By Jimmy Martin, IBC General Secretary
“I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven…”
Vision is a powerful thing. Vision keeps us moving in the right direction. To lose vision can be debilitating, depressing, even disastrous.
Max Lucado tells about a group of mountain climbers. Their goal was to climb one of the tallest mountains in Europe. They began on a clear, cold morning. The snow-capped peak, their destination, was in clear sight. The group made good progress. The members of the team were eager to encourage one another, especially the slower ones, because they could only make progress as a team. By the end of the day they were deeply satisfied. The mountain peak was in clear sight as the sun began to set. But the next morning, the weather had changed. Mist and fog made seeing the mountain peak impossible. The group trudged on but made less progress. They became discouraged. Some complained about the “slackers” lagging behind. Losing sight of the mountain peak made the way much more difficult and threatened the success of the trip altogether.
Saul’s vision on the road to Damascus changed him forever. Not all people are changed in moment but Saul was. In an instant this Despiser of Jesus and Persecutor of His church became its chief Apostle, Evangelist, Missionary, Church Planter, and Theologian. Saul became Paul. Perhaps others have had life-changes as dramatic as Paul’s, but very few, if any, have had changes that brought more lasting influence to the future of the Christian faith as Saul’s noonday vision.
Paul gave this witness to King Agrippa, affirming, “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” Paul never lost sight of the vision — what he had seen and what he had been told; he was shaped by it. We who live almost 2000 years after this vision are nonetheless indebted to God’s vision given and to Paul’s obedience to it. Churches were planted … the Gospel was shared widely … the Faith took root largely as a result of obedience to this vision.
Our vision as a family of international churches is in many ways the same as Paul’s. Both reflect the mission of God for His people — to “make disciples of all nations.”
The IBC mission is stated: We exist to mobilize and multiply disciple-making churches.
This mission is at the heart of what God has called us to do. If we can effectively help IBC churches toward their mission of healthy disciple-making (and that is a BIG word that encompasses every facet of life and growth and ministry) and if we can help churches to reproduce, to give birth to healthy disciple-making churches that continue to produce healthy disciples, God will be honored by what we do.
But what will that look like in 5-10 years? What is the picture we see that compels us toward the future?
That is our vision– We envision a movement of global-minded churches that are reproducing healthy disciples, leaders, and congregations.
Healthy leaders … healthy disciples … healthy congregations. A movement implies we are making progress, we are going somewhere, we are together. And global-minded — we are looking beyond ourselves toward others near and far. We have the whole world on our hearts.
Is vision important? It is in business and corporate life. It is for us also. Ours is a vision that comes from the pages of Scripture, and it is given by God to align ourselves to His work in the world.
Paul was a man of vision. His life was changed by a vision. And that vision of the risen Christ compelled him toward a clear, challenging picture of the future of the ministry, as it should be and must be. Paul’s vision must be our vision.
A Vision of the Holy, Gracious Christ
Saul’s vision was not only about what he saw but also about what he heard (the call was also an oracle). Imagine the trauma of seeing “A LIGHT from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me…” and then hearing THE VOICE from heaven saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME….” THE VOICE identified itself, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.” Shock and horror! Saul, thinking he was doing the will of God, finds that he was actually persecuting God’s Messiah, the heavenly voice. THE VOICE continued: “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you… I am sending you to them [Jews and Gentiles] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (emphasis added; read Acts 26 for the entire account).
Saul’s realization of the holiness, the glory of God as seen in His Son Jesus, was both shock and awe! It was a “holy, holy, holy” moment that destroyed pride and every illusion of self-righteousness when he met the holy God. But it was also a moment when Saul realized the sheer grace of a God that would forgive, restore, and use him as a witness and servant to both Jews and Gentiles.
Can God use us? If we will see his holiness and grace, He will add us to His storefront window collection for the world to see. We will become His trophies of grace, His beacons of light. IBC churches should be churches living out the holiness and the grace of God, who calls us to Himself and sends us out as His servants and witnesses. As we multiply our churches, the grace and light spreads.
Can we dream of … becoming a catalyst for strategic church-planting?
Let’s pray that God will use us to help others see the One who is both holy and gracious.
A Vision of Global Transformation
Paul’s calling, and ours, is to both “Jews and Gentiles” (Acts 26:20). No more distinctions. No more walls of separation. Paul’s vision was both instantaneous and completely transforming. From the minutiae of legalism and protection of Jewish purity, he is now both free in Christ and compelled to take this Good News to all who would hear it.
