Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...

Refreshing vision

There appears to be a significant surge in church planting at this time across a wide spectrum of denominations and church groups, not just in the UK but also around the world, despite the difficult circumstances that everyone faces.

There are a few challenges (actually, there are many!) leaders face in dealing with these challenges, but there is food for thought in taking more than a casual look at Nehemiah.

What’s the Vision?

Let’s start your thinking process by asking if you can clearly articulate the vision you have for the church you are involved in. Do you see how all the pieces fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle? Hopefully, you don’t have a piece missing. The big thing that helps with a giant jigsaw is ensuring that you have a picture before you of what you are building. This is true for what we are doing in the life of the church; you must always have a big-picture dynamic. When you lose sight of the big picture of what God has truly called you to do, you start to struggle and lose your way—discouragement sets in, and energy wanes. Scripture warns us clearly, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18). Without vision, you begin to diminish God, as well as the things on your heart. The capacity of God to do big things becomes a challenge. That’s why we need to encourage one another to constantly talk, pray into, and inspire the people with you by always portraying the big picture that God has called you to.

The Importance of True Vision in Ministry

But it has to be a true vision. Years ago, I encouraged a church that I was pastoring to increase their evangelistic activity by introducing “Project Century”—winning 100 to Christ by the end of the year. It was a bold initiative, but it was mine, not inspired by God. Two months after the launch, I attended a leaders’ conference hosted by John Wimber. During ministry time, I was approached by one of Wimber’s team who asked to pray for me. It was very moving, and after lots of tears, I was on the floor when he leaned over me and said, “One other thing…” “What?” I said nervously. “God says, ‘My people are not a project.'” I wanted the earth to open and swallow me up—but it was true, we must never look on people as a project. I always have suspicions when leaders say that God has told them to plant, build, or send 1,000 or 10,000 of ‘this and that.’ Why not 765 or 8,764 new churches or other ‘things’? It’s us that like to round things up. Still, if you have heard God say a number, stick with it—I’m just making a point.

Nehemiah: A Model of Big-Picture Vision

Presently, one of the great heroes you may be looking at, because there’s a lot of interaction going on regarding vision and renewing your vision, is a character in the Old Testament called Nehemiah. One of the great things that can inspire you in Nehemiah is that he was always a big-picture person. He had an end goal, and he knew with clarity what it was. Absolutely nothing deterred or distracted him from achieving that goal. When you fail to have a big picture of what you’re doing, many distractions will pull you away from where you’re going, and you’ll lose the inspiration you once had.

For Nehemiah, his big-picture vision was rebuilding a city, the temples, and the walls, and of course, in the Old Testament, it represented the presence of God, the power of God, and that they were the people of God. It was a display to the nations of what it was like to walk with a living God rather than dead idols. For him, when the walls were down and the temple had been ruined, it represented that the presence of God had been removed, the power of God didn’t exist, and they were no longer a light to the nations. You are planting churches and communities in every town, village, and city across Europe, God willing, that are communities with the presence of God, moving in the power of God and displaying to a secular society in Europe that God is alive and can break into your life and bring transformation.

You must be like Nehemiah. You must constantly keep the big picture in front of you. The phrase often used for talking about Nehemiah in the big picture is that he was “burdened.” There was something in Nehemiah’s heart that was burdened until he saw the big picture become a reality. Because he was burdened, there was no compromise. He constantly focused on where he was going and what God was doing. He was totally, relentlessly passionate from day one right to the end of his life, and he never got overwhelmed by all the details. In fact, if you read Nehemiah, it’s just so great; he’s consumed with the big picture.

You get little phrases like this in Nehemiah 4:6: when he’s facing all opposition and people mocking him, he says, “So we built the wall.” That was his response to all the criticism; he just got on with it. And then I love this in Nehemiah 6:3: he says, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” In other words, he wasn’t even going to get off the wall for a moment to be distracted from what he was doing because he was so focused. You are doing a great work. It doesn’t feel like that sometimes, but you cannot afford to get side-tracked in what you are doing. If you keep the big picture before you, you won’t be distracted.

Nehemiah 6:11: “Should such a man as I run away?” They said they were going to come and kill you, you must flee, you must run away to safety. He said, “Should such a man as I run away?” What does that mean? Well, can a man like you, who’s called of God, run away? If you are called of God, you can’t think of any reason why you should not continue to fulfil the vision that God has given to you. You need to be burdened for the big picture that is before you. So, if you are planting a church or about to plant a church or are involved in one right now, keep the big picture before you constantly. Have a vision of what this church is going to look like.

Inspiring Vision Through God’s Promises

Everything will be contested. Because they’re battlegrounds, you need to keep the big picture before you. That’s why you need to be burdened. Potentially, there are many setbacks, what helps you face them is ensuring you have an inspiring vision soaked in the promises of God. Things that God has declared in His Word are a huge inspiration for vision. Why? Because they are promises. Why is that inspiring? Because you can have absolute assurance that the promises are going to come to pass. You have a faithful God who doesn’t break His promises. You have the assurance in your heart that what He has begun, He will bring to completion. All you need to exercise to receive these promises is faith, and it’s faith that inspires you because you’re believing the promises of God.

