Mission-Centered Leadership Series
“Translating Vision into Reality: An Overview” (SL#5)
by Lloyd Elder, adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 2 - Mission-Centered Leadership
written by James D. Williams, Ph.D., with Lloyd Elder, Th.D.

  1. 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:
  2. “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 is:
    Mission-centered leadership is the capacity to lead the congregation:

    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.

  3. 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 people.

  4. 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.
  5. 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 planning.

    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:

    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