Wait, What Is Vision?

For all the talk about the importance of defining an individual’s or organization’s vision, I’d never latched onto a definition of the word itself that really captured my imagination. Then one of my teammates here at IBC, David Grant, sent me this article by Scott Cormode for Fuller Seminary. Here’s how Cormode defines vision:

Vision is a shared story of future hope.

I just love that. Cormode’s piece is about how stories can compel people toward meaningful change. In fact, there’s a great example in the article about the leaders of a next generation ministry that took seriously the challenge to give their students stories of future hope.

If you’re still wondering what a shared story of future hope might look like, consider Cormode’s opening example: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What was perhaps the most beautiful, compelling, and revolutionary vision of the last 100 years went something like this:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

And of course we know that Dr. King’s dream ultimately pointed to a story of future hope that was articulated long ago:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the flesh shall see it together.

As someone who has dedicated much of his thinking lately to story as it relates to the people of God, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Cormode for his helpful definition: Vision is a shared story of future hope. Here at IBC we’re doing what we can to tell a shared story of future hope — the story of what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through us — and we’re inviting all who hear to join in.

10 thoughts on “Wait, What Is Vision?”

  1. I’m not trying to be picky (maybe I am), but doesn’t that definition beg the question? Segregationists had a vision, like King. Segregationists had a future hope, and a story to get there. The question this definition begs is that of “the good”, an ending or standard by which we measure our future hope.

    The good news is simply this: God has already accomplished, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the victory. We are called to live, today, in light of our certain future–one wherein all things are made new, redeemed, restored. The beauty of our theological vision, as the church, is that the end has already been written. Our future hope is certain. We live within the story. Our calling is to live it well.

    1. Of course it begs the question. Not all visions are created equal, but these are judgments made after we’ve defined the term in the first place.

      Also, I think it’s important to note that not every vision has to be the ultimate vision, particularly when it fits securely within the ultimate vision. For instance, a local church marked by dogged individualism might benefit from the articulation of a focused short-term vision like, “God in his Son and through His Spirit, will knit our hearts together as we commune and serve with Him.” This is not the ultimate vision — a Revelation 21 vision — for all humanity, but it fits securely within this ultimate vision.

      1. As far as definitions go, however, this one’s loaded. You said we don’t make judgments on a vision until after it is defined, but if we’re predisposed to think that the vision captures a “future hope,” I might be slow to question the vision until it is too late. Or, if the leaders, who have power, frame things that way, I might think the risk is too great to challenge the vision from the outset, and say, “wait, how are we defining hope here? What are we hoping in?”

        This might be little more than a quibble. I think you and I would agree that we want churches to have a good vision, leading toward a hopeful future, and that the storied nature of ethics means that any vision is going to entail a narrative…even though I think that vision might precede narrative, a state of seeing might come before the details begin to fill themselves in. Or is vision inescapably storied? It might be, because then otherwise how would you know what you are seeing?

        So, my question-begging focuses, primarily, on how this definition frames the discussion, and, well, might limit the scope of the vision.

        1. I’m not entirely sure I follow you, Ben. Not because you’re being unclear, but rather because I’m not as intelligent or careful as you. That said, if you’re willing to take another shot at explaining your concerns to me, I’m happy to attempt again to engage them.

  2. I love the idea of a vision being a SHARED story. Often we think of it as being the idea of ONE individual, especially if that person is a company leader or in leadership otherwise. Defining as a SHARED story incorporates the buy in necessary for success. Or, if not success, at least a common pushing forward in the same direction. THanks Scott.

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