Dream SMALL!!!

Having been involved in missions and ministry, I hear it often said that we should have “BIG DREAMS” or “God-size vision.” Dream small

And I see people try to carry that out. They add “International” or “International Ministries” to their name to suggest that they don’t just think locally. I have been part of an organization that was already trying to establish a national network before we had even done our first project. Others try to have simultaneous mass events to show… well, I really don’t know what they think they are showing… but something big I guess.

The slogan “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation” has been around since… around 1888, and has generated a lot of things like “Disciple a Whole Nation,” AD2000, and “saturation church-planting” and CPMs. None of these are bad, I suppose. They certainly sound… BIG.

One I find particularly strange is “Fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation.” The Great Commission is a call to long-term faithful obedience (even unto the end of the age), so fulfillment should mean to continue to do what we (are supposed to) have been doing all along. But the expression seems to suggest that not only is there some unwritten finish line, but that finish line is supposed to be reached in the next 20 or 30 years. Seems like a phrase to throw away, really.

For me, I am a big fan of dreaming small. Borrowing from the phrase in “Tiny House Nation,” — “Tiny dreams are the next big thing.” We joined a group here that was ministering to a needy segment of society. Another group was also doing the same thing. We were not in competition… and in fact we consider ourselves partners. The other group promised to start out from day 1 with over 50 ministry sites in the region. We chose to start only 1. Over the next few months, the one group quickly dropped its locations by 75%. Ours doubled… from 1 to 2. Now, does that mean that the other group was wrong? Absolutely not… and they are still bigger than us. But in our case, we kept our promises to those we were working with and learned some lessons when small that have allowed us to slowly grow. One of these days we hope to grow… but when it is time and when we have more people who have been trained and empowered to expand the task.

Early on in our counseling center, we had dreams of branches all over the Philippines. We even set up a branch elsewhere. We soon discovered, however, that we did not know how to manage multiple sites. Frankly, we barely know how to manage one site. We decided to go in a different direction. We train people and send them out forming partnerships and networks rather than a bigger and bigger organization. While the votes are not all in on this, so far it seems to be a much better decision.

God-sized Vision

But let’s get back to this… What size is a God-sized Vision? I think, generally, it is pretty small. God’s great work of human creation started with two people (Genesis 1). God’s vision to bless the world was through one family (Genesis 12). God’s work to save and transform mankind was through one, and a dozen trainees. God’s description of His kingly rule is in terms of a bit of almost invisible yeast that only very slowly has a big effect… or a tiny seed that is barely big enough to notice, and yet can grow into a great tree. The Great Commission is a small-vision idea– share the message with a person, bring him/her into the Body, and train to share to another. It’s success is not that it is big, but that it is designed to be exponential.

Some prefer the expression, “Dream Big, Start Small.” I am an American, and so of course, this resonates more with my cultural background. But I don’t think that honors the beauty of “small.” God’s greatest works are often quite small… almost invisible. I recall CrossLink International (I believe they have changed their name more recently), but they started as a Sunday School class project. They were trying to help some doctors in Russia. I knew a couple of members of that Sunday School Class. They were not thinking big. They were thinking faithful and small. Our pastoral care group started as five people that wanted to help out police trainees who were doing disaster recovery work after a typhoon. We certainly were not dreaming big. God worked to make what was small big. I still love reading the story “The Gospel Blimp” by Joseph Bayly… a reminder that big ideas (like purchasing and operating a blimp for mass evangelism) are not necessarily better than small ideas (like inviting one’s neighbor over to one’s house).

With this in mind, I suggest that God-sized Vision is … small. Do something small… and allow it to grow. For me, a God-sized vision is:

  • Do something God has placed on your heart.
  • Start small and learn how to do this small thing well.
  • Train others to do it as well.
  • Empower others to go out and repeat what you have been doing

That is a pretty small vision, I think. Definitely a God-sized vision.


Visions and Missions, Part 2 of 2

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.

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afa...
English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Visions and Missions, Part 1 of 2

Attempting to block integration at the Univers...
Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Governor stands defiantly at the door while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)   Is this a good example of “visionary leadership” or bad?

<Note:  I am using a looser definition of “vision” than some would like. I am not assuming vision necessarily means “vision from God.” After all, those of us on the outside of the experience cannot say for sure that a positive view of the future is from God, or self or somewhere else.>

No, despite the name, this is not about Organizational Vision and Mission Statements. Actually, this is about the role of vision, or actually who is to be the source of vision, in missions. This post is a Thesis and an Antithesis without a Synthesis. Someday I hope to have a synthesis.

Thesis: Vision “From the Top.” Round 1

Vision from the top is in many ways the classic viewpoint. The king may not do all that much in his kingdom, but one thing he does is stand at the helm of the ship of state guiding the overall direction the people should go. When I took ministerial leadership class in seminary, I was told the same basic idea for the church. “The pastor is the visionary in the church.” In corporations, the Chief Executive Officer is often selected for leadership skills and vision, rather than familiarity with the business or product line. Denominational structures and Mission organizations tend to do the same thing.

In some ways this makes sense, and it seems foolish to consider another option.

Antithesis: Vision “From the Bottom.” Round 1

There are definitely those who question the classic thesis. The king may be at the top but he has two things that work against him as a visionary.

  • He is the most out of touch, in many ways, with what is “really going on” in the kingdom. He is shielded by levels of bureaucracy (and social stutus) that filter and shade the information that he has.
  • He has a strong vested interest in the status quo. His job security exists partly in not rocking the boat (to return to the ship analogy) too much.

Additionally, when vision is left to the hands of only the person(s) at the top, the visions of the vast majority are squelched. The Civil Rights movement of the United States, and the People’s Power Revolution of the Philippines occurred due to the vision of people who were not in political power. In fact, often the people at the top, the so called visionaries, are not visionary at all. Or their vision is self-serving. Or “their” vision is simply parroting the vision of another (who may or may not have good vision).

In this view, vision comes from the people who most understand the situation. Vision to right wrongs comes from those who are downtrodden or at least interact most with the downtrodden. Vision as far as direction comes from those who DO rather those who TELL WHAT TO DO.

Thesis; Vision from the top. Round 2.

The people at the bottom are too busy doing to take time to analyze. They have a firm understanding of the little picture, but cannot (or at have not had the opportunity to) grasp the big picture.

If people at the top want to maintain the status quo, the regular people often want change, but change without clear focus– change for the sake of change. The multiple visions often lead to chaos, and can make things worse than before. The clear vision of the lowly National Socialist party of Germany in the late 1920s into the early 1930s led to the replacement of a fairly incompetent government with a hugely destructive, diabolical power structure. The laissez-faire tyranny of royal France, led to a devastating poorly focused revolution and the ascedancy of another eventual tyrant. Putting vision into the hands of the people is not such a great idea.

Besides, even the positive visions “of the people” typically did not come from the absolute bottom. The People’s Power Revolution had as its two leaders, a member of a family with great monetary and political power, and the local leader of the Catholic church. With the American Civil Rights movement, the voice of positive change came, to a large extent from a major religious leader. A lot of the other voices from that period were far more destructive or self-serving.

Leaders must lead. They have the wisdom and perspective to see what needs to be done.

Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 2.

Much of the problems listed above with grassroots visioning seem to come not from the bottom but from oppression at the top. When those at the topic see themselves as the sole source of wisdom, and sole wielder of power, pressure for change builds. If that pressure is not given a healthy path to relieve and work, such pressure can lead to dire results.

The problem comes from leaders who see their followers as tools to enact their own vision. Leaders should facilitate and empower others. Leaders should wisely disperse power not hoard it. They should encourage others to envision a better future.