Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 3.
The Bible is all about vision from the top. God spoke to Moses, and protected him from others that sought to impose their own visions. God sets up and takes down kings. God speaks to the prophets. The people are supposed to submit to authority in both church and state.
The Gnostics and the Judaizers appeared to come from “false apostles” or people who had a partial picture of the truth and caused great problems in the church. It is the authority of wise leadership that kept the false visions of these apostates and heretics from destroying the church.
Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 3.
The divinely envisioned in the Old Testament were usually not the ones in charge. Moses was a unique unrepeated exception (See Deut. 34:10-12). Commonly, the visionaries were prophets who were closer to the people than to the power establishment. Jesus was a visionary of the people not of the power establishment. Submission to God is unlimited, but submission to human authorities (be they government or church) in the Bible is always limited and cautionary.
In the NT church, visionaries did not seem to be fought against. Philip, a deacon, went out as the first missionary, apparently without official sanction. Long before Paul was sent out by the church of Antioch, he served God ministerially, and he liked to emphasize his lack of reliance on the 12 apostles to do so.
Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 4.
Even if the church did have renegades, the leadership had the authority and responsibility to support or restrain (see for example Acts 15). Leaders lead. They envision, and act. Such envisioning may give freedom for some to act, but may also prevent bad action.
The body/member concept of the church emphasizes the idea of roles. Some are to envision and some are to carry out that vision. The Bible cautions the idea that all members should share a common role.
Antithesis: Vision from the bottom. Round 4.
Joel chapter 2, verses 28-31, talks about God giving dreams and visions to all of His people, not just the leaders. This passage is often used to focus on eschatology and how “cool” dreams and visions are. Yet the key focus appears to be lost in this. The two key things are this:
- Visions and dreams have a purpose… they are not meant simply to be spiritual entertainment. They must, certainly in part, be instructive as to what God’s peope should do.
- The visions and dreams are universal. Whether one wants to see Joel 2 being applied to the present or primarily to the future, the passage certainly expresses a divine ideal. The ideal is that God’s envisioning is to all people, not simply top leaders.
I don’t really have any firm conclusions. I tend to emotionally embrace the antithesis. I have seen far too many leaders who talk about vision yet are not visionary… or simply have bad vision. At the same time, the vantage point of leaders does allow a bigger picture that is needed for sound action in certain cases.
A few tentative conclusions follow:
- Leaders do need to have a vision… but sometimes that vision may be to empower others to act on their own visions.
- Leaders do need to prevent the excesses that comes from the pressures for change (from some) and the unhealthy maintenance of the status quo (from others).
- People closest to problems and opportunities are OFTEN the best to know what needs to be done. They should not be supported unilaterally, but leaders should be ready to facilitate and empower action, and should encourage creativity.
- Too much power in the hands of a visionary person is almost always tragic.
How does this apply to missions? Don’t know, but I believe that mission agencies must be somewhat visionary, but they should train, encourage, facilitate, and empower the vision of the local missionaries as well. They need to be open to the idea that the local missionary knows what is going on better than they do. However, the mission agency does need to maintain accountability and oversight. To much power locally can be as dangerous as too much power centralized elsewhere.
Considering how much difficulty we have with the issue of power (and recognizing that wisdom/vision is also a form of power), it is not surprising to me that the issue is difficult. Add to that human selfishness that seeks to accumulate personal power and execute personal vision, and I feel that an ideal solution is not likely to be found anytime soon.
But I welcome your vision on this.