Vision, Mission, Goals, and the Future of the UMC

by | May 1, 2019 | 1 comment

As a Christian leader, you have the dreams of God planted within you. Your task of leadership, your greatest act of stewardship, is to dare to bring forth those dreams, then to lead people in their realization.
As you consider what dreams these might be, taste these pungent words from Radical Grace by Richard Rohr. “What word of hope does the church have to offer the world? The world is tired of our ideas and theologies. It’s tired of our lazy church services. It’s no longer going to believe ideas, but it will believe love. It will believe life that is given and received… For most people in the world the question is not, Is there life on the other side of death? It is, rather, Is there life on this side of death?” A Jesus-like dream enables people to experience the glory of being alive while on earth.
As you dare to create your own Jesus-like dream, let’s take a moment and distinguish some key terms, starting with mission and vision. Vision, Mission, GoalsYour congregation’s mission is the reason it exists. Your vision is the imagined aspirational future your congregation is living into. As Glenn Howell, longtime denominational leader puts it, vision is how you see yourself doing your mission. I would tweak that by saying let your vision be how God believes you are capable of living out your mission.
To get a clear picture of the difference between mission and vision, let’s look at a specific example. In the United Methodist Church, “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is the denominational mission. It’s the reason that the church exists at this time. Based on what I’ve observed, the vision of the denomination is, “A world in which the hungry are fed, diseases are stamped out, and God’s grace is made known to all.” This isn’t written down anywhere.  But it’s the lived vision of the UMC as far as I can tell.  Most United Methodist Churches I’ve worked with have some sort of food ministry. The denomination champions an international campaign that invites people to “Imagine no Malaria.” Finally, United Methodists are big on extending the grace of God.
Notice that when it comes to the United Methodist’s working vision, that not every detail is nailed down nor is every nuance figured out. “A world in which the hungry are fed, diseases are stamped out, and God’s grace is made known to all,” paints a picture of the future with broad brush strokes. It’s more like an artistic rendering of a faraway mountain rather than a close-up photo of an immediate landscape.
Now let’s distinguish between a vision and a goal. While a vision is by definition way bigger than you, a goal is smaller, more defined and can easily have the details for its implementation supplied. Click To Tweet
Goals are necessary to enact a vision. But they are not the vision itself.
For instance, one goal necessary to carry out the United Methodist vision might be, “Hold weekly worship services in every congregation so that people in the community can hear and learn about the love of God.” While weekly worship services are a good thing, they are one goal that moves you toward the vision, but they are not the vision.  How do you know?  Implementing this goal won’t necessarily lead to a world in which the hungry are fed, diseases are stamped out, and the grace of God is made known to all.
Let’s tell the truth. It’s easier to settle for a goal than it is to reach for a dream. Or to define why you exist rather than what God is calling you to now that you do exist. It’s easier to take on something small, do-able and predictable than it is to risk something that might fail. You might even be tempted to do so.  But something in you yearns for something more than same old same old.  So I encourage you to resist the temptation to settle for a goal and go all the way for a Jesus-like dream.
Soon United Methodists from around the connection will be gathering to dream of a new future in which people of differing theological commitments can minister side by side with peace and respect. I pray they won’t settle for goals, but will go all the way by daring to dream like Jesus.
Not sure how to create your own Jesus-like dream?  Check out Creating a Culture of Renewal or contact me at to learn more.
This blog is excerpted from the upcoming book Dream Like Jesus, Market Square Books.
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1 Comment

  1. Jay Whitcomb

    Once again, you have said it so well. You will recall eating lunch with us and a deaf minister at Boise First Methodist Church some years ago. I really appreciate reading what you write. I am, of course, very concerned about a split in the UMC. I think it may have already happened and we are in denial. What comes next? I cannot be in a church that limits its commitment to any particular group. Yet I have nowhere else to go. So, we shall see. Jay Whitcomb


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