Executing the Vision
There have been numerous times in my life where I have found myself thinking, "Uh-oh. We really have to do this thing now."
It doesn't matter what the project is. At some point, you have dreamed and talked enough and the time has come to do.
It happened to me when I worked in the U.S. Senate. We talked for years about creating a new wildlife refuge in Alabama. As I left a meeting with the city and county officials, representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service, interested local citizens, and the U.S. Army (who owned the property), I was fired up and excited about the possibilities. And then it hit me. Um, we really have to do this thing now. We had talked. Now it was time to do. There was legislation to be written and edited and re-written. There were letters to be sent. There were committee chairmen to convince. I had to build relationships and develop talking points and move the vision from head to paper to reality. There were critics to battle from all sides of the issue.
It happened to me again after I developed the discipleship map. It was an exhilerating 6 months to pray and dream at Great Falls, to research discipleship methods throughout history and contempory small group models, to talk with people about how they grew closer to God. Sketches were scratched onto napkins and in notebooks. We stretched and twisted a tweaked images until a map emerged. The map became the subject of Thursday Leadership Lessons, the centerpiece of the Leadership Retreat, and the creative element of our 2006 small group promotional video. As I left the retreat, I said, "Wow, we really have to do this thing now."
Receiving the vision and communicating the vision can be thrilling. There is no feeling in the world like realizing your heartbeat has jumped to a new frequency as it beats in sync with the heart of God. There is an energy and excitement that stimulates leaders as they give voice to their vision. But there comes a moment where you have to take that first step forward into the ocean of the unknown to bring your vision into being.
There is something a little scary about taking that first step towards executing your vision-- moving it from the quiet place between you and God to the public attention to the first step into reality.
Taking that step towards executing a vision is like clinging onto a train for dear life as it leaves the station at an acceleration of 60 miles in 2.8 seconds.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Develop S.M.A.R.T. Goals
The first steps is to prayerfully take the big vision and break it down into steps or goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Requires Faith, and Time Related.
We need goals that are specific enough that we know and can communicate exatly what we are trying to accomplish.
The goals should be measurable. At the end of a game, anyone can determine who won by looking at the scoreboard. What will be the measuring stick for determining the accomplishment of the goals and the movement towards the reality of the vision?
The next two -- achievable and requires faith-- characterize the tension that must be managed when setting goals. You don't want to set goals that are unreasonable and can never be realized. Otherwise, discouragement can derail the good work you are trying to do. Vision excution is often a series of sprints. At the same time, your goals should be big enough for God to fit into. The goals should leave allow room for you to stretch and grown.
Finally, your goals should be time related. You want to put timetables on those goals to help you stay on track and moving.
Orient all of the activity of your organization around these goals. Activities that are not goal-related will suck valuable time, energy, and resources away from the accomplishment of the vision.
The primary purpose of communicating your vision is to enlist others. As John Maxwell says in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, "One is too small a number to achieve greatness." We need to get others involved in our vision because we can't do it all on our own. Woodrow Wilson said, "We should not only use all the brains we have, but all that we can borrow."
At some point, you have to make the "big ask" and encourage others to jump on the train with you. If you have done a good job of communicating your vision, then you are 95% of the way there.
It's also important to seek the approval and advice of those who hold positions of authority in your life. In the marketplace, this could include bosses or those responsible for financial implications. In ministry settings, that could include leaders, mentors, and those in spiritual authority. Getting those folks on board may seem like an overwhelming obstacle at times, but it will serve you and the vision well in the long run.
Rick Warren said, "When you're small, they'll dismiss you; when you're growing, they'll criticize you; and when you're large, they'll resent you. So ignore 'them' and get on with whatever God has told you to do!"
What if Nehemiah had listened to critics? The wall of Jerusalem would not have been rebuilt. What if Moses had listened to critics? The Hebrews would have re-enlisted in the Egyptian slave corps. What if Joshua had listened to critics as they marched around Jericho? What if Jesus had listened to the critics? When executing a God-given vision, you must keep your heart soft before God and his church while ignoring unconstructive crticism.
Proverbs tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counsel. And we should be open to correction if our vision is not aligned with Scripture. Here are the two tests I use:
- Criticism should only pierce your heart if it passes through Scripture (thank you to Pastor Mark for that helpful advice)
- Criticism should be embraced primarily from people who love you immensely, but who love Jesus more.
Like physical objects, vision follows the second law of thermodynamics and is subject to entropy. It moves towards disorder. Vision can decay and drift over time if the leader does not continue to communicate the main thing. As I said last week, you must keep saying it and saying it until you are sick of saying it and people are sick of hearing it.
Check out Wineskins for Discipleship next week as we explore the life and ministry of Nehemiah: A Biblical Case Study in Vision.