On the field we often hear a missionary say something like, “We’re meeting with a few pastors today and want to cast vision.” Or maybe at a yearly training meeting, a leader might remark from the pulpit, “Meet with your disciples and cast vision for soul winning to them.” I don’t know the history of the phrase but know it’s popular in various circles. Christians from different backgrounds and theologies use the phrase. In a 2004 sermon, John Piper said, “Another example of Romans 12 shaping the way we build budgets and cast vision for Treasuring Christ Together is that the staff and elders know that verse 2 is absolutely essential for what we are doing” (link). And it’s not surprising to hear John Maxwell use it: vision is the ability for a leader to look out and see what is ahead of us (link). Apparently, those in the business sector use it a lot too: “Vision casting is a term used in leadership and strategic planning that refers to creating a compelling and inspiring vision for an organization or team. This vision provides the group with a clear direction and purpose and serves as a roadmap for achieving long-term goals and objectives” (link).
Thus, it’s normal for Southern Baptist missionaries to use it readily. It’s not exclusively used by those fond of Church Planting Movements strategies, but they employee it often: “At the same time, you hunt for saved believers (prioritizing same or near culture partners) that will work alongside you to reach this people group. You bridge into them by casting vision to them of what God can do in and through them and then to train them” (Smith). I imagine that many of us missionaries with other methods use the phrase as well. So maybe we could explore its meaning a bit here, and then perhaps recalibrate.
What the phrase conveys
What in fact do we as missionaries mean? If we were not allowed to say vision casting, what words would we use? Would we say teach, or emphasize, or help them understand? For example, “Meet with your disciples and teach the importance of soul winning to them.” Or “Emphasize to these leaders that they need to disciple their people.” What about good biblical words like preach, reprove, rebuke, or exhort? “Preach to them today and exhort them to share about Jesus.” This little replacement-word exercise can at least help us make sure we convey a biblical message when we tell other missionaries to cast vision. In fact, if one uses vision casting phraseology on the mission field or in the church, it might be good to make sure it’s really grounded in Scripture. Perhaps the closest example of someone in the Gospels doing something like vision casting might be when Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Maybe. Or when Jesus says in John 4, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Perhaps.
Nevertheless, let’s suppose for a moment that the concept is biblical, yet let’s still use a different word to test clarity. What precisely is it that we’re teaching other Christians to do or become? What “vision” are we wanting others to catch? This is where I think we could do better. Some missionaries stop short; they say cast vision and merely mean, teaching others to share their faith, who will in turn teach Christians to share their faith; or they mean: to teach believers to disciple others who will also disciples others. But this “vision” is less than glorious, less biblical than it could be because it shoots for less than where Scripture points. If some have reduced vision casting (or teaching) to mean simply “go witness,” then that concept is only part of a good focus for a team or church or individual, but it’s lacking. There’s something better than mere witnessing or training others to witness. What is better? God himself.
The Best Focus
Right, the Lord himself is a better aim–or, shall we say, vision. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul….” A robust approach would therefore be, teach others to cherish God and his glory. His glory shines in his authority and power. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1)! We can teach disciples the fine details of the end of Matthew 28, too. His glory sparkles here: “All authority…given to me”, “I will be with you always…”. The end of Matthew isn’t merely about disciple making, but about the One true God with all authority, who will never leave his disciples.
This article is not a call to always avoid vision casting terminology. Who has time to be the word police? I use discipleship even though the word isn’t in the Bible. But hopefully we can all agree that words matter. (Note how often people say, “meet online” when they really mean “connect online.” Or “I feel that…” when they mean “I think that…” Missionaries themselves are bad about overusing “Great Commission” when quoting the biblical text would be better: “…going, make disciples, teaching them….” How we use words matters especially in cultures where man can now sometimes mean woman.) So, I’m urging cautious reflection, that is, rigorous biblical reflection. If your convictions lead you to conclude that vision casting is biblical, then please use it sparingly, and use it properly: to point people to the greatest of all visions–God’s supremacy, his bigness. “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Psalm 96:4-5).
We all need verbal shortcuts sometimes, but they can have weaknesses, like breeding ambiguity. Because we’re people of the Book, we have tasks for the church and the mission field that derive specifically from the Bible. Often, we ought to go to His Word to see that we’ve got it right, and often we should use its language to help us stay on track. Otherwise, we might become businesspeople and merely baptize our marketing ideas with Christian words or sprinkle our biblical words with business-rich concepts and verbiage. Sometimes our lingo, and use of, so-called best practices might hinder us–and also indicate that our trust in the sufficiency of Scripture is waning. I can’t imagine that using business language and concepts will help us stay biblical; it may not cause a derailment either. But it might.
A Stunning Reality
Nonetheless, if there’s anything in vision casting that connects to holding on to something hopeful in the future, as Jesus did when he endured the cross, “for the joy that was set before him…”, then what could be more glorious than seeing all of us bowing the knee and confessing to our great king as it says in Isaiah 45, Philippians 2, and Romans 14? That’s a beautiful picture.
So, if its vision-language we are compelled to use, then let’s choose a vision that all Bible-loving missionaries can embrace. “For I am God, and there is no other,” records Isaiah. Let’s make sure it drips with excitement and passion about the God of the Bible: “Those who have glimpsed the greatness, the grandeur, the majesty, and the excellence of our Triune God through the eyes of trust in Jesus never get over that vision (Philippians 3:8). An obsession with God and His glory is the hallmark of true knowledge of God” (Foundations).
*Kenneth Hayward (pseudonym for security reasons) has been overseas with his organization for more than 15 years, lives in Asia with his family, and can be contacted at: stand4truth email@example.com.
- Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/treasuring-christ-together-the-vision-and-its-cost
- Maxwell: https://youtu.be/SCF-0UppO-c
- Business: https://www.rhythmsystems.com/blog/vision-casting-a-leaders-job
- Hayward: https://founders.org/articles/if-not-church-planting-movements-then-what/
- Smith (page 4): http://t4tonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/1-The-Basic-CPM-Plan-and-T4T.pdf
- Foundations (pages 36-37): https://issuu.com/trainingdev/docs/imb_foundations