits themselves. If you commit to a habit of blessing three people every week, you’re going to become a generous person. If you eat with others, you’ll develop a greater capacity for hospitality. If you foster the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit, you’ll become an increasingly Spirit-led person. If you’re learning Christ, it’s fair to assume you’ll become more Christlike. And if you’re journaling the myriad ways you’ve been sent into your world, you’ll increasingly see yourself as a missionary right in your own neighborhood.

If you want a church full of generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike missionaries, don’t just teach the values. Foster the habits!

 

Michael Frost’s new book Surprise the World: the 5 Habits of Highly Missional People is out now through NavPress.

Surprise the World

9 Comments on I Don’t Need Another Vision Statement

  1. I appreciate this, as one who tends to be cynical about ‘growth strategies’. However, I’m assuming you would still say having a clear vision statement is important, just that it’s not the end all be all that you have to keep coming back to again and again. Is that accurate, or are you suggesting something different?

  2. In business, which I teach, there is a cynical saying that vision statements are a way of avoiding action. They are easy. Doing things is much less comfortable.

  3. Interesting post. I find that vision statements have little lasting value because they are not about seeing the lost as much as they are about seeing ourselves – what we want to become as a church. Vision that sees the lost is rooted in Matthew 9:36 where Jesus saw the people as distressed and dispirited sheep and felt compassion for them. Moreover, he challenged his followers to pray God would send harvesters into this field of lost people. A good vision statement starts with, “Who have we been sent by God to have compassion on?” and continues with readying the church through prayer and strategy (wise as serpents, harmless as doves) to reach them with the gospel. Many vision statements fail because seeing the lost is not at the heart of its development.

  4. Any organisation, incl a church, needs values and vision to drive the development of a set of habits that, in turn, reinforces those values. So, I’m not saying a church shouldn’t agree on such values. What I’m saying is, having agreed on values/vision, and having established a set of corresponding habits/practices, you can stop talking about vision. You don’t need to enshrine an annual vision statement in the church foyer. Teach and encourage the habits. Hold each other accountable to them. And by living them you will embrace the church’s values and better achieve its vision.

  5. Rocky (Grant) Solomon // January 17, 2016 at 6:22 pm // Reply

    This resonates with me Michael. And to be honest if I hear one more person misquote and remove from its context “Where there is no vision the people perish!” I’m gonna scream. Richard Rohr has a an insightful thought that rather than thinking our selves in to new ways of living we must live our selves into new was of thinking. And this has certainly seemed to prove itself in my own journey of discipleship.

  6. Hi Michael,
    My wife and I have recently retired after 46 years together in congregational leadership. For many years we had great difficulty with vision and mission statements, and goal setting. The problem was simple. I spent a lot of time preparing something that the people could do but not many people were interested. This changed in a powerful way when we discovered the strength of corporate ownership. We got the buy in after spending time with the whole group to determine what was important to them. As a result we began to write a short summary of the main points. It didn’t take long before we had a vision statement that was simple enough to remember and powerful enough to measure our behaviour. People began to assess the life of the congregation against the statement. We drove our behaviour by what was important to us as a group. The statement contained values, behavioural expectations and corporate direction. Now that my wife and and I are retired I have decided to make this my life’s mission and vision statement. For me, this says it all: “We’re about people finding freedom in a Culture of Grace in a Community of Love, with an Attitude of Gratitude.”
    This statement helped identify the habits that the group wanted to be known by. Having done that, we modelled it at every level of leadership, declared it through every means of communication and assessed our behaviour by it.

  7. I’ve got a great idea. How about a vision statement like this: Acts 1:8 (NIV)
    8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    kinda covers evangelizing, discipleship, teaching, preaching, and even gives you the Resource you need to accomplish the vision / mission. Even gives your area of responsibility: Home, home community and nation, earth. Amazing!

  8. These practices used to be called spiritual disciplines.

  9. Jesus’ Vision statement is The Revelation 21-22

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