“Is it better like this,” the optician asks as you stare at indistinct, blurry lines across the room, “or like this?” The blurry lines suddenly resolve into sharply-defined letters. “Oh, yes!” you exclaim. When we create and cast vision, we snap the lenses of God’s kingdom over our organization’s eyes. We help people see the beauty and wonder of his broader mission, and our ministry’s part in it, with crystal clarity.
Vision can do many important things, but its greatest power is this: Vision creates clarity.
When a leader casts a strong vision, every part of the organization comes into sharper focus. It clarifies culture, values, capacity needs and even hiring profiles. Establishing clear vision first, before other decisions are made, is crucial.
InterVarsity recently announced our 2030 Calling: “Longing for revival, we catalyze movements which call every corner of every campus to follow Jesus.” As I have cast this vision internally and externally, I have been reminded of four key principles.
1. Establish a Sense of Urgency
A vision’s power erupts from a sense of urgency. Nehemiah acted because he learned Jerusalem’s people lived in disgrace and its walls remain unbuilt (Neh. 1:3). Jesus left a growing ministry in Capernaum because other villages had not experienced the in-breaking of the kingdom (Mark 1:38). Paul traveled because he longed to declare the gospel where it had not been heard (Rom. 15:20).
“You can never over-communicate the vision.”
Our 2030 Calling developed as we completed our ministry’s 75th anniversary celebration. While we rejoiced that we were on more campuses than ever, we grieved over the 1,800 campuses we were not reaching (nor are any of the other seven largest campus ministries serving them). We wept anew over the millions of students and faculty who did not know God. We cried out for campuses torn apart by sexual violence, ideological idolatry and racial prejudice. We were convicted: we had to change so that every corner of every campus hears the gospel by 2030.
2. Exemplify and Embody the Vision
A vision must be more than a slogan. If your leadership demonstrates something different from it, that vision loses some of its power. It must be embodied to be believed. That’s why I moved my first National Leadership Team meeting to the headquarters of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I wanted to signal that our future could not be InterVarsity leaders talking with InterVarsity staff on InterVarsity’s home turf. We need to learn from, partner with, and receive help from others. We cannot accomplish the 2030 Calling alone.
So, we went to Orlando to learn how Wycliffe’s vision to start a Bible translation project in every language that needs one by 2025 compelled them to partner differently with other bible translation organizations. We went because we needed help from another ministry. We went somewhere new so that we could go somewhere new. It worked. Since that meeting, we have co-created everycampus.us with Cru, begun new partnership conversations with five denominations, and invited Dan Wolgemuth, president of Youth for Christ/USA, to teach us about organizational change. We are learning to partner and to embody the vision.
3. Create Guiding Coalitions
A leader cannot cast vision alone. When Ezra announced the Scriptures to the people, he relied on a team of leaders to communicate it and explain it (Neh. 8:7). Similarly, it is critical to rally other leaders who share the vision and who will embed it in the fabric of your ministry. We restructured our top two layers of leadership last year so that we all could clearly, and with integrity, communicate our 2030 Calling in word and action. They have led the way, starting new initiatives and sunsetting old ones, realigning teams and reallocating resources strategically, rallying their teams and each other around the calling.
4. Communicate The Story
You can never over-communicate the vision. Say it over and over again. Say it in print, via video, and in person. Say it in one-minute and ten-minute versions. Say it until you groan at the familiarity of the words. Then say it again. I try to mention our goal to reach every corner of every campus every time I communicate with our staff. Those words are taking root, soaking into our culture, and becoming a reflexive part of our identity and practice. Staff teaches it consistently. And, most importantly, our students use it to guide their activities strategically.
Is it better like this? Oh, yes!
Tom Lin is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. He serves on the Boards of Fuller Theological Seminary, the Lausanne Movement and the Crowell Trust. He has a B.A. in economics from Harvard University and holds an M.A. in global leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary.