Church Vision that Becomes through Spiritual Formation

The following post is an excerpt from God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates or Finding and Focusing your Church’s Future.

In part three of the book I walk through the 12 templates starting with a simple definition and providing a personal snapshot from my point of view as a vision consultant. Then, I explore the template biblically, providing historical and contemporary church examples and metaphors for communication. For the complete guide with team assessment questions, I recommend that you buy the book. You can also see all of 12 templates in one visual overview or visit the God Dreams resource site.

Quick Definition

Your church’s vision is for a spiritual formation that changes people and takes them along a significant pathway toward spiritual maturity. You might state it as, “We will grow as God’s people to reflect individually and corporately the spiritual maturity of Christ in specifically defined ways.”

Personal Snapshot

Newport Beach in California is one of the most idyllic locations to be in ministry.

My first time visiting Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian, located almost within visibility of the beach, the flowery aroma of the parking lot caught me by surprise. The nearby beach, the flowers and greenery, and the large yet cozy outdoor campus, made it one of the most pleasant walks from car to worship center I’ve ever experienced.

When Rich Kannwischer, a young and brilliant communicator, came in 2009 to lead Saint Andrew’s, he paid close attention to the local culture, which he described as an intoxication of the good life—that is, the good life defined by the world. Spend one day in Newport and you’ll feel the power of that image. For me it started with the

Ferrari dealership across from the hotel, the counter of plastic surgery promotional cards at the local Banzai Bowl, the endless healthy eating options, and the countless joggers with their Lululemon-wrapped pristine bodies. Who else has named their local mall Fashion Island?

When it comes to church vision, Saint Andrew’s chose to make a dynamic contrast from, while building on, the pursuit of the good life. God has a good life too, not defined by the image of the world but by His image, made crystal clear in the life of Jesus. Saint Andrew’s mission is following Jesus Christ to lead lives that reveal God’s goodness. They chose the spiritual formation vision template, and the church plans to use its strength in education, its intellectual bent, and its leadership influence to found a discipleship institute that will extend its robust and replicable model for growing believers.

Biblical Reflection

Maturity is an important goal for the New Testament church. The oft-quoted passage in Ephesians 4 about God raising up pastors (and other gifted individuals) is actually one long sentence in the Greek from verses 11 to 16. Using several different metaphors, the passage affirms that the goal of the church and its leaders is to grow the body of Christ into spiritual maturity. The visual force of Paul’s teaching is conveyed by the contrasting image of silhouettes: a man’s versus a young boy’s. There’s nothing wrong with being a boy, but there’s something unnatural about staying a boy and not growing up to a full stature of maturity. See also Colossians 1:28 where Paul wants to “present everyone mature in Christ.”


Consider as well the warning and exhortation to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Note that the Spirit at times salutes a church for the work they have done but calls them to repent for who they have become. The spiritual formation template in this sense is more about being than doing. The church at Ephesus is commended for “your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2). But then they are rebuked in verse 4: “You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

What template do you use when your vision is to resurrect a life of love for Jesus across a congregation? The spiritual formation template.

Metaphors for Communication

The figure above shows a series of circles where, if white represents God across these symbols, the Holy Spirit is transforming people from the inside out. Think of the metamorphosis of a squirming caterpillar frozen in its cocoon only to become a gold and bold monarch butterfly.

Another image that depicts spiritual formation is a majestic tree, reaching not only upward and outward but founded by a strong, healthy root system that has also penetrated the ground deeply. Picture the individual described by Psalm 1:3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

Still other images that convey this idea are a seed falling on fertile ground or a water purification process. Imagine places that connote development, like a family having devotions around their dining room, a fitness center filled with exercise equipment, or a monastic setting made for silence and solitude.

Historical Examples

One essential component to spiritual formation is a solid understanding of Scripture. In earlier centuries most sermons in the United States were devotional, motivational, and/or topical three-point messages followed by a poem. Lawyer-turned-Bible-teacher C. I. Scofield influenced a large section of the evangelical world to use the Sunday morning sermon not as a motivational pulpit but to teach the Word of God. His Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 by Oxford University Press, became one of the most influential books of evangelical Christianity in the last century. It was one of the first published Bibles with doctrinal and study notes on which several generations of pastors and lay leaders built their teaching.

Contemporary Examples

Some churches focus on a particular aspect of spiritual formation while others carry a special focus and energy for holistic development. An example of the latter is Robby Gallaty during his time at Brainerd Church and founder of a ministry named Replicate. Robby embodies a total focus on spiritual maturity as reproducing discipleship. Every story, every ministry environment, and every tool are shaped to transition a relatively traditional Baptist church to become a disciple-making force in Chattanooga. Their simple discipleship strategy to “worship, deliver, develop, and deploy” has become the “operating system” of the church.

Another example of a masterfully designed approach to spiritual formation is Randy Frazee’s thirty core competencies or big ideas. Designed originally while pastoring Pantego Bible Church, the thirty-point definition of discipleship was initially published as a set of tools called the Christian Life Profile. It was rereleased by Harper Collins under the banner Believe, Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus. The tools for Believe are built around a spiritual-growth experience that helps Christians of all ages think, act, and be more like Jesus. The thirty big ideas are made up of ten key beliefs of the Christian faith, ten key practices of a Jesus follower, and ten key virtues of a person who is becoming more like Jesus..

The most impressive aspect of the tools is not the tools themselves but the idea of a church community using them together to grow collectively more like Jesus. When

I consulted with Randy Frazee at his current church, Oak Hills in San Antonio, I was impressed by how deeply embedded these ideas are in his personal life. For example, when Randy runs, he prays through the thirty big ideas asking the Lord to direct where he needs to grow. It’s amazing to me how many churches do not have a basic definition of a disciple with accompanying ministries designed to produce disciple-making outcomes.

Some churches focus on one aspect of spiritual formation. Grace Fellowship in Katy, Texas, has focused their ultimate contribution as a church to be a “house of prayer for all nations.” Being people of prayer is the cornerstone attribute of discipleship for them and the “mortar” that holds together everything they do as a church.

Watermark Community Church in greater Dallas believes so strongly in supporting healthy marriages that they continually sponsor ministries designed to help couples have a winning marriage. They don’t just talk about good marriages, but they invest time and resources as well. One of the simpler things they do is to sponsor occasional “Date Nights” for couples. This may seem insignificant, but as one researcher discovered, couples who spend two hours together at least once a week (a “date”) have expressed a level of satisfaction 3.5 times higher than couples who don’t date regularly each week.

Realizing Your Own Vision

Are you ready to move away from the nine forms of generic vision to develop s vivid description of your own? God Dreams was written to accelerate team dialogue and decision making with the 12 templates. It then provides “how to” steps to select and relate your church’s top two templates. From there I walk you through how to develop a powerful and compelling vivid description. And finally, I reveal the visionary planning tool called the Horizon Storyline, to create practical short-range action steps in order to fulfill your long-range God dream.

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