Vision Don’t Kill People, Instructions Do

Back in April 2013 a few of us were sent on a visit to the Woodlands Church communities in Bristol. They have 11 communal houses across Bristol with about 150 people living in community (and growing). We stayed at one of their community houses on the Friday evening and joined them for a whole day conference about community the day after.

They impressed me at how they’ve kept both fresh and focused over the last twenty years. Their focus is on one stable and simply defined vision. From this vision come their practices and principles which have been kept flexible in order to stay true to their vision, their calling. Calling & vision is like the wine for which principles and practices are a wineskin.

Pondering this some more I came up with this list of primary and secondary things in church life:

Primary things
(Must be remembered & protected)
>Secondary things
(Must be kept fresh & flexible to be true to what’s primary)
Vision & values
Outworking of calling
Practices & principles
Skeleton, structure

Now, in the church it can be tempting for us to insist people follow a blueprint, this seems safer. A blueprint is everything in the right hand list.

However no one gets as inspired about a blueprint as much as a vision. People will sacrifice greatly for a vision but not for a blueprint. James Normal recently said “People will sacrifice a great deal for a pioneering vision; less to maintain a status quo; hardly anything just because they’re told to.” And a vision can grow into so much more than any rigid blueprint.

All these primary things can produce these secondary things, but secondary things can’t produce primary things. Primary things are from God and secondary things are generally more man-made.

Regarding “vision mentality” over “blueprint mentality” Neil Cole has commented:

“When we start putting together systems to make sure that future generations obey, what we end up doing is building an institution that conforms people to a pattern. They don’t have their own faith, they’re living off the residue of faith of a previous generation.”

To a degree today’s radical Christian should look different to a radical Christian twenty years ago. Radicality is relative. Same heart, new expressions.


If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or even a “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

Tree climber, pancake eater, initiator. Trying to keep up with Jesus. Webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Army.

  • Andy Whittaker

    …I think that article hits quite a few nails on the head. The really big problem that arises over time as the vision is ‘made flesh’ is that the ‘blueprint’ side of things reaches a critical mass where it’s maintenance has become more important than the ‘vision’ – when too many people’s livelihoods and raison d’etre are based on the blue print rather than the vision – thus a tipping point happens and the blueprint takes over – once that point is reached there is no way back and the ‘people without a vision perish’ – it may take many years but it is a one way street. In the end, the only solution requires death and resurrection so that new life and fresh vision can begin again.

  • Farhad

    Hi. I agree with what you have said. Hearts are moved when gripped, and that is what vision does! It grips hearts and opens eyes to new possibilities.

    But I can’t see how radicality can be relative. Being radical, by definition, means going back to roots. Church would not have survived the test of time if its roots were relative. I do think, however, that outworking of a radical vision is relative according to time and context.

    Your list of primary and secondary things in church life is enlightening.

  • Jesus spoke about flexible new wineskins for new wine. If we want new wine (of course we do) then we must make our wineskins flexible or have new ones. This is the issue of the decade for us imho.