The Leader as Catalyst - Part 2 (Envisioner)
This is the second installment in a seven-part series on understanding the leader as a catalyst. Last week we laid the foundation for this concept from a biblical perspective, so if you missed it, you should take the time to revisit that blog. Today I would like to introduce the first of five key elements within this framework, each being a different role the leader plays within the community to which they provide leadership. These five roles are essential to catalyzing a community to embrace the Jesus way in both thought and practice. They are sequenced by design, each element being foundational for the next.
First Element: Envisioner (See the Way)
Abraham is an example of an archetypal catalytic leader. Such a person is someone who God calls out a revelatory picture of the future. Such a picture embodies both His promise and His plan for His Kingdom:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3).
As is often said, “hindsight is 20/20,” and for us, this is certainly true concerning the story of Abraham. Looking back, we can now see God intended to use the line of Abraham to express His Kingdom on Earth. This first was expressed through national Israel, and ultimately through Christ's Church:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14-15).
Through Abraham, God raised up Israel as a nation with the intention that they would represent Him to all the peoples of the world. Through Abraham’s line, He raised up Jesus as the Messiah, the King who would rule all of humanity forever. Through Christ, the “blessing of Abraham” – the Holy Spirit – would be given to all who would come into submission to the King. This Church would be the new representative people, God making His appeal through them (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Through the Church, this message of reconciliation would flow out to every ethnos, every people group on the planet (ref. Matthew 28:18-20).
Abraham had a vision, a glimpse of God’s preferred future which was the guiding force in his life. To be sure, it was but a peek at the future, and he only knew in part. Abraham didn’t have the complete picture. He couldn’t have, as he didn’t have the panoramic context of God’s salvation history. But we do, and some 3,500 years later, we can see the effect of Abraham’s obedient pursuit of God’s vision. Yet, we too can often lack context for us in our moment and have but a narrow vista of God’s intention for the community we lead. Or perhaps, the view which the Lord affords us is broad but short. He may grant us a wide perspective with no depth of field, lacking but a few short-term details. Regardless, the fact is that He does reveal, and it is the leader’s job to grab hold of that picture of God's preferred future, and like Abraham, obediently pursue it. In fact, it has always been when there has been a lack of vision that Israel, and the Church, have wandered off God’s path:
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Psalm 29:18).
Yes, often times the vision God has given has not been received, even rejected, by God’s leaders (i.e., Jonah) or His people (i.e., Israel in the wilderness). Vision must be both received and shared to be effective. The “law” in this passage is, of course, “torah,” which means “instruction in the way.” Blessing comes when we receive God’s vision and follow His instruction in how to pursue it.
Vision can be thought of as the picture of the preferred future God desires for His people, in both being and doing. It’s holistic and integrated, a “both/and” of the character and nature of their life together in Christ, as well as their engagement in Christ's mission of Kingdom extension. Like Abraham, the primary leader and others in the leadership community must receive vision for what God's preferred Kingdom future looks like in the church they serve to guide them towards it. They must envision it and describe it in such a way as others can lay hold of the vision for themselves and respond in obedient action in the Lord. This vision defines everything about what this community will be and do to pursue their future in the Lord. There is no hope in the successful embrace of God’s intention without this. As such, the senior leader(s) can never give the role of envisoner away; it cannot be delegated. Such vision is formed in the life of that primary leader, as it was with Abraham, that life being the formative environment through which God works.
Such visionary leadership was played out in the Scripture in the context of what might be called “The Kingdom Meta-Narrative,” as we are given the stories of multiple different and diverse leaders, all within the framework of the big story of God’s redemptive work. The Bible itself is an integrated composite of haggadah, “the Telling,” or “the Story,” and halacha, the “commanded practices.” The telling/story is the big picture describing who God is, what He is up to in His redemptive work of reunification, and what He expects as the Creator in His relationship with humanity. The command and practices are what He expects from humanity in actions within His covenant with them. The vision of a local church must encompass both the story and the accompanying spiritual practices. The leader’s first responsibility is to make that story understood and accessible to those in the church. Second, they must define and describe the methods that take the community towards the future God desires.
The graphic above illustrates how vision works and how it is lived out within a community. The Story is rooted in the past; the Vision is future-oriented. Both must be brought into a present process with Christ in the practices of the life and mission of a church community. The leader must know the Story, the haggadah, the Scripture, and the colorful picture of God’s intended future, the vision. They must pull both elements, past and future, into the current lived-out reality of the community, creating the spiritual life pattern. Without such an embrace, churches often get stuck in the past. Consequently, they are ineffective in living in the present and, therefore, have no future. Or they may get stuck in the current moment disconnected from both past and future, simply living without any focus, with no hope, merely trying to survive. Some may live in the future, devaluing their origins, losing a Scriptural foundation, and having no real-world impact today. The past and the future must be lived out in the present to accomplish God's purposes. For a church to be catalytic, it must have all three parts intertwined in its life: past, present, and future. The leadership role of the envisioner is an absolutely essential part of this, the first of five elements of a catalytic leader.
So, dear leader, how well are you seeing God’s future for your community and sharing it with others?