Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Long View

We live in a 24-hour news cycle, results-now world. In contrast, our God takes the long view.

Seeking immediate results is rarely more common than when our ministries are impacted by an economic recession. All of our measurement tools are in place to report short-term measurable “success.” We impatiently scan our ministry reports for positive data indicators.

Are concerns about short-term data important? Yes, par­ticularly if questions of sustainability of the organization are in play.

Yet sound guidance of a ministry is more like running a marathon than a sprint. It is focused on the Great Commission with an appropriate desire to attain short-term effectiveness.

Matthew 14:15 records the recommendation of the disciples to Jesus as they told Him, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” In his recent book, The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders, Roger Parrott, president of Bellhaven College, suggests “the committee’s decision seemed like a reasonable solution.”1

But Jesus took a long view perspective in mentoring these disciples, knowing the solution had sweeping ramifications beyond where to get dinner. Bolstered by the miracle on the hillside, Peter found the faith to step out of the boat and walk on water. That evening had long view implications.

God often builds his church using the long view principle. William Carey, the first missionary to India, worked for seven years before he had his first convert. Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, labored for a quarter century and had fewer than a dozen converts.2

When taking the long view, the following principles are fundamental.
  • Remembering. We are often so focused on the current challenges that we do not take time to remember. How has God helped us in the past? Has he ever failed us? What lessons did He teach us in past challenging times?
  • Reflecting. Identify the season your organization is in by reflecting on your environment. Bill Hybels refers to the seasons of growth as consolidation, transition, malaise and reinvention. He traces the seasons idea back to Ecclesiastes 3:1, which says that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”3 Simply naming the season we are in is the basis of determining the implications of the season.
  • Vision-casting. “God’s vision for your ministry will not change quickly, nor will it be something you will accomplish rapidly. His vision will require years of active pursuit. The vision itself may even outlive you!
“Thus, the heart of the vision will remain unchanged over a prolonged period. Some of the details lying at the outer edge of your understanding of the vision may shift somewhat over the course of time. But the core of the vision—the people you have been called to reach, the task you have been called to do, the purpose for which you exist—will remain constant.

“Because He is not a God of confusion but of order, because He is a God who is in control, because He takes great pleasure in seeing us find success in our service, He will be faithful in His support of the vision.”4

Reflecting on these principles, have you made short-term decisions in the last 12 months impacting the budget, programming, personnel, and much more? You probably have and this was important to do in the short-run. But even the short-term decisions can and should be made with the long view foremost in mind.

1 The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders, Roger Parrott, David C. Cook, 2009.
2 Ibid.
3 Axiom, Bill Hybels, Zondervan, 2008.
4 The Power of Vision, George Barna, Regal, 2009.