So, what has God said about what you are doing or what you are planting? Ask yourself that question and then live there. Don’t move from that place. Don’t let anything rob you of believing God that the things He’s promised can surely come to pass. You’re coming out the other end of this strange time, I believe, with more faith to believe God for even greater things. Jesus did say about your church that He would build it, not you, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Live in that promise. He said you will be the salt of the earth in your city or town. You will be the light of the world.

He says of your church plant, you’ll be like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. You’re going to be a house of prayer for all nations. You’re going to be the joy of the whole earth. You’re going to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. You’re going to be a family made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation.

These are things that God has promised about the church plant that you are involved in at the moment. When you read the book of Ephesians, you just see picture after picture after picture of the kind of church that God has promised to build through you in your towns and cities. It’s just so encouraging to be soaked in these things.

In Ephesians, we see pictures of the church like the fullness of Him who fills all in all, God’s dwelling place by the Spirit. Through the church, the wisdom of God is manifest. The church is like a community; when it’s all working properly, it builds itself up. The church is radiant and spotless. The church is like, in Ephesians 6, an army that’s fighting spiritual warfare. You can be inspired by all these wonderful examples of vision of what God wants to do.

Some of your vision also comes from the past. When you look at the Old Testament and see characters like Nehemiah, the Bible says they are given for your instruction and for your encouragement. It’s good to look back at these great saints. Of course, throughout the Old Testament, you see story after story of people who were fulfilling the big picture vision because of the promises of God that He’d given them. It wasn’t in their own strength; it was because of what God had said. In the New Testament, you see the early church and the model laid out in the early church. They are full of the promises of God for you as well. Your church will look like the church displayed in the book of Acts. The reason for that is that the DNA in the early church is in you.

It’s the same Jesus building the church, the same Holy Spirit working in you that was working 2000 years ago. It’s the same anointing upon you and the same vision they had that you have now because the DNA is in you. Andy McCullough has a brilliant book called Global Humility, in it he uses an example; “All the tree is in the seed.” What he means is when a seed is planted by God, all the potential to make that seed become a tree is already there in the moment that it’s planted. If you’re in a church plant and you’re struggling, it’s a wonderful promise to remember.

On the day of Pentecost, when the seed was planted, all the potential for what God was going to do in the earth was planted on that day, and it’s never changed. The Spirit of God is poured out on all flesh. Remember the promise to your children, your children’s children, and all who are far off. You are still the recipient of the same thing. It’s important for inspiring vision. It’s not how many churches you plant, but what kind of church you plant. It is better to plant ten churches of such quality that they will multiply themselves in the years to come than rush around planting a hundred churches that will fade away in the first year or two. It’s not how many; it’s the kind of church you plant.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Fulfilling the Vision

Finally, you will have an inspiring vision when it is anointed by the Holy Spirit, which causes you to be anointed by the Spirit of God as well. Consider Acts chapters 1-7. Ringing in their ears were the words of Jesus, “Go into all the world, baptising everybody, teaching everybody that all authority is given to you. Go, go, go!” Yet nothing much happens for quite a few years. In chapters 1-7, they don’t go planting churches; they don’t go to Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth, even though they were told to do so. Then you get to chapter 7, when Stephen is martyred. In chapter 8, it just goes everywhere.

What happened at that time was that the DNA, the kind of church that Jesus was building, was learned, taught, and experienced, and then was replicated everywhere they went. When it comes to Acts chapter 11 and they hear that all these non-Jews have been saved, they send down Barnabas to check them out. He’s gone to check them out to see if they are the real deal. It says in Acts chapter 11, when he saw the evidence of the grace of God among them, he was so glad. What did Barnabas see? He saw what he’d experienced in Jerusalem in chapters 1-7, and he realised that this was the real deal.

It wasn’t taken as a formula or a blueprint. It wasn’t a functional movement. It happened supernaturally because it was fuelled by the person of the Holy Spirit. In today’s world with the digital world at their fingertips, a lot of people see stuff they like, copy it, and hope for the best, without all the hard work that went into the person who wrote the book in the first place and the anointing upon that community to do it. You may try to copy it without hard work and without the anointing, and you wonder why it doesn’t happen. It’s obvious, but that’s the world we live in. Everyone’s trying to copy what everyone else is doing without the anointing. You don’t need to be like that. Why? Because the Holy Spirit will inspire your vision by anointing you and your communities, and then fuelling the vision into reality. You and your church plant need this kind of anointed vision.

Your heart is to pour what God has given you into a new generation. I don’t think it’s just about age. It’s about mums, dads, grandparents, young people, students, married couples, and singles—everybody that’s in this new generation. It’s like one generation needs to impart something to another generation. Your challenge is this: to teach this new generation the big picture story as much as you can and remind them of the promises of God and inspire them by looking at the book of Acts and the model and tell stories. But that’s not all… they still might lack an inspired vision because, unless you have the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon you as a community, you will not have the resources to fulfil the vision that God has given to you.

The answer is that the church of Jesus, more than anything else, needs a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. You need His power and dynamic. You need to be hungry and thirsty, and you need to cry out to God for that. Romans 15:13 is quite a well-known little verse: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The things I have mentioned are all in that verse.

MoiOur inspiration will not come from trying to be trendy or trying to be novel or trying to come up with brand new ideas that no one’s ever thought about, but rather being big-picture people soaked in the promises of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit.

You may even have nothing new to say because it’s all been said before, but you can, like Nehemiah, burdened for the purposes of God in your day and generation.

Refreshing vision
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