The Importance of Vision


It is pretty common to find some kind of vision statement in a business or even non-profit.  It is even typical for these organizations to revisit occasionally the vision statement to see if it still matches what the organization sees as a reason for its being.  I think this is quite healthy.  This should be the case for spiritual communities, too.

It is not unusual for people to know the phrase, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”  What many folks probably do not know is that phrase comes from the Old Testament.  It can be found in Proverbs 29:18.  If we were going to do the passage justice, we would have to look at it in its context.  That should help us know what it likely meant at the time it was written.  But for our purpose here, the focus is on vision.  And the argument I would make is the people will, indeed, perish without vision.  I think this is the typical organizational perspective, too.

The first question might be the basic question, namely, what is a vision?  I am sure there are complicated definitions.  But I like the simple one I read years ago.  A vision is a picture of the future.  It does not matter whether it is a church or a corporate business; the vision is the church or business’s picture of its future.  Clearly in a group---be it church, business or non-profit---most of the members need to buy in for the vision to be effective.  Obviously, it would be easy to have a vision, put it on a plaque, hang it on the wall and ignore it.  I suspect that happens with frequency!

It is also pretty likely that many organizations have a vision, but most folks in the group would have no real clue what the vision might be.  We would rightly ask them, so without the group’s vision, what is your “functional vision?”  That asks them, so what drives your stepping into the future?  In many cases there is no vision.  People and the group simply are creating their futures by doing the same thing they have been doing for a time---in some cases, a very long time.  In this sense vision is nothing more than destiny---the past dictating the future.

It is easy to see the need---maybe necessity---of visions for groups.  But I would also argue it is important for people---individuals---to have a personal vision.  The same definition holds for personal vision.  What is your personal picture of the future?  Probably most of us have given some thought to that.  It might be more focused in our earlier years. 

People ask vision questions of younger folks when they are asked, “what do you want to do when you grow up?”  In college students choose majors, partly in the expectation those majors will lead to jobs and careers they envision for themselves.  Notice the verb I just used: envision!  Often vision amounts to little more than the job or career they want to have.  That may be part of a vision, but I hope there is more to your vision.

As we grow older, we may have to revisit earlier visions.  If we get sick or old, then career cannot be an appropriate vision for us.  As we get older, earlier visions may no longer fit who we want to become.  I would argue not all visions have to focus on what we want to do.  It is appropriate to have a personal vision that focuses on what I want to become.

If you want to think about personal vision, I suggest a nice way to ponder it is to think about how you want to bring meaning and purpose into your life.  Vision is related to meaning.  A vision is a picture of the future that I want for myself.  Clearly there seems to be better and lesser visions.  I might have the vision to get rich---nothing inherently wrong with that.  But it probably is not ultimately satisfying or fulfilling.  I suggest visions that have to do with love or service make better choices---ultimately speaking.

To come up with a vision is an appropriate way to ask the age-old question: for what am I living?  Practically speaking, we can ask ourselves: so why do I get out of bed each day and go forward?  If you have not thought about that or if you don’t know your own personal answer, then you probably are on automatic pilot.  Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with being on automatic pilot.  But it probably will not ultimately be satisfying or fulfilling.

It is not unusual for people not to be too sure what their vision is.  Much of our culture does not want us coming up with deep visions.  Culture would rather make us in its own image---telling us what to buy, how to think, how to spend time, etc.  Having a vision puts us in control of our own lives.  In many cases we may not want what culture is selling us.  A vision will determine how we spend our time. 

I am sure we can have many visions that serve short-term purposes.  But I hope each of us can come up with our personal vision that gives us the best chance of living life, such that we will be satisfied and fulfilled.  That ultimately will be the best we can do.  I can envision the picture of my future.  Do you have a picture, too? 

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