October 13, 2015

12 Fun Facts About the Vision Frame for Church Leaders

Vision Frame in action by church leaderWhat is the Vision Frame? I’m glad you asked. It is a simple napkin sketch or whiteboard drawing that is used to represent the five irreducible questions of any ministry. It pictures mission, values, strategy, measures and vision and relates them in a way that is more meaningful and memorable. Read the complete overview.

For now here are some fun facts about the Vision Frame which debuted in print in the book Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision Capture Culture and Create Movement.

1- BIRTHPLACE: The Vision Frame was born on a napkin sketch in 2001, in Clear Lake, Texas when I was playing and doodling at my desk. It is now 14 years old and sometimes wakes up with pimples.

2- CHEAP LABOR: When the Vision Frame first hit the road consulting, I was simply begging my seminary buddies to bring me in for staff retreats. I would come as long as they paid my airfare and bought lunch.

3- BILINGUAL: The Vision Frame speaks two languages— it can enter a meeting on classic planning and hangout in the missional conversation. This language roughly corresponds to leaders over 40 years of age (classic lingo) and leaders under 40 (missional lingo). In other words, the Vision Frame is proud to be multigenerational tool.

4- PERSONALITY: The Vision Frame is notoriously hard to get to know and even comes across square at first. But once you get to know it, it becomes a best friend that you will always want around.

5- NO FAVORITES: Since the Vision Frame is truly model neutral, its works for any faith tribe, ministry model or philosophy. It loves church planters, turnaround leaders, and megachurch pastors just the same. It truly has no favorites!

6- HAPPIEST DAY: Anytime a church leaders go up to a white board and shares the five irreducible questions of clarity around a box, square or anything that remotely looks like a Vision Frame.

7- SADDEST DAY: When the Vision Frame read Tim Keller’s Center Church and it was never mentioned.  It’s feelings were hurt since so many books in the missional conversation where mentioned both good and bad. After all, how can you talk about “theological vision” without a Vision Frame?

8- TRACK RECORD: Church leaders search for “Vision Frame” 400 times per month on the internet; it sells the same number of books per month after 8 years.

9- TRAVEL: The Vision Frame has spent the most of its travel time all over South America, Korea, Germany and Switzerland. The Spanish version is Iglessia Unica. The Korean version of Church Unique is literally translated, “Your Church in 10 Years.”

10- SECRETS: The Vision Frame secretly believes that when Jesus was drawing something in the sand, it was probably looked like a frame.

11- STYLE: The Vision Frame is the only organizational approach to clarity that actually uses a picture to transmit the key ideas. Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins and Peter Drucker have similar irreducible questions but never made them visual or fashionable. Further more the Vision Frame has icons decorating it and a 52-page gorgeously designed visual overview dedicated to it. Get it here—requires e-mail.

12- KISSIN COUSIN: The Vision Frame has a related tool, the Horizon Storyline, which debuts on January 1st of 2016:  God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates to Find and Focus Your Church’s Future. While the Vision Frame will be a little jealous there are many shout outs to it in the book.

September 22, 2015

Stop “Making Disciples:” 10 Ways Church Mission Statements Backfire

Church Mission Statements BackfireThe idea of mission is simple: Do you and those who you lead know what you are ultimately supposed to be doing? While most pastors think they are clear on mission, most church attenders are not. And in some ways, how we use the default language of “making disciples” is to blame, even though these words represent a very important biblical passage.

To say it a different way, how church leaders cut and paste Matthew 28:19-20 as a crown-jewel text of the Great Commission is actually working against their accomplishment of it. Our church mission statements backfire on us!

Here are ten quirky realities about church mission statements that illuminate how they backfire. Which one is most applicable to your current situation?

Quirky Reality #1: No Process

Even though the Bible records many examples of leaders articulating the mission of God’s people, we fixate on Matthew’s version of it. Rather than going through a process to articulate the Jesus-given mission for our specific time and place, we parrot the words of one particular gospel over the others.

Quirky Reality #2: No Definition

By photocopying Matthew’s version of the church’s mission, we traffic in words like “make disciples” with little to no definition or context and in some cases very little actual experience. Because we get it from the Bible and preach with biblical intent, we don’t think we need to.

Quirky Reality #3: Anything Goes

It is easy for church attenders  to reinterpret their experience of church—whatever it may be—as a “making disciples” experience because there is little to no definition or context for these words. This creates a vicious cycle within the church of assuming we know what we mean as the church continues to make decisions, spend money and add ministries. A church can be anything it wants to anybody. It can do anything it wants to do with perfect justification underneath its undefined mission statement.

Quirky Reality #4: Missing Scorecard

Pastors validate the mission of “make disciples” with a scorecard that has nothing to do with whether or not a disciple has been made; that is with the scorecard of attendance and giving only. Concerts and circuses have great attendance and giving too.

Quirky Reality #5: Incomplete Competence

Because we can name “make disciples” as the “right answer” for the mission of the church, we think we know how to lead with mission. When it fact, we are substituting “a knowledge about” mission with the lifelong competency development of “leading from” mission.

