Vision, Spirit, Integrity, and Discernment

By Norman Shawchuck, Philip Kotler, Bruce Wrenn, and Gustave Rath

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).

Marketing is not enough for an effective ministry. It is, instead, an excellent management approach. It is a way of disciplined thinking and serves as a check list to be certain nothing important is overlooked or taken for granted in planning and carrying out ministry.

More important than marketing, or any management approach, are the spirit of the congregation and the spirituality of the leaders and workers. It is hoped that every religious organization is a spiritual entity. The Spirit that fuels and directs the religious organization is first and foremost the presence of God.

Most needed in the religious organization today is vision. This is not something new. It has always been the case. More than a few of the major denominations in America are presently much more maintenance-orientated than vision-driven. This is serious. The prophet Joel observed that “where there is no vision the people perish.” For many years in the twentieth century the American church usually interpreted this to mean that where the church had no vision the unchurched perished. Since the 1960s, however, the church has had reason to interpret the prophecy to mean “where the church has no vision, the church will perish.” l low great is the need for vision-driven religious organizations in America today!

But vision, as presented in Scripture, cannot be planned; neither can it easily be transferred from one person or congregation to another. The vision we seek is God’s vision and God shares God’s vision with whom God chooses. The vision cannot be wrested from God or purchased, though there is a price to be paid in placing oneself where one is able to hear the vision, when God chooses to announce it.

The price is not difficult to understand, though the preparation to discern God’s vision may be costly, indeed. Scripture has a way of presenting vision within the context of suffering or sacrifice, a diligent seeking to understand “what now,” along with a commitment and an ability to sustain prayer, silence, and solitude.

Spirit is the energy source of religious leadership and ministry. Most people know that the spirit that energizes a religious organization may be negative as well as positive, divisive as well as healing. The spirit that builds strong, viable religious organizations and ministries is the Spirit of God always present, but not always welcomed, among the people of God.

The best marketing plan in the world cannot compensate for spiritual lethargy or confusion, so that none are able to listen in the silent closets of the heart where God awaits to communicate with us. Nor can a marketing plan counterbalance a lack of vision.

In the late 1980s, Leadership Network’ retained a consulting firm, Shawchuck & Associates, to conduct research into what the pastors and laity of large Christian congregations felt were important aspects of the pastor’s role. In a series of focus groups, and later broad-scale questionnaire process, persons were asked to list the things a pastor must pay attention to in order to be effective in pastoring a large and growing church. High on the list of responses of laity and clergy alike was that the pastor must practice a discipline, I life of prayer and other spiritual disciplines the pastor must love God. Also high on the list was that the pastor must possess a vision be able to articulate that vision, and be willing to advocate for it. The study indicated that clergy and laity alike did not see these items mutually exclusive.

More recently, 1989-91, Shawchuck and Rath conducted a rather massive study for McCormick Theological Seminary, known as the Better Preparation for Ministry Project. This study also utilized focus groups and survey questionnaires, which were sent to large number of denominations and other church groups.

One of the purposes of the study was to identify the personal qualities and roles an effective pastor must fill in ‘his or her ministry. Across the spectrum of groups surveyed, the item most often identified was the pastor’s personal integrity. Integrity was followed by such items as a sense of call, wisdom, and personal spiritual renewal. These are items that a marketing program cannot provide.

What is coming clear in many studies and writings currently is that spirituality is the wetlands for vision and discernment. Persons who are most effective in their ministries understand this. No wonder, then, that Pastor Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church wrote the book Too Busy Not to Pray,’ and martin Luther, during the Reformation, said, “I’m so busy that I have to pray an extra hour a day in order to get my work done.”

Discernment, or discerning the will of God as a consensus-seeking, decision-making process, is based on the precondition that the people not only believe in prayer, but also that they actually pray. Discernment is not so much a thing the leaders and congregation do once in a while as it is a way of life. The necessity is that God’s people should have discerning hearts, much more than they should know how to discern. The ability to discern the will of God for ministry is more a matter of who the discerners are than of what the discerners do.

Spirituality, vision, discernment, the leaders’ integrity marketing cannot provide these. But marketing is not opposed to these; indeed, marketing can inform and support these essentials to effective ministry.

This book is finished. We send it abroad on its affairs. May this book and its topic serve you, your organization, and God’s work through you.

We leave you, dear reader, between the hands of God, with this benediction:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May God send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May God remember all your sacrifices and accept your offerings. May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

We will shout for joy when you are victorious, and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant you all your requests.

Now we know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers them from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.

0 Lord save your people. Answer us when we call. Amen.
(Psalm 20, paraphrased)

The above article, “Vision, Spirit, Integrity, and Discernment” was written by Norman Shawchuck, Philip Kotler, Bruce Wrenn, and Gustave Rath. The article was excerpted from the 12th chapter of Shawchuck, Kotler, Wrenn, and Rath’s book Marketing for Congreations.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”