The People Don’t Perish Without a Vision Statement

no vision
Yes, the reference is wrong. It should be Prov. 29:18

You’ve probably heard the line before: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

You’re most likely to have heard it in some sort of church planning meeting. Or in a ramp-up for the unveiling of a new, great church plan. There’s likely a capital campaign at hand, too.

“Why does our church need a vision statement? Because without it, the people perish. So says Proverbs 29:18.”

I’ve heard this proverb quoted dozens of times to prove that the church needs to be involved in strategic planning, mission statements, vision statements, core values, etc. And it’s always quoted in the old King James Version. Even hip, Message-Bible-using contemporary pastors resort to the KJV for Proverbs 29:18.

Why? Because here’s how the NIV reads: “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint.” Or try Today’s English Version: “A nation without God’s guidance is a nation without order.”

What the Proverb is About

This is a proverb about receiving guidance from God.

This is about a people’s desperate need to hear from God.

It’s about the ways that people go off and do whatever they feel like doing if they don’t heed God’s instruction.

What the Proverb is NOT About

This is not about crafting “our vision.”

Google “church vision statement” and you’ll see all kinds of advice about making big plans, dreaming big dreams, and inspiring your people. These may frequently include the types of buildings and land a church will own, the types of programs they will offer, and the types of people they will attract.

Yes, most good leaders and churches will surely at some point mention that the vision is “inspired by God.” But does the process really always reflect that? Are we more frequently asking what our plans, hopes, and dreams are, or asking for a revelation from God?

A godly vision

My point here isn’t to tell you to drop all the strategic planning. I think it has its place. We do need to know what we’re aiming at.

Actually, I think the bigger problem is that churches today are having to create vision and mission statements. Do we really not know what we have been put here to do?

Somehow, it seems that churches got sucked in by the visioneering of the ’80s. We’ve all been taught that if we don’t have a mission statement that every member has memorized and a vision statement that has captured the congregation’s imagination, we clearly have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s just remember that the Church survived (and at many times thrived) for nearly 2000 years without these things. The great business strategies introduced a few decades ago probably aren’t what the American Church is looking for to end its decline.

Is it possible that all of our visioneering is actually preventing us from more clearly hearing from God? Is it possible that we’re missing something bigger because we’re so set on our vision of becoming a mega-church, or our strategic action plan to build a gym?

A disclaimer before the comments:do think strategic planning has its place. I have no great fondness for formal mission statements. The church (and even businesses) found some way to survive all the way to the 1980’s without these now-imperative statements. But I don’t think they’re inherently bad. I’m just wondering if we’ve given strategic planning too much prominence. If we’ve made this more about (wo)man-centered vision than a revelation from God. Is that why we insist on going back to that comfortable KJV version of Prov 29:18 to make a point that the proverb isn’t making?

What do you think? Share something in the comments.

8 thoughts on “The People Don’t Perish Without a Vision Statement

  1. Thank you so much!

    I am reminded of 1 Samuel 3:1. “Now in those days the word of the Lord was seldom heard, and no vision was granted”. My suspicion is that in today’s church, as we have come to rely on methods of church administration adapted from business, and as we adopt church “vision statements”, we have actually closed our ears to the word of the Lord and the possibility of a revelation of God.

    I long for church planning meetings that are actually PRAYER meetings seeking God’s vision.

  2. Amen! I heard Perry Noble say once that God is more of an artist than a scientist, and is often limited by our “strategic plans.” I agree that vision is important, but like you, if we aren’t seeking God’s vision first, then what’s the point? Well said.

  3. While I agree that vision statements are overrated, I think it is a good idea to have a firm grasp on the mission of a congregation, although I don’t think that needs to come in the form of a concise statement either. Having a well-defined mission gives us a decision-making rubric that can be really helpful. When it comes time to make a big decision, asking yourself, “does this help us accomplish our mission?” can be really useful.

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