Vision and Agenda – Minding Motives

Of recent I have been reflecting on the complex relationship between vision and agenda. A reason may be that I am almost half-way into my moderatorial term and am very aware that, given the challenging circumstances we are faced with today, there is no shortage of talks about vision and visioning. Many may even feel and wish to contend that we are suffering from ‘vision fatigue’. Can it be that our problem may be an inability to wait upon/for a vision? Have we fallen into the habit of pre-empting or of perceiving the need to pre-empt the vision or else become irrelevant and die!

It can be argued that a key element in the working of a conciliar church such as ours is that of the habit of discernment: trying to discern God’s purpose for us today.  The Church’s life is not decided by democratic process or by people who speak the loudest or most forcefully.  There is no place for party interests or power groups, though this may be wishful thinking!  Members of the Body of Christ ought to be operating by a different set of values.

I suspect that a timely question can be: in what ways are we facilitating such discerning, especially since there may be the perception that we ought to spend less time on “peripheral” things (at our Council meetings), such as worship, prayers and reflections and more of our time on the business of the Church! This, of course, raises the question as to what actually is the business of the Church, if it is not worship, prayers and reflection!

What strikes me (with a confession that I am chief among sinners) is the number of occasions we have ended up confusing vision and discernment with our own agenda. Often what passes as discernment of a vision can turn into no more than the agenda of a minority of strong voices. And some of these strong voices may rightly wish to argue that they have discerned God’s Spirit leading them to walk down a particular road. So this is not to dismiss the individual discernment of people, led by God’s Spirit! However, be it individual or group, our discernment must take place within a faith relationship. Empirical inspection and rational evaluation of data will not necessarily yield a sense of where the Spirit may be leading us!

Discerning is also about what happens in the conversations that follow in community with that close and growing relationship with God coming first. And, in situations where there is lack of a collective ownership (of what may have started as individual or small group discernment) by the whole assembly, we need to seriously consider this as sign of “not yet ready”. For, it is in such moments that we can fall into the temptation of vision becoming agenda. This is why visions need constant reflecting upon and testing to avoid turning into our individual agenda or “hobby horse”. It is not always easy to listen to what the Spirit may be saying to us, especially when our vision/agenda gets questioned, interrogated or not discerned by the collective as what the Spirit is saying. Yielding our will to God’s will and setting aside personal agendas remain a challenge.  Many of us think that listening to God is fine as long as God agrees with what we think! Perhaps, we can learn from the Quakers. They spend a lot of time in silence listening to God. And, I have learnt that they actually have a policy that those people who already have an opinion on the subject for which they are seeking guidance, should exclude themselves from the process.

In my limited experience, vision is what must take us by surprise, coming in ordinary and surprising packages, not in well thought out and rehearsed speeches. Vision is both reliable and unpredictable, and may look like mistakes, failures and despair pouring out like rain and germinating like seeds. Vision will grow us up in community (with the collective), will let the child in us thrive like wild shrub, constantly reminding us that we are not in control. While agenda chains us, vision releases us for faith, creativity and the daringness to act on what we have received.

May discernment become a lifestyle, not something we ‘put on’ for a meeting and before a crisis situation! And may we always be a people of God who take the time and discipline to listen, pray and recognise God’s voice, and obey it.

 image credit © Elizabeth Gray-King

3 thoughts on “Vision and Agenda – Minding Motives

  1. Elizabeth Welch

    Thanks for this helpful comment. It has struck me over the years that, if our vision is primarily of God, then each one of us is challenged to see that the little each one of us can grasp of God can only be a tiny piece of a much greater whole. There will be hiddenness and surprises as we grow into our shared vision of God. When we engage with others in our listening for the Spirit, then our vision will be bigger and richer than if we only listen on our own. Thanks also for the reminder that discernment is a lifestyle. Then the challenge is, not to get stuck in a lifestyle with which we feel easily comfortable, but to go on growing in to the fullness of Christ.

  2. Paul Stokes

    Sometimes I wish that we took good note of Proverbs 29:18 in the NIV translation. The old King James phrase that “where there is no vision, the people perish” has seen the word ‘vision’ become synonymous with ‘a big idea someone has got in their mind’. It needn’t be so, but that is what has happened in many church contexts where I hear people speak of ‘vision’.

    That’s why the NIV’s “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” is more helpful …it reminds us that vision comes from above as revelation, and not from within as a ‘big idea’. Vision keeps us on God’s agenda rather than shackled to mere human agendas.

  3. Andrew Willett

    This is an interesting and thought provoking ariticle. I am trying to train myself to listen to God and when I do then it is always rewarding, too often we can fall into the trap of ‘getting on with it’ as there is so much to do. Then however, if we are not careful, be following our agenda rather than God’s vision.

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