One of the things that is great about the advent of computer technology is that it can have a drastic impact on doing Biblical research. For example, if you wanted to search for a word throughout scripture to see how many times it appears, the context in which it appears, and how the use of the word changes over time, you can now purchase Bible software that allows you to do just that! In the days of yesteryear, you would either need a relatively large theological and Biblical library of your own or have access to a theological library such as those found on seminary campuses in order to do this kind of research. You would need heaps of books to trace out all the different variations of the word you are curious about, and it would take quite a bit of time to pull at each thread that is included in the research at hand!
This last week, I have been working on my address for the parish annual meeting. In that work, I began to get curious about a single word, and I began wondering about how many times and in what context that word appears in the whole of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation. So, I dusted off my trusty Bible software and entered the word “vision” into the search bar, hit enter, and was confronted with a detailed analysis of where the word appears. In my search, I discovered that there are approximately 10 different ways of referring to a vision in the Hebrew scriptures and four different ways of referring to a vision in the New Testament! The word shows up 120 times in 115 verses in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
Now, all of this might seem rather mundane information, but I got curious about it the topic of visions in scripture because I am curious about the importance of visions and vision statements in the contemporary church. In scripture, visions appear in moments of divine revelation such as in a dream, a moment in which a future is going to be shared, or a moment in which current events are explained.1 From Abraham to the author of Revelation, vision is an important source of how God communicates with people throughout the canon of scripture. It is a major source of how the people of the Bible listen to what God is saying and is how characters like Abraham, the prophets, and the apostles follow where God is leading them. It is an idea that is foundational to how God reveals God’s self throughout scripture.
It seems that the notion of having a vision is pretty important in the life of faith. It is important to know the road that we are walking and where it is leading us. It is important to name the vision that we hold for ourselves in the ways that we listen to God’s voice in our midst, and it is how we begin to know how God is calling us to show up on behalf of others in our context. For us to take on the work of discerning a vision statement for our parish is how we listen to what God is revealing to us in the here and now. In short, we are accepting the invitation to listen to the Spirit – to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches – and to follow where the Spirit is leading us. We are showing up and naming the future that we believe God is encouraging us not simply to inhabit but also to co-create through the power of the Spirit.
Here, I think it is important for us to understand that naming a possibility is an important part of the work that God calls us into as followers of Jesus. When I was in seminary, I wrote a paper on the idea of jubilee as found in the Hebrew scriptures. In my conclusion, I stated that the notions behind the idea of jubilee as found in Leviticus are great but are not all that realistic for us in the modern age. How in the world could we possibly live into the ideas of freedom that are presented through the notion of jubilee? And of course, my professor pointed out that perhaps the reason it seems impossible is because not enough of us have thought of jubilee as a possibility that could be lived out in the here and now. Possibility is nothing more than something we name, out loud, in the presence of others with whom we have a common interest.2 When we name the possibility at critical moments, when something is at stake, we begin to create the very possibility that we have named. The possibility itself becomes part of the community, and the community becomes the conversation that is happening. The community that we are building becomes the possibility that we want to inhabit and want to bring into existence. The vision that we name out loud, in the context of communal gathering, is part of how we listen for the vision God is gifting to us in this moment.3
Of course, receiving a vision is not something that is going to happen in solitude for a whole community. Instead, it is brought into being in the moments that we gather as a community in order to listen – to each other, to God, and to our neighbors. It is about the ways that we convene conversations, and it is about the conversation(s) that we choose to have with ourselves. The act of convening is, itself, an act of leadership that helps us to live into three other important modes of leadership: shifting context in which people gather, name the debate through powerful questions, and listening.
Leadership as a community building exercise is not about defending propositions or about providing answers. It is about bringing community together in order that each of us are able to share in the roles of leadership within our community. Leadership is about the ways that we name the debate we need to have through a powerful question. It is about seeking that powerful question through communal conversation, and it is about allowing that powerful question(s) to help us define the conversation we are going to have with ourselves.4
In the past six months, our parish has been entering into that work through the Parish Council. While the first meeting of the Parish Council was largely organizational and concerned with getting to a mapping of our ministries that makes some kind of sense for us to follow, the second convening used the simple architecture of a circle. As we gathered, we centered ourselves and hosted a conversation about the way forward for the Parish Council. We began to convene in a different model, and we began hosting different kinds of conversations – perhaps because we were not sitting around a conference table. We understood that the purpose of the meeting was not to solve anything or create solutions. It was to host the conversation that needed to happen that morning. The purpose of the meeting was to enter into one of the most difficult tasks of leaders: to listen.
- The Lexham Theological Workbook. Logos Bible Software. Accessed January 22, 2020.
- Block, Peter. (2009). Community (p. 53). San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler.
- Ibid., p. 52
- Ibid., p. 73