I often remind people that I was a spiritual formation pastor before I starting coaching leaders around clarity and vision. This often flavors how I see the world. Even though I have committed my life to helping leaders and ministries cultivate a clear vision, I am all too aware of vision idolatry, first and foremost from my own life. 

#1 Hardness: Loving the Vision More than the People the Vision Serves

 On my first interview while still in seminary, an experienced senior pastor put a pie chart in front of me with three slices. The slices were marked “people,” “tasks,” and “ideas.” His question is simple, “Which one of these do you like the most?” As a budding pastor, my response was quick and confident- “people first, and then tasks.” 

 But some people are wired to love ideas. In fact, today, I would answer the question differently with “idea” at the top of the list. Many strategically minded leaders forge a ministry identity out of a love for people. But with success and growth they learn to leverage their skills with ideas and tasks. The problem is when this naturally ability trumps the essential motive of love and model of deep connection with others. Any vision you have is an idea. Therefore gifted visionaries can idolize the vision idea itself, either above the God who gave the vision or above the people the vision serves.

 The great commandment is to love God and others, not to love the ideas that God gives you.

#2 Impatience: Wanting God’s Vision on Your Timetable

A God-given vision can be beautiful in an intoxicating sort of way.  When a leader experiences it and knows it’s from God, it can pulsate through your veins with a Spirit-inspired adrenaline rush. As soon as this happens, it opens the door for a form of indulgence- a holy sort of instant gratification, that in the end, isn't holy at all. 

#3 Entitlement: Using God’s Vision as a Cover for Personal Gain

We never  start out in ministry with this temptation or thinking that we will ever face it. But as a ministry grows, a subtle and unperceivable, mindset forms. Entitlement happens when the leader expects and demands certain benefits and "rights" as a leader. In essence, this form of pride layers over time with each "win" in the ministry. The leader looses the instrumental identity and assumes a cause-and-effect identity with them as the ultimate cause and not God.  

#4 Buzz: Allowing the Success of the Vision to Provide Emotional Sustenance

This final idolatry is nothing different than enjoying the process addictions (shopping, gossiping,  pornography, etc) or chemical addictions that provide a high that you can't live without. Being a part of a ministry that's growing is a thrill ride with a lot of emotional benefits. This blessing  can easily replace the gospel as the centering driving force and  power center of our days. The emotional fruit of success becomes the functional savior.