Quirky Reality #6: False Assurance 

Because of the notion of “mission as statement,” the written statement in our membership class or website creates a false sense of completion. Stating the mission one time becomes a “been there, done that” step.” Since it is stated somewhere, we think the work of leading with mission is done, when it has hardly begun.

Quirky Reality #7: Reinforced Consumerism

In the process of articulating a “make disciples” mission, 95% of churches reinforce consumerism without knowing it. This happens because most statements imply to the church attender that they, as the disciple, are the beneficiaries of services and groups provided by the fulltime pastors. The pastors and staff, they assume, do “the making.”

Why does this occur? Simply put, the language of “making a disciple” is not accessible enough to the mindset of our culture. People don’t get out of bed and think to themselves, “I get to make disciples today.” They leave that to “the professionals” and to the “place they go” to attend church.

Quirky Reality #8: Misdirected Energy

The primary growth challenge of any church is having culture of mission. By focusing on a thousand things to grow our church, we miss the first and most important step to healthy multiplication and dynamic growth. All growth and renewal in a church comes from the process of re-founding the mission with the leadership core, which is hopefully a growing leadership core.

Quirky Reality #9: Little Transference

When a church is in its most entrepreneurial form, a culture of mission is “in the atmosphere” and little intention is necessary for people to “feel it.” The start and the big bang of the church itself substantiates the mission whether it is thoughtfully articulated or not. But once the church grows past 75 people, how you articulate the mission is critical to its transference.

Quirky Reality #10: Shadow Mission

In addition to your stated mission, every organization has a functional mission or “shadow mission.” Think of the functional mission as the unstated driver or notion of “success” that most naturally tempts us to drift off the Jesus-given mission of the church. For example a functional mission of many churches would be something like to “have more people attend worship services” or “to sustain enough giving to keep our current staff” or “to not make anyone unhappy.”

One Application: Your Own Words

Perhaps the best way to summarize this post is to recall one of the fundamental exercises of learning: “putting it in your own words.” Your second grade English teacher asked you to read something. And when she wanted to know if you understood what you were reading, she asked you to restate it in your own words.

Likewise, our people won’t understand the mission of Jesus until they can put in in their own words.

July 4, 2015

The Nine Forms of Generic Church Vision that Stifle Practically Every Church

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Most pastors are visionaries. But to fully realize the vision of a church, a pastor needs more than a generic sense of the future.

When it comes to vision, the biggest challenge to success is not your obstacles. The biggest challenge to overcome is settling for a lesser vision and not knowing it. If you grab on to a faulty tool—in this case the tool of vision—everything you to try to build with that tool will be limited.

Once you move past a generic sense to a vivid vision, you will still have many obstacles to overcome, but those are the natural challenges of implementation. You still have the hard work to do. But every action and every point of communication is more powerful with the vivid and compelling picture of the future in view.

If you are living with generic vision, and I believe most pastors are, more of your implementation challenges have to do with clarity than you realize. In the last week alone, I have seen issues like staff hiring decisions, children’s programming decisions, and campus launch decisions all present major dilemmas only because of unclear vision. Yet the lead pastor didn’t recognize it as such.

How then, can we apprehend the generic church vision that plagues our churches? In my forthcoming book, God Dreams, I have identified nine forms generic vision to help you name it in your church. The nine stem from three healthy biases. That is to say, we empower generic vision with good motives most of the time. We do the wrong thing for the right reason. It’s a good motive taken a little too far in application.

The three healthy biases are: accuracy, growth and efficiency. I will briefly describe each bias with the three forms of generic vision they create. Also, I will invite you to receive free God Dreams resources when they are available at the link below. The next resource is a worksheet to help your team identify its specific form of generic vision.


A healthy bias toward accuracy can lead us to confuse Biblical statements with Biblically informed vision.

 The story of church vision in the last two decades could be described as the great misuse of the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). Most people have heard some variation of the following as a vision statement for a local church:

  •  “Our vision is to love God and love others.” (Love God vision)
  •  “Our vision is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” (Make disciples vision)
  • “Our vision is to glorify God.” (Glorify God vision) 

These are biblical imperatives that should apply to all churches, but not as a vision statement. Why? When Jesus summarized the law, He was not giving churches a vision statement. This is a meaningful summary of the law, but it’s not an answer to the question: if we’re a church, what should our vision be for the next three to twenty years?

To summarize the problem, in our efforts to be biblical we fail to be imaginative, by cut-n-pasting verses as vision.


A healthy bias toward growth can lead us to substitute a grow-only vision for a growth-minded vision. 

Some church leaders equate growth with vision. “If we experience momentum, we must have vision,” they reason. Here are three examples of how growth becomes an end in itself as generic kinds of vision statements for a local church:

  •  “Our vision is to reach more people for Christ.” (Reach more vision)
  • “Our vision is to build a bigger facility or launch more campuses in order to take the gospel to more places.” (Build more vision)
  • “Our vision is to change world.” (More change vision)

Every church should be reaching more people and multiplying disciples. And an increased response can certainly lead to more facilities and more campuses.

