When Scripture mentions vision it's usually a reference to divine revelation, what God reveals. You know, without it the people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18, ESV). At the same time, there are many times when he simply wants us to open our eyes and see what is around us. How often we forget that there is vision, and there is vision. 1 and 2.
Writing to the Corinthians Paul appealed to vision 2, the use of their optical equipment. He wrote, "Look at what is before your eyes" (2 Corinthians 10:7, ESV). Evidently some of the people in Corinth were comparing Paul's writing and work to other church leaders and finding some fault with him. He just wanted them to open their eyes and see the reality of his ministry and mission.
Being observant was characteristic of The Apostle. It was part of being all things to all people so that some could be saved (1 Corinthians 9:22, ESV). As a result, he knew where the local women met to wash their clothes, operating hours of the souks and bazaars, synagogue locations and customs, and had seen the abundance of idols in Athens. Having his eyes open to what was around him gave Paul the strategic ability to preach and teach contextually, to aim the gospel to those who were listening. There was a genuine, unique awareness of his surroundings as he was on mission. He was missional before it was a buzz word. He could speak truth to the people in that diverse world because he was aware of them, knew something of their background, and how the gospel could speak to the empty places in their lives.
Vision 1 puts the eyes of heaven into your world. Vision 2 puts you and the people you are leading into it as well. So, what is involved in vision 2, having eyes to see?
1. Gather the demographic data of your mission area. Most denominational
entities can provide detailed data from the most recent United States census. This
information can pin point your community in a one mile, three mile, or five mile
radius, providing age, gender, marriage, income, housing, education, and religious
preference of the people living in your area. This material analyzes the population
and projects growth. This data should be consulted every couple of years at the
2. Do a weekly drive around. Driving the one, three, and five mile circles is also a
significant way to map the residential and commercial development in your
sphere of influence. A new sub-division, apartment complex, or shopping area can
change the dynamics of church life, outreach, and community engagement. In
some areas, just the appearance of a moving truck can signal opportunities to
3. Check the major retailers. Your closest retail stores can reflect the pulse of your
local community. These businesses are not haphazard in their store placements
and can often give signals about what is happening in the world around them,
especially if they are typically anchors. One of the church strategists recently
suggested walking through the large retail store closest to your church. He added
that your church attendance should reflect the traffic in that store.
4. Teach context and community awareness to your church family. Someone
from the church should attend community or HOA meetings, school board
sessions, PTA, volunteer fire department meetings, or other civic organizations
that serve in your local area. One pastor told me about visiting a school board
meeting and learning about their plans to construct a new elementary school
close to the church. He saw this an a springboard for partnership. Yay!
5. Identify mission possibilities. Even in some of the more rural areas there are
rest homes, child care facilities, schools, law enforfement stations, fire
departments, recreational facilities, or the lack thereof, that may provide mission
opportunities. One rural church I visited converted some of their acreage to
baseball fields, and are now the host of an entire age-graded baseball and softball
league. Another church provides after school care for all the working moms in
their rural community.
Paul's instruction to the Corinthians has another, more subtle angle. The implication for the Corinthian church is that they didn't want to see what was right in front of them. It is just as often true of us as well, our selective vision. To employ vision 2, and recognize what is out there, is to face the challenge of responding. There's no hook in overlooking what is right in front of us, no moral or spiritual demand. You know, ignorance is bliss, or so they say. But, to have eyes and not see, that is another thing. In Jesus' words it is the sign that "...this people's heart has grown dull..." (Matthew 13:15, ESV), a spiritual and not optical blindness.
And, that's the deal, isn't it? Vision 1 produces vision 2.
Jesus said, speaking to his disciples, "But blessed are your eyes, for they see..." (Matthew 13:16, ESV). Vision 1 opened their eyes for vision 2.
And, they changed the world.