“A paradigm is the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing, and doing associated with a particular vision of reality.” – Willis Harmon, Stanford Research Institute [i]
One prominent leader in the apostolic movement wrote, “Practice strategic thinking … strategy trumps vision every time.” While most men in their right mind would agree that proper planning is a must, I would contend that vision is primary, not strategy. It is the Vision which guides, directs, and determines strategic planning—whether planning a local discipleship class, a mission trip, or the song line up for a worship service.
Vision is absolutely essential to all biblical ministry. We each must have an encounter with the God of Glory. We each must receive a vision—and—be transformed by the vision.
Christian ministry is spiritual leadership. Serving others in the way of Jesus Christ always occurs within a larger paradigm of spiritual transformation. That each person would come to know God, and fulfill the God-given plan and potential in their life, is the goal of the minister. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”[ii] Stated another way, we cannot give away something we don’t have.
Music ministry provides an excellent example. The worship leader enters the realm of prayer, adoration, awe and wonder before the Lord … long before he or she goes before the people. The worship leader is transformed in the presence of God, before going before the people. Then, having been changed by their experience, they are able to transfer that experience to others. They can help usher people into the presence of God because they have already been in the presence of God. No other Old Testament character better exemplifies this principle of “Spirit-transfer” than Moses.
The Exodus is the dramatic Story of stories, which serves as a cherished and sacred model of deliverance and spiritual formation, which summarily demonstrates what some have called a “Progressive Theocracy.” Upon entering into covenant with the LORD at Sinai, 12 tribes of Hebrew slaves become a nation—even more, they become a consecrated, holy nation, destined for greatness, en route to the Promised Land.
The progressive regime changes from slavery—anarchy—national identity—identity-as-equals—all-as-leaders taught Israel two essential principles associated with God’s government, principally that success is always linked to an uncompromising covenant relationship with God and fidelity to a unified corporate identity (God’s people). Transformation from Hebrews slaves into a unified body politic is in fact the model (or type) by which the Church finds administrative and structural understanding under the New Covenant. [iii] The Church is in fact “an holy nation,” comprised of sinners saved by grace, in covenant with God and one another.
God separated the Hebrew people from a regime of slavery to become a nation of kings and priests in the earth. A separated lifestyle is not a final goal, worthy of some inherent virtue, but is a means connected to another, more specific end. In order to realize God’s greater purpose, the Hebrew slaves had to “come out from among them” and “be ye separate,” after which they could go through various stages of growth and development, involving rigorous challenges and tests in the wilderness crossing.
Dr. Nathaniel Wilson wrote,
“The primary purpose of God’s government is to see every individual grow to become a leader (God-like, that is, imaging God) in their own right and to understand how this integrates with other leaders.” [iv]
The development of the Hebrews from a group of oppressed slaves barely surviving in Egypt to a thriving, successful kingdom in Canaan provides us with a model of spiritual formation in its various stages. The first stage all of us must go through before becoming a spiritual leader is slavery.
Four centuries of slavery in Egypt have left the Hebrew people physically and emotionally languished and beaten down, robbed of dignity and “self-hood”—spiritually oppressed. Slave regimes deny people a sense of self, and instead treat their “subjects” as objects, property even, no better and probably worse than animals. What people in such a condition can muster up the strength, or access the necessary resources, to overthrow their oppressors? Under slavery individual behavior is dictated from the outside (slave master, divine king, Pharaoh, etc.). God’s design is to rule our hearts from within. Rather than overbearing dictatorship from above, the righteousness of God’s kingdom issues forth from within.
Personal revelation of truth and individual freedom to interpret one’s destiny have no space to operate in a slave regime. A paradigm of slavery will not give up its power, but, like all reigning paradigms (i.e. old and flawed paradigms), must be thrown down by a superior paradigm. [v] To effect any change requires both a kairological intervention and a God-called leader. Moses embodies the divine mandate (viz. “Let my people go!”) as well as the personality for the new, superior paradigm (i.e. Deliverance by divine design … God’s kingdom crashing in on the corrupt, earthly government of Pharaoh). This occurs every time a God-appointed leader preaches the gospel, leads others in worship, or does any kingdom business. Those living in sin and slavery are instantly confronted, the lesser paradigm of sin feeling the “press” of the superior kingdom of God.