A healthy bias for growth might undergird a vision, but statements like these are weak by themselves. “Reaching more” and “changing the world” are too vague. And buildings and campuses might be important tools, but they are means to something greater, not an end in themselves.


A healthy bias toward efficiency can lead to a done-for-you vision that neglects adequate do-it-yourself vision ownership. 

Church leaders across the centuries have been drawn to learn from other churches where good things seem to be happening. Often this happens with the best of motives: they suspect God is at work and they want to be part of it. They appreciate the encouragement, the ideas, the tools, and the training from the other churches’ leadership. They follow the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11:1 where the Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A noble intent for sure.

But the passion that says, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” while wisely seeking to improve efficiency, can lead to a debilitating blockage of the imagination. Who wants to leverage the learning of others to the point of sacrificing the thrill of having a God-given, handcrafted vision?

This bias shows up in several approaches to vision. But unlike the accuracy bias and the growth bias, the efficiency bias doesn’t usually express itself in a written vision statement, but in the mindset of the leaders. I would label three expressions of this intent as follows:

  •  Serve as a franchise vision
  • Offer the most vision (i.e., more programs)
  • Be the best vision (model church, top 10, etc.) 

Of course I have much more to say about these nine forms of generic vision in God Dreams. But I bet this is enough to begin a meaningful conversation with your team.

The post will be unpacked in greater detail in God Dreams, my fourth book. The subtitle is 12 Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future.  I invite you to sign up for pre-release specials before the book is published in 2016 (link below). The biggest one will be a free visual summary that you won’t want to miss! The next tool I am providing is a generic vision worksheet.

Get on the list for pre-release specials for God Dreams here.

May 28, 2015

12 Startling Reasons to Practice Long Term Thinking in Ministry

I have never been more excited to put a tool in the hand of church leaders. God Dreams is my fourth book and I’m currently in the writing home stretch with Warren Bird, who’s been an amazing collaborator. The subtitle is 12 Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future.

Here is the first of many peeks into the book. I invite you to sign up for pre-release specials before the book is published in 2016 (link below). The biggest one will be a free visual summary that you won’t want to miss!

One of the chapters in God Dreams is focused on recovering the long view of visionary planning. I unpack the benefits of “thinking long” in a world obsessed with now. The long term vision tool that I debut in the book is called the Horizon Storyline. It’s a visionary planning method that snaps right into the Vision Frame.

For more than a few reasons, the practice of long term thinking is hard to come by these days. Steward Brand, who is working on an interesting project called the 10,000-year clock project writes:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span.The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next election perspective of democracies or the distractions of personal multitasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective is needed.

What are the 12 startling reasons to practice long term thinking in ministry?

  1. Think long because, most likely, you will lead for a long time.
  2. Think long to love people beyond your lifetime.
  3. Think long because that’s how God reveals himself.
  4.  Think long because God thinks generationally.
  5.  Think long because you will live forever.
  6.  Think long because how big you think guides how much you accomplish.
  7.  Think long to build a ministry that will endure.
  8.  Think long because it costs you nothing.
  9.  Think long to master plan your disciple-making impact.
  10.  Think long to connect people to God’s big story of redemptive history.
  11.  Think long to focus a broader resource base.
  12.  Think long so that God can do more than you think.

Get on the list for pre-release specials for God Dreams here.

April 3, 2015

5 Biblical Principles for Personal Visioning

Two new initiatives have marked my ministry in 2015 and have me spending more time on personal visioning.

The first is leading my first personal vision cohort. Fourteen people have joined with me for a 12-month journey of finding and aligning their personal vision. It continues to be a great joy, and you will see a lot of new content on my blog toward the end of 2015 under the banner of “younique.”   Younique will be a brand for training and tools for personal visioning like nothing else currently available.

Another initiative is writing the official trade book follow-up to Church Unique— the book is called God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future. Both of these books have me digesting content about visioning and dreaming.

Today I wanted to pass on five biblical principles for discerning your personal vision from Chip Ingram. These come right out of his chapter from Good to Great In God’s Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians have in Common.  He calls it “Sanctified Dreaming” which I really appreciate. Chip does a great job of anchoring his insights in Scripture and is sensitive to the problem of chasing dreams for self-fulfillment rather than God’s glory.

Here are his principles for dreaming God-sized dreams, each taken from the life of a biblical character. 

#1  God commands us to step out of our comfort zone (ABRAHAM)

#2  God puts his dream in your heart (JOSEPH) I like his emphasis on God’s dream not ours.

#3  God allows us to fail in our attempts to accomplish his dream in our own power. (MOSES)

#4  God teaches us through adversity to love the dream giver more than the dream. (DAVID)

#5  God clarifies our calling in times of crisis and often uses our worst failures as the platform for his future fulfillment. (PAUL)

I particularly like the last principle. Scarcity breeds clarity. And I am always amazed how God uses our failures to bring his fulfillment, which has reflected my own life story.

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