Myopia is a vision problem where close objects are seen clearly, but objects further away are blurred. It is commonly called “near-sightedness.” Some congregations show the same symptoms when they are unable to see no further than themselves. When this happens, in my opinion, the congregation stops being church and the congregation begins to die as they turn inward and away from the community in which they are located and to which they are sent to be God’s witnesses. These congregations have lost something very important—-their vision. What do I mean by “vision”? The church’s vision is what we see as the purpose of being a church–that is the reason for which we exist. It is our answer to the question ” Why are we here?” What is true for congregations is also true for each individual Christian. Why are we Christians ? What is our purpose? When we name Jesus as Lord and are baptized to show the world our commitment—-how are we changed and transformed? What vision do we have to fulfill as a Christian? Is there a difference between us and other non-Christians ?. If we have no vision as individual Christians it will result in a collection of Christians (a congregation) also not having a vision!
I have been working with a church to help them evaluate where they are on the congregational life-cycle (See Bullard, Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation). During a recent meeting with 12 to 15 of the “spiritual leaders” of the congregation we noted the place their church was on in the life-cycle. They decided the congregation has started on the downward slope (Maturity on the life cycle) where the first thing lost is Vision as the driving force for the congregation. Sure enough, when I asked if they knew what the vision statement of their congregation was, not one of these “spiritual leaders” knew the answer! They did find a vision statement in the part of the constitution that described what their responsibilities were—-but decided it was hopelessly out of date—-forgotten, and so lengthy no one could quite understand it completely. They realized they needed to “re-vision” based on their current time and place.
As I pondered the problem of a congregation that does not have a vibrant vision that guides them, I wondered how they could still be a church and not just a nice social organization. As I searched for why they had lost a vision for their church my mind led me to wonder if I had asked them for a personal vision for themselves as Christians, what their answer might be. The formula to explain lack of vision may be: Lack of individual Christian vision = lack of congregational vision. We have found the problem and it is us!! (to borrow from Pogo)
I believe that the church is should exist to transform lives. Congregations should exist to change individual lives, to deepen discipleship to Jesus the Christ, and to thus set about changing the current world to be more like God’s passion, described by Jesus in the Gospels as the Kingdom of God . Any vision that is does not include the above is myopic. We are here as individual Christians and as a church to make a difference in people’s lives and in our world. We are here as a church to carry out Jesus’ ministry and mission that he described in the synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4:18-19)
fWe are sent to do the same. To bring “good news” to the poor. To speak in their behalf. To end the unfairness that our present laws put upon them. We are to challenge the causes of poverty, not just feed the poor. We are to speak out for health care for them—not just sit back and let the extension of medicaid in Kansas die because the governor doesn’t like President Obama’s Health Care Act which is the law of the land. We are sent by God through the example of Jesus to make concrete differences in the lives and well-being of our fellow human beings. To make sure all are treated fairly as God’s children. TO DO THIS WE HAVE TO ACT, NOT JUST SIT QUIETLY IN OUR CHURCH PEWS ON SUNDAY MORNING ONCE A WEEK AND ALLOW INJUSTICE TO REIGN IN OUR COUNTRY UNCHALLENGED.
It was said of early followers of Jesus, specifically of Paul and Silas, by the citizens of Thessalonica : “….these people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…”(See Acts 17: 5-8)
What have the churches done lately to “turn the world upside down.” What have we done to carry out Jesus’ Great Commandment? What have we done to continue the ministry he described? We as congregations cannot “turn the world upside down” if we stay within our walls and never open the door and go into the world outside and challenge the powers that be to create a world that is fair and good for everyone, not just the chosen few in the name of Jesus the Christ. To turn the world upside down will mean to take risks. It will mean that we will dream God’s dream and work for it to become effective in our place and time.
It is a matter of clearly seeing what God wants the world to be like by reading Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God in the gospels and then setting out to bring that about. As stated in the book of Proverbs: “Without vision the people perish.” Congregations with myopia who can’t see anything but themselves and their comfort also perish! They really have no reason to continue existence. Amen.