A Burning Vision

Three Required Elements of A Burning Vision

Fire is one of the most awesome, helpful, and yet destructive forces known to humanity. When a forest or brush fire is raging, or when a home is on fire, the only thing to do is to get out of the way.

The same is true of men and women with Vision. Little can stand in their way. That can be very good or very bad, depending on the source, nature and implementation of the vision.

Last month we began a two-month look at Vision and we look at the necessity of a core-ideology for vision.

Most Christian leaders are familiar with George Barna’s seminal work, “The Power of Vision.” In that little book, Barna defines vision as: “a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servants and is based upon an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances.” (Barna, p. 28)

That’s a good definition. In thinking about the relationship between fire and vision, however, I realized that just as there are three elements needed to produce a fire, so there are three similar elements needed to produce a Christian vision.

For fire to exist the three needed elements are: Oxygen, Heat and Fuel. You can have two of the three, but without all three you will not have a fire. Oxygen and heat, oxygen and fuel, or heat and fuel all can harmlessly co-exist. But when the third element is added, fire happens!

So, what three elements are needed for Christian Vision? I believe a vision must…

1. …be God ordained. I don’t just mean God-permitted. It must be God ordained. What does that mean? It means it must be a priority of God. It must be a passion of God. It must be vital to God. It must not simply be “not sinful”. It must exhibit the heart and passion of God.

I would see this as the fuel. (I know, I know…it should be the heat or flame, since one picture of the Holy Spirit is a flame, but it doesn’t fit with my analogy! Sorry…)

The word “inspiration” comes from French and Latin words meaning under the “immediate influence of God or a god,” or “inflamed or blown into by a god.” (from Latin in- “in” + spirare “to breathe” (think of our English word “spirit”). (Online Etymology Dictionary.)

Last month I quoted from Collins & Porras’ article on vision from the Harvard Business Review. Now they differentiate Core Purpose from Vision, but I believe that what they said of Core Purpose can be said of a Christian vision:

Core Purpose “does not just describe the organization’s output or target customers, it captures the soul of the organization…. Purpose (which should last 100 years) should

not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years. Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose: it is like a guiding star on the horizon–forever pursued, but never reached. Yet although purpose itself does not change, it does inspire change. The very fact that purpose can never be fully realized means that an organization can never stop stimulating change & progress.” (pp. 68-69.)

One thing about a God-ordained vision that I have told numerous young men is: “A need is not a call.” Just because someone needs to have something done about a situation DOES NOT mean that God is calling YOU to do it. Not everything that COULD be done, SHOULD be done, especially by YOU. A young minister who I care about deeply had a serious problem with spreading himself too thin. If there was a need, he jumped in with both feet. But there was need after need after need and he became overwhelmed. Just as Jesus said, “the poor you will have you always” there will always be needs crying out for someone to help meet them. But a minister (and a church) must examine his (or their) giftedness and determine whether or not God is really ordaining for THEM to do this.

The second element of a burning vision is that it is…

2. …of genuine benefit to people. I would compare this to the heat that is necessary for a fire to begin (a flame or spark or simply very high temperature). A vision may have the fuel of being God ordained and have the oxygen we will talk about below, but unless it has the spark of something that is genuinely beneficial to people, it will likely languish.

Now this can be very broad. A vision can genuinely be of benefit to people in several different ways, not just ultimate ways. It is of ultimate benefit for people to be restored to God: that is their ultimate need.

But there can be legitimate other need-meeting activities that can ALSO (not in place of, but also) serve as God-ordained visions. Jesus spoke of providing water, food, clothing, shelter to the needy. Those are legitimate human needs. But people need jobs, they need a moral order for their lives and their communities, they need physical health, they need relationships and intimacy…. The list could go on and on.

Is our vision genuinely of benefit to people? This question can serve as a check or a clarifier of our goals. …”how will this be of genuine benefit to people?” For example, we want to develop a church of small groups. But will that in and of itself benefit people? No. What is it ABOUT small groups that will be of benefit to people: We want to build a church where people find intimacy and trust. Small groups can be the WAY, or the mechanism, but that is not the ultimate goal.

The third element of a burning vision is that it is…

3. Doable (or there is a strategy)

I see this as the oxygen. This makes sure that our vision is not just pie in the sky. You can have fuel and heat, but without oxygen, no fire is going to ignite or remain burning. Without knowing that the plan is do-able or that there is a strategy, the fire of vision is not going to continue to burn. It will soon begin to fade and turn cold.

Determining that the vision is do-able includes goals & benchmarks. It needs to involve a plan or a roadmap. That plan must include what people resources, including leaders are involved in moving us to the vision. I would propose that different visions may be long, medium or short-term. But they all must have that balance between being big enough that we know it is from God and manageable enough that we can develop a plan to accomplish it.

Fuel…Heat…Oxygen. Without those a fire will never exist.

A vision that is God ordained, Genuinely of benefit to people and Do-able. As we develop vision both for ourselves as well as our churches, those three elements must be present for the spark to catch and the fire of accomplishing great things for God roar into life.


Barna, George. (1992) The Power of Vision. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.

Collins, James C. and Porras, Jerry (September-October 1996.) “Building Your Company’s Vision” Harvard Business Review. pp. 65-77.

“inspiration.” (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved October 02, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/inspiration

Dr. Calvin Habig ministered in local congregations for thirty years and currently does professional coaching with ministers and other value-driven leaders. He lives in Portland, OR. For more information, visit Cal’s website at http://www.calhabigcoaching.com/


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