Church Vision that Advances Through Targeted Transformation
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.
Your church’s vision is to identify a specific people, place, or thing you want to see changed dramatically by the gospel. You might state it as, “We will direct our energy toward a specific people, place, or thing in order to see a specific kind of dramatic transformation.”
I arrived late in Manhattan the day before my meeting with Redeemer Church’s City to City leaders. I enjoy the city, and I couldn’t wait to spend time with these thoughtful leaders who really love their city. What impresses me most about this team: their laser focus! Their vision is guided by one thing: church planting in the “great global cities.” It’s a glowing example of targeted transformation because it targets four specific dimensions: (1) the city as a unique expression of humanity, (2) a specific number of strategically identified global cities, (3) a methodology of church planting, and (4) helping other local churches transform their “missions” investment by helping them engage in City to City’s unique strategy. In addition, the intellectually robust nature of the ministry led by Tim Keller brings wonderful nuance to their church’s ultimate contribution.
Just in case the scope of fifty global cities seems a little overwhelming, let me offer a different example. I was sitting with about ten leaders under Rick Duncan’s leadership at Cuyahoga Valley Church outside of Cleveland. I asked a question to the team and marveled at an idea that would weave its way through our day conversation like a golden thread. It was a moment where a targeted transformation vision would precipitate. The question was, What do you secretly believe you would be great at but never told anyone? One pastor talked about his desire to see an entire street block renovated spiritually and physically for the sake of the gospel. This would eventually lead to the targeting of a specific neighborhood for radical renewal.
Transformation is a powerful and familiar biblical theme. From Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine to the larger-than-life description of a new heaven and new earth, the Bible is filled with stories and images of transformation. Jesus transforms the disciples’ vocation from fishing for fish to fishers of men. Every believer is commanded to “be transformed” as a human being through the “renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1–3 NIV).
With the theme of change filling the pages of Scripture, noteworthy glimpses of vision are characterized by transformation.
Jesus wept over only one city: Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). His ministry took Him many places, but He kept circling back to Jerusalem. Could it be that He wanted Jerusalem, more than any other city, to be changed dramatically by the gospel? Even in His most angry moments—using a whip and turning over the tables in the temple—we see Jesus’ passion for this city to be different.
Jonah is another stunning biblical illustration of targeted transformation. God called Jonah to be an agent of change to the great ancient city of Nineveh, a town that spanned a three-day walk with a population of at least 120,000 people. As a result of Jonah’s preaching, the town repented starting with the king who issued a decree:
“Let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jon. 3:8–9). And relent God did.
Metaphors for Communication
Figure 7.4 imagines a directional force aiming for and acting on some object in its sights for the purposes of transformation. The change is depicted by a starburst image with a gradient inside to indicate energy release. Targeted transformation is also like an arrow aiming at a bull’s-eye, with the target representing a hub of community vitality being impacted by the gospel.
Biblical images of transformation include high-contrast ones: cleansing from crimson stained to white as snow (Isa. 1:18), transferring from the domain of darkness to the saints of light (Col. 1:12–13), and exchanging a heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezek. 11:19). Those who would follow Jesus are to be salt of the earth and a city set on a hill; they should go the extra mile and love their enemies, all symbols of dramatic transformation from a “normal way” of life (Matt. 5:13–48).
Other images that convey the idea of transformation include a change in a stem cell that changes the entire body that grows from it, a renewed farmer’s field or garden that feeds a surrounding community, a heart transplant that brings new life, and a bonsai tree whose changed roots change the tree itself.
We use all kinds of everyday phrases to signal a transformation:
- Turning over a new leaf
- New Year’s resolution
- Extreme makeover
- Night-and-day difference
- Sing a different tune
- Shifting gears
Many churches and denominations have prayerfully adopted a town, city, region, or even country, seeking to pour energy and resources into it. One of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most celebrated missionaries, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, went as a thirty-three-year-old single missionary to China. She focused on a certain unreached region in the country’s interior both through personal outreach and through a vigorous campaign of letters and articles back home that rallied hundreds of US churches to raise prayers, money, and personnel to support the advance of the gospel in her region. When she died at age seventy-two, thousands of converts and hundreds of churches existed in that area.
Kingsland Baptist in Katy, Texas, envisions the transformation of homes in a city where people obsess over having the best for their kids. The big idea is to reinterpret what true fulfillment looks like in order to restore the image of God in the home.
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, embeds “radical impact projects” into their disciple-making strategy that focus on specific transformation themes like sex trafficking. In 2013 they evaluated their multisite options that deviated from the typical “start a worship service” pattern of campusing to envision “radical impact sites” to bring local community transformation initiatives before starting worship services. For example, one location focuses on recovery ministry, food distribution, transitional housing, and personal retreating and prayer.
The Bridge Bible Church, Bakersfield, California, embraces a targeted transformation vision that is mobilized significantly through its small-group strategy. Each group is given money from the church’s operating budget to unleash on a specific need in the community.
The key to distinguishing the targeted transformation template is the motivation to see a completed change on a person, place, or thing at a level where the entire mind’s eye of a congregation is “zeroed in” on that type of transformation.
Realizing Your Own Vision
Are you ready to move away from the
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