Proverbs 29:18 is often trotted out by church leaders in an attempt to badger people into getting on board the church program of the day. It is usually quoted in the lyrical poetry of the KJV which translates this verse to say, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

The word translated “vision” is the Hebrew word, “chazown;” it means more accurately “revelation,” a translation supported by the second half of the verse which goes on to say in the KJV, “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Proverbs 29:18 is really an encouragement to learn the ways God has designed the universe to operate and to live in harmony with that design.

The abuse of Proverbs 29:18 to harangue church members into getting on board the church “vision,” points to the dangers and problems inherent in the process of establishing a community vision.

When I think about vision I have more questions than answers. Here are some of the questions I ponder when I think about having a church vision.

What is the purpose of vision? What are we trying to achieve when we seek a common vision?

Why do communities need a vision? Do communities need a vision?

How does a community come up with a genuinely shared vision?

How does a community discern when a particular vision is no longer relevant for the life of the community? How do the members of a community who have been committed to a particular vision come to the point where the agree that it is time to let go of the old vision and move on into something new?

Here are some of the things I think I understand about vision.

1. A community is communal. To be in community means to share a sense of common identity. If a group of people is going to be anything more than a mere disparate conglomeration of individuals, the members of that group will need to discover some sense of what they share in common and what draws them together as community.

2. A community needs a sense of vision in order to share a common sense of purpose, identity, and direction. When each member of a community simply decides on for himself or herself what it means to be part of the community, there really is no community.

3. A common vision enables a community to move together in a consistent direction and to focus its energies. There is a pragmatic purpose to having some connected sense of why a particular group of people bothers gathering as a group.
4. There are risks in developing a common vision.

a. There is always a danger that a shared vision results in the community demanding that conformity to the vision is essential to membership in the community.

b. It is possible that a community will resort to guilt, manipulation, even abuse in order to achieve conformity to the agreed upon vision.

c. Communities with a strong sense of vision may stop listening to any dissenting voices under the assumption that disagreement with the vision represents disloyalty to the community.

Is it possible for a community to share a common sense of vision without becoming inflexible, vicious, and abusive?

Where does power lie once a vision has been determined? Does it lie with the original formers of that vision, or with those who are being challenged to implement the vision in the way that seems most appropriate?

How is the community empowered to change their vision?

Is vision incompatible with freedom? Am I free to speak critically of a vision without necessarily being labeled as disloyal to the organization that holds that vision?

I wonder if the potential benefits for a community of having a strong vision outweigh the risks.

I would love to hear from anyone who has thought seriously about these kinds of questions and how they apply to church life.