Whether you are planting a church, starting a new outreach, or engaging an un-evangelized people group, you need both vision and persistence. Many of us know the verse, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It is often used in the context of teaching about the importance for individuals and groups to have a vision for what God is calling them to do and to become. The verse is Proverbs 29:18a, and the better translation for the word “vision” is prophecy or revelation. The intent of the proverb is to say that without God setting the vision and direction for life, people will do their own thing which will lead to selfishness and death. In short, Scripture and revelation are essential for the life and health of God’s people. Perhaps, Proverbs 20:5 better addresses the need for vision, purpose, and a plan in our lives: “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” The whole of Scripture witnesses to the purposefulness of God: that he is working out his purposes according to his good pleasure (e.g. Luke 4:43, Romans 8:28). It is because of God’s purpose for the world, that the Psalmist has reason to believe and to trust in God’s purpose for his own life: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me” (Psalm 57:2).
Many a ministry and mission effort struggles for lack of a clear vision and sense of purpose for their own setting. Much has been written about discovering and taking responsibility for the purpose and goal of one’s own efforts and commitments. Yet, that is only half of the equation.
The other half is persistence in the pursuit of that vision, goal, and purpose. Often the vision is spot-on target: the tactics for accomplishing that purpose however may need refinement, adjustment and development. The Church has for example sought to reach out to many populations for generations without much success. The vision was certainly in accord with God’s plan and desire to share his grace with all nations and to call all peoples to the foot of the Cross. So why has the Church met up against resistance among some peoples and non-interest among others? The vision needs to be matched by godly wisdom and understanding in order to implement a fruitful strategy.
Furthermore, the Church–and here I add myself into the mix in a personal way–needs to trust God in the ups and downs, and in the twists and turns of real-life ministry. I often say something like, “ministry is one step forward, one to the left, another forward, one back, and another to to the right”. Progress is being made; but we are certainly taking the scenic route.
In the last couple of weeks our efforts “to plant a church within a church” in order to reach out to the next generation of youth and young adults has faced more than one twist and turn. We had no less than four separate set-backs, distractions, and mini-crises. And yet, we pulled off a talent show tonight that revealed the hearts of young people with refreshing transparency, added newcomers to our community, and built momentum for the next phase of our efforts. Should I be discouraged by the former, or encouraged by the later–or take both in stride, keeping my eye on the Lord’s promise to extend his Grace “to you and to your children and to all who are far off” (Acts 2:39)?
This is not meant to be a rhetorical question, but rather an honest reflection of what it means for me to grow in persistence–taking the good, the hard, and the promise together with honesty and with hope. It is there that I have found confidence in the Lord and persistence in my own ministry. Our new service and congregation are far from rooted and mature, and yet there is a vision and a confident hope.