“All moments are not equal.” [vi]
Life may be thought of in terms of both vertical and horizontal frames of being, the prior referring to our being spiritually rooted in God (thus upwardly focused), as opposed to the flat, finite, earth life, limited by temporal time and space. “No moment in life is more pregnant than the eschatological moment when “chronos” meets “kairos” in one’s life.”[vii] Such is the case for Moses at the burning bush, standing on holy ground, hearing the voice of the LORD. This was Moses’ divine appointment, the God of Glory breaking in upon his horizontal, mundane existence. Paradoxically, a similar yet very different scenario occurs in Pharaoh’s life, as Moses—God’s leader—bursts in on the Pharaoh’s stable, predictable empire. “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” [viii] Is it not the will of God to call, transform, and ordain individuals for such kairological encounters—even today?
Deliverance from slavery means more than breaking off chains; it means individuals are liberated from a slave mentality.
Moses (the leader) must be the first to taste liberating revelation. It is not only for Moses’ sake that he is changed by the vision at the burning bush, but for the Hebrew people. “People rarely can rise above the level of maturity of their leaders,” says Edwin Friedman, author of A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. [ix] “The outward deliverance of the people from enslavement is always directly adjoined to the degree of inward deliverance of the leader.” [x]
Moses must undergo a personal upheaval as his own paradigm (i.e. Moses the fugitive, vagabond, sheep herder) is broken down and replaced by the new paradigm (i.e. Moses the man of God, leader, deliverer). “Without personal deliverance, there is no corporate deliverance of the people.” [xi] His transformational experience with God and the Vision that comes with that experience (viz. the burning bush, God speaking), give Moses the unction and authority to fulfill his role as spiritual leader and deliverer.
It is not only what God gives Moses in his visionary experience; it is what God makes Moses into by this experience.
“Vision reveals those paradigms that are limited in value, or faulty, or transitory, says Wilson. “Vision makes plain those that are temporary or which have become outmoded, or which, by their very nature, are insufficient to meet new challenges on the horizon.” [xii] Moses is set apart; he is holy. He is no longer the run away murderer—he is the LORD’s called man. He is no longer “un-involved” in the Hebrews situation—he is now supernaturally bound, both to the LORD and to the Hebrew people. Every leader must catch this. Every leader must undergo this supernatural tension, being “in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you [the Church]” (Phil 1:23-24).
How important is vision?
We may also ask how important is the personal upheaval that occurs in spiritual formation? The dramatic upheaval occurring in the beginning stages of spiritual formation is necessary; for it is where we receive the vision. This vision provides our ultimate objective and determines the blueprints for our process, planning and action—our strategy. Without such a pivotal, life-changing event, the leader will falter in his mission, be unclear on method and planning, and eventually face burnout, fatigue, and finally doubt whether he is even doing the will of God.
The temptation to capitulate will be in constant pursuit of the man without a vision. We must have a vision!
[i] Willis Harmon, in Joel A. Barker, The Future Edge, (New York: William Morrow, 1992), 10.
[ii] Matthew 10:8
[iii] The early Church, led by the Apostles, looked heavily to the history of Ancient Israel, including the scriptures of Exodus, for examples by which to glean spiritual truth, hope, and insight for the Christian life and understanding of Christ’s Church: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope … Now these things were our examples … Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (Rom 15:4; 1Cor 10:6a, 11)
[iv] Nathaniel J. Wilson, “From National Identity to Identity-as-Equals: ‘Progressive Theocracy’ and God’s Government,” in Vision: Knowing Through Seeing, 1.
[v] _____. “Visions and Paradigms,” in Vision: Knowing Through Seeing, 7.
[vi] _____. “Vision, Change, and the People,” in Vision: Knowing Through Seeing, 2.
[viii] Exodus 7:1
[ix] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, Inc. 2007), 87.
[x] Wilson, “Vision, Change, and the People,” 7.
[xii] Wilson, “Toward a Sound Theological Leadership,” in Vision: Knowing Through Seeing, 3.