Discovering and Communicating Vision

Date Posted: 10/13/2016

Rev. Kate Walker enjoys helping churches clarify their vision, so much so that she teaches a workshop on the topic and shares leadership tips in this article.
For many corporations – and churches alike – a vision consists of a flowery sentence or two on a poster near the coffeemaker. For Rev. Kate Walker, associate pastor of Chapelwood UMC, Lake Jackson, however, “an active vision serves to clarify identity, and focus ministry efforts and give congregations a means of measuring priorities and outcome -- because a vision puts our values into action.” As one of the primary leaders of the Vibrant Church Initiative’s Vision Workshop, Kate compares a vision to an amazing travel brochure.  “It paints a beautiful picture of a destination, and attracts us with highlights,” she says. “But it also sets some clear milestones for getting there.”
How has Kate discovered her “vision” for leadership in church revitalization? She can look back and see God’s hand in her ministry journey. “I grew up in Louisiana and have been a Methodist all my life,” she shares. “I was blessed to grow up in an amazing local church with a very active laity.  Christian formation was a huge part of the DNA of my home church. My church had some incredible Sunday school teachers and I was deeply impacted by the Disciple Bible Study during high school.”
Kate attended Centenary College of Louisiana and was part of a program that opened the door to working with Fellowship UMC in Bossier and FUMC Shreveport.  “I worked with youth, children and worship arts in different capacities for four years,” she says, “and another four years at Garrett-Evangelical where I loved running the Thursday worship service and being in an environment that placed heavy emphasis on church revitalization.” 
After seminary, Kate moved to Texas to serve as youth director at Chapelwood UMC, Lake Jackson.  After being there two years, church leaders spent almost a year discerning mission, values, marks of discipleship and a vision for the future.  Notes Kate, “It was a great experience with a stellar team and the results have helped our congregation focus and pull together around common goals.” Adds Kate, “Participating in that experience led me to a call to ministry as an Ordained Elder.  I was commissioned in 2014 and ordained this past Annual Conference.”  
When her church moved from visioning to implementation, she wanted to continue learning about vision and congregational revitalization.  “My senior pastor suggested going through the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) consultant training, which I did and soon volunteered to be part of the traveling teams.” For over a year Kate has served in numerous roles with VCI, including most recently helping to train new consultants and helping to pilot a form of VCI for churches under 75 in worship attendance.
Facilitating Hope and Energy
Kate is inspiring other leaders based on her own experience and observation of VCI’s results. Kate says, “I think VCI works because it combines the wisdom of many congregations with the unique gifts and callings of a particular congregation. It draws on great resources and lessons learned over the years. We spend a great deal of time listening and learning about a particular congregation to help churches see their unique gifts and graces and to hear where God is calling them to make an impact on their communities.  So much of VCI is controlled and done by the local congregation as they know themselves and their community best.”
What most trained VCI team members love most about VCI is the sense of hope and energy it can generate. Recalls Kate, “I worked with a congregation recently that initially seemed convinced there just wasn't enough time or money or energy to change anything -- which was hard to hear because on paper, this church was no where near its deathbed.”  During the consultation, the team perceived the energy level steadily rising. “New information opened their eyes, and you could practically hear the Holy Spirit moving through their table conversations, igniting new hope and a sense of possibility,” Kate explains. “By the wrap up time Sunday, they were like a different church.  The staff and leaders knew a lot of work lay ahead, but they were hopeful and open to what God might be ready to do.” 
Leadership Lessons Learned

  • It is important to listen if you are going to be a leader.  Leadership isn't walking in with all the answers, its building enough trust and relationship that you can discern with people where God is leading and how you might get there together.  This takes listening and a willingness to be changed by what you hear.
  • When it comes to time management, I focus on the holiness of small things.  I can see the big picture, but if I try to do it all at once, things usually end up forgotten or half done. Therefore I am learning to hold the big picture in the background and focus on each small step, how it fits with what came before, how to do it with excellence, and how it might contribute to what is coming next. People tend to get excited about a big finish, sometimes forgetting that every system is made of small parts; every ministry is born of small holy moments.  If you attend to those, the big stuff will usually take care of itself.
  • Clear direction re-energizes a congregation and leadership in a profound way. The VCI workshop on vision can help churches of all sizes set parameters for a vision crafting process that intersects mission and gives members a clear idea of what God has called them to do in their community and a process of discerning next steps.
“Too often actual ministry decisions are based on what the church has done before or what's worked somewhere else,” Kate observes. “The first leaves little room for new ideas or innovations and keeps programs alive long after they've ceased to be effective.  The second does not account for the unique gifts and circumstances of each congregation,” she adds. “The biggest surprise during a vision workshop tends to be around the need of a vision to focus beyond the walls of the church.  In the vision workshop (as well as the consultation workshop and the accountable leadership workshop) we talk about how vibrant churches do two things: 1) They make new disciples and 2) they care for the disciples they have – in that order.”  
She assures leaders that putting energy into evangelism and service does not take away care for existing members. “Vision discussions excite people about new possibilities,” shares Kate. “There's also relief that its okay to let go of some ministries in order to focus energy on the new things God wants to do through them – so that good does not become the enemy of great.”