Article by Jake LeFave
This Fall will mark my tenth year in full-time ministry. Ten years ago, I was excited about a lot of things: learning how to preach, figuring out why pastors wore khakis, and, most of all, talking about “vision”. In my mind, a ministry and its leadership could be easily judged on the basis of their “vision”. Was it compelling? Was it innovative? Did it come with an accompanying teaching series, perhaps, in Nehemiah?
To this day, there are thousands of books about discerning and implementing your vision in ministry. Some better than others. But, at the centre of many of these books, is an appeal to Proverbs 29:18. You are probably most familiar with it in the language of the King James Version:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
The logic works like this: if you don’t provide people a compelling vision to rally around, they won’t give, stay, or altogether champion whatever you’re about. And I get that, I really do. When we planted in East Vancouver—almost three years ago—I remember the endless coffee meetings where I tried to get people excited about what excited me. Sure, I told them that I wasn’t trying to “sell” them on anything, that God had to be the one calling, but I knew that my pitch would be helped if what I was doing smelt innovative, dare I say, visionary.
Where does this come from? I think it comes from a bad reading of Proverbs 29:18. Hear it again in the ESV:
“Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
First, it should be abundantly clear to us that this Proverb—attributed to Solomon—isn’t making reference to a shiny pitch-deck. The “vision” of the first line is complemented with the “law” in the second. So, we find here in the wisdom literature, a reference to the necessity of the law and the prophets. This leads the New Bible Commentary to write, “The law, the prophets, and the wisdom literature meet in this verse.”
We could translate this verse, therefore, as: “where there is no revealed word of God, either among the prophets, the law, or in wisdom literature, the people run wild.”
Think about this for a second, or, if you’re in ministry, think about it for two seconds.
How many young Christian leaders feel the need to conjure up a compelling, innovative vision, in a market-place environment where congregants become consumers?
How many church-goers hop from church to church, assessing the church on the basis of their “vision”? How many eventually settle on not attending a local church because that “online church” (which, by the way, is not a real thing) has a “global vision”, and who can compete with that?
The freedom and rebuke of Proverbs 29:18 is that the thing that keeps the people from “casting off restraint,” or, “running wild,” is not a compelling strategy, but the faithful proclamation and application of the word of God.
The second half of the verse ends:
“…but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
There is nothing wrong with feeling compelled by God to do something—like plant a network of neighbourhood churches—but if Christ City and our wider network ceased to exist, sure it would be hard, but the people would not perish. It is only when the word of God ceases to be uttered from our lips and when it ceases to be proclaimed from our pulpits that true anarchy awaits us.
Let us continue to ask the Lord what he would have for us, both individually and corporately. But, when it comes to questions of vision, lets continue to appeal to the sufficient word of God for the sake of our church and our city.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.