Leadership defined, at its most basic level, is having followers. Most people agree that if someone doesn’t have any followers, they cannot be called a leader: a mother leads her children, an author leads readers, etc. Leadership in the church, therefore, means having either followers within the church or leading people toward the church. In any case, it means having church related followers.
Vision is what is worked on or toward together within the church. It is the heart of the church looking forward to the future fueled by the insight and presence of the Holy Spirit. Vision is a tool which leaders and followers use to engage each other and their communities for the future. Vision, however, is not the church and it is not leadership. One can have a vision but no followers.
Sometimes we blame our people for not getting on board with the future – with the vision. But, if the basic definition of leadership is having followers, and we have not brought our people with us in visioning, we have ceased leading. This means we are essentially no longer leaders.
In other words, if leaders have to sacrifice people for anything, they aren’t leading. Or, at least, they aren’t leading people. Therefore, if a leader isn’t drawing people into the vision of the church, leadership is not taking place. If we must sacrifice our people for the vision we have actually relinquished our leadership.
If vision excludes the body of Christ, it is actually breaking itself. In other words, if vision causes disunity, vision itself begins to die. Thus, if true leadership is broken, vision is broken. But if vision is broken, leadership may remain. Leaders must remember that it is people, not vision, for whom we sacrifice. To put it more poignantly, great leaders sacrifice themselves on behalf of their people for the sake of the vision. They do not sacrifice their people for themselves on behalf of the vision.
In the great narrative of Christian history, Jesus is the center of God’s vision for humanity. Jesus was sent to sacrifice himself for the salvific vision. Jesus did not ask humanity to sacrifice itself to save the world – for the vision of redemption. When following Christ, therefore, it is the leader who must sacrifice for the vision while calling others into the vision. It is not the vision, but the people, who take precedence. The world comes to know we are Christians by our love of one another (John 13), not by our love of our vision.
This does not mean that leader should always wait for everyone to be on board with the next step for their church. It does, however, mean that it is the leader’s job to bend, to sacrifice, to care for those people in the midst of going forward. This is love, that we lay down our lives – our ideals – for each other (1 John 3:16.) We know the greatest way, the best way, is love (1 Cor 13.) If we sacrifice love for vision we sacrifice the church itself. However, if we sacrifice vision for love, we have shown the world that Christ is alive in us.