There is no difference because all people have the same need –transformation. All need to “repent and turn to God.” There is no difference because God provided the same solution for us all – “that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23).
Because we have a common need and a common solution to our need, IBC churches want to bring the Gospel to all. The Gospel has power to break down barriers and build bridges — bridges that lead to life and salvation and change.
IBC churches are churches where former enemies become brothers and sisters … where Africans and Asians and other cultures embrace one another … where a pastor originally from Iran and named Mohammad preaches the Gospel to a Spanish-speaking man named Jesus … where sinners like us are learning to love people separated from God by their own brands of sin.
Can we dream of … nurturing a spirit of love that bridges cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, generations, politics, privilege, position, and religious backgrounds?
Because we believe that the Gospel is not only for all of us but also for each of us, we believe that transformation happens one disciple at a time. “Making disciples” should be the Great Obsession of every IBC church.
Can we dream of … helping churches to keep their focus on making and multiplying disciples?
Given the diversity of our churches, it takes unique gifts and skills on the part of leaders to bring the changeless Gospel to people in changing times and to equip people from many backgrounds and at differing stages of Christian maturity. Effective leadership is key to any healthy and vibrant IBC church.
Can we dream of … developing pastors and leaders in essential ministry skills?
A Vision Achieved Only through Partnership
Paul was not alone in fulfilling the vision given by God. The Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament record that others played significant roles: We read of Paul and Barnabas (and Barnabas and Paul), Paul and Silas, Paul and Timothy, Paul and Luke, and others. Paul was not a lone wolf. He dedicated his life to teaching and training others. He planted churches and challenged them to work together for the sake of the Gospel and to help one another in times of distress and need.
Can we dream of … stimulating churches toward mission advancement?
Can we dream of… fostering fellowship and connections among pastors and churches?
Can we dream of… supporting churches in times of need and transition?
Rodrigo Assis da Silva, pastor at Bethel IBC in Frankfurt, Germany, shared about the challenges of his own church recently. He testified that God is moving. Lives are being changed. The church is moving toward health, but it is not there yet. “We are out of Intensive Care but we are not yet up and running.” The fact is, we are all, even at our best, in need of health and life. Rodrigo went on to share about how partnerships with other churches were helping Bethel in their journey toward healthy and effectiveness. Competition and comparisons will destroy us, but cooperation and partnership will empower us.
A Vision that Demands Obedience
Our family of churches began as a result of God’s vision given to two brothers — Herman and Herbert Stout — prior to their arrivals in Germany in 1956 and 1957. They saw what God wanted to do and responded, along with their families. Many have followed their example of vision and obedience. I hope that every IBC pastor and church planter has come to serve in obedience to God’s call. I hope every church desires to become a church that is obedient to the “vision from heaven.” Perhaps the easy part is the initial step of obedience. The real challenges come in the midst of trials, disappointments, difficulties, and opposition.
Paul’s life was one of adventure — sometimes not the kind of adventure that he would have wanted. But he was not disobedient to the vision. And He knew that the same Jesus who called him would not abandon him but would fulfill the purposes He had for him. And he knew that the relationship that began on the road to Damascus was the start of a life that would bring meaning to Paul and glory to God.
Saul’s vision of the living Christ changed him in a moment but to know Christ and serve Christ took a lifetime. Every obedient step led to the next. And at every step, if obedience was an option, so was disobedience. Disobedience manifests itself in many ways including refusal, neglect, or postponement. As someone has well said, “Partial obedience is disobedience.” Obedience is a choice we make. Disobedience is a choice we can reject.
As a family of churches we now have a vision. We believe it is a Christ-honoring vision. We need to understand and communicate that vision. We need to pray that God will empower us to fulfill the vision He has given us. We need to obey each step of the way.
Our vision as disciples, in the end, is not so much about doing as it is about being. It is about relationship. It is about pursuing Him rather than activity or even ministry. It is summarized well in the prayer attributed to Richard, Bishop of Chichester, in 1253: “Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
Join me in the prayer of one of my favorite hymns but edited to reflect our common need:
Be Thou OUR Vision, O Lord of OUR hearts;
Naught be all else to US, save that Thou art.
Thou OUR best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence OUR light.
High King of Heaven, OUR victory won,
May WE reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of OUR own hearts, whatever befall,
Still be OUR Vision, O Ruler of all.
Dreaming with you,