It can be so easy in leadership to mistake a reaction for a vision.  I know I’ve made that mistake a number of times in my life and it’s led to bad decisions, misspent energy and reduced effectiveness.  It’s a trap I’m asking God for the grace to avoid going forward in my leadership life but doing that requires a solid understanding of the difference between the two.

I’ve never come across a better definition of vision than the one Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, has made famous, “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”  Definitions of reaction are harder to come by so I’m going with the ever reliable dictionary, “an action performed or a feeling experienced in response to a situation or event.”  Understanding the difference between the two is essential.

Let me give you a very practical example.  Let’s say you attend a church where the pastor preaches largely topical messages organized into short sermon series that are well packaged for a non-Christian audience.  Let’s take it one step further and say you aren’t getting as much out of those messages as you think you should; maybe you’ve even called them “shallow.”  Just for fun, let’s say you’re on staff at that church.  One day you’re driving home after church with your spouse and you let loose with, “I’m so tired of this watered down nonsense week after week, if I was the pastor of this church, we would actually teach the Bible.  People who don’t do verse by verse expositional teaching are just wasting the congregation’s time and dishonoring God.”  Boom.  Tweet that and call it vision.  Except for the fact that it isn’t…it’s a reaction.  Reactions do very well on social media but they’re horrible at building a healthy organization.

Vision for preaching would sound a lot more like, “Nothing has ever changed my life the way God’s Word has.  I love it.  I can’t get enough of it.  It’s fresh every time I come to it and I want to devote my life to helping people see that.  When I preach, I want people to know they are hearing from God through His Word and that His Word changes lives.  So, I don’t want anything in my message to distract from God.  Can you imagine a church where people come expecting to hear the voice of God speaking into their lives?”  Totally different – I’d get fired up about building that church!

So, how do you spot a reaction?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • It’s a statement of what you aren’t as opposed to what you are
  • It’s motivated by a desire to prove someone else wrong
  • It’s disconnected from the personal life of the leader
  • It’s a means to an end, not an end in and of itself (you’re only doing x as a means to get to y)
  • It’s quickly formed
  • Success is virtually impossible to define or illustrate
  • Close friends are more cautious than supportive

Think about how different that is from vision:

  • It’s all about the organization you want to see come into existence
  • It’s motived by love for what could be
  • It flows out of and is consistent with the personal life of the leader
  • You know what success would look like and feel like
  • You believe the picture you are trying to paint is inherently valuable
  • It percolates over time, is confirmed in prayer and sharpened by God’s Word
  • Close friends are leaning in and telling you to go for it.

The bottom line in all of this – beware of the danger of mistaking a reaction for a vision.  Sure, reactions might help sharpen our vision but they aren’t the same thing at all.  Lead from vision and leave the small bands of angry reactionaries to other people!

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