If someone asked you what the vision of your church is, would you reply with goals and statistics, or with the type of person you’re looking to see emerge? I’ve investigated the pressures leaders are under to fabricate vision in order to fulfil the profile of a ‘visionary’ leader.

It’s rare to find a leadership book that doesn’t dedicate at least a chapter to the subject of vision. In most cases, however, it’s associated only with goals and aspirations. Most leaders think that vision casting is all about telling people what they’ll be up to in five years time and what projects would have come to pass. They’ve been unwittingly backed into a corner.

Vision is the motivating force behind everything we do. You can never say to someone ‘let’s motivate ourselves’ because motivation is simply a bi-product of the transference of vision. If I can ‘see’ something great, I’ll do anything I can to see it come to pass. Vision gives birth to commitment, enthusiasm, energy and discipline.

Because of its intoxicating influence, many leadership books have gone to town on it with the premise – ‘if you can believe it, you’ll one day see it!’ The huge problem with that is that you can’t make yourself believe anything. Either you believe it or you don’t. Either God said it or He didn’t. You can’t half believe and you can’t make yourself believe. Either the conviction is there or it’s not.

There is a big big pressure on leadership to have to come up with magnificent plans and huge goals in order to become the ‘visionary’ leader that they’ve been reading about. In doing so, many overstep the boundaries of faith and move into the big world of presumption where everyone is now ‘trying’ to believe. They begin to lead people into ‘big disappointment’ territory that many followers never recover from.

Many leaders think that if they were really ‘spiritual’, they’d hear God’s word more accurately regarding the details of their future and what will actually be taking place from one year to the next. It’s the absence of ‘hearing’ (as well as the huge pressure from the gurus of vision) that causes a lot of leaders to panic and tag on ‘the Lord said’ to their goals and dreams, when He never actually did say anything.

The problem doesn’t lie in the ‘spirituality’ of the leader, however, it lies in the actual absence of details when God actually does speak to us! The overwhelming majority of words spoken by God to us are about a revelation of His nature, not His plans! To Jeremiah, God declared “for I know the plans I have for you . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” God knew the fine print but wasn’t about to talk about it. Instead, He revealed the nature of the future (prosperous and good), not the details of the future. The nature of the future was a direct imprint of the nature and character of God. Vision, therefore, has less to do with what people will be doing in five years time, and more to do with the spirit they’ll be carrying in five years time!

My role as a visionary leader isn’t primarily to declare where we’ll all be in three years time, but to declare what we’ll all be like. God’s word is much more to do with ‘culture creation’ than it does to goal setting and actual, tangible accomplishments. God knows that creating a climate of the revelation knowledge of God from which all growth will come. Our principal goal is really to do with the people who are following us – that they would see, become like, draw close to, and do the business of God.

While some leaders have extrapolated God’s word declaring things that He never actually said, others have sat back, waiting for that amazing word of faith to fall out from heaven regarding the details of the future. When it eventually comes, they’ll do something about it; but in the meantime, they’ll just wait!

Whether God has spoken or whether God hasn’t spoken, the lives of leaders should be filled with the spirit of faith that results in what I call ‘the language of hope’.

Jonathan did not say to his armour bearers, ‘The Lord will act on our behalf’, he said ‘Perhaps the Lord will act .’ when confronting the Philistines outpost (1 Samuel 14:6). He exercised the language of hope. He knew that ‘nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.’ That word was a definitive word about the nature, character and ability of His God. His use of the word ‘perhaps’ was based on his word of faith but wasn’t itself a word of faith – it was the language of expectancy but not certainty.

It’s essential that we are confident but not over confident in our leadership. It’s important that we promise but not over promise. We all need to lighten up and say to the people who are following us ‘Why don’t we just give it a go? It’s a noble task and it’s possible that we just might succeed!’ In doing so, we create people who are less hung up on a word of faith, and more consumed by the spirit of faith. We create a ‘yes’ culture, where it’s a ‘yes’ until God says no: it’s a green light unless we see a red light. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, it says “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts .” (Colossians 3:15).

The Greek word for ‘rule’ has the overtone of someone acting as an umpire. Umpires don’t tell you when to kick and where to kick, they tell you when you’re out, offside and out of bounds. Players don’t watch the umpire when they play; they simply keep one ear to the umpire. Christian living has already been given a whistle to go but every now and then there comes the sound of a whistle when play is to be stopped. So many Christians, for example, pray about how much to give when it comes to an offering or an opportunity to be generous, yet the right thing for them to do is to go ahead and give, and listen out for when to stop! Ecclesiastes 11:6 says ‘Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening but let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.’

For a lot of leaders, that is too vague for their style of leadership. It is, however, excellent leadership. I’m ninety per cent sure that we’re going to succeed in all that we’re doing as a church. The ten per cent isn’t leaving room for doubt, it’s leaving room for the ‘ways of God’ that He never spoke to me about.

I’ve learned to be comfortable in being ‘faithless’, but I’m ruthless with ‘unbelief’. Faithlessness is simply the absence of hearing a specific word from God. It shouldn’t slow you down as you proceed in the spirit of faith with the language of hope. Unbelief, however, is the refusal to agree with what you actually heard when God spoke into your heart. The two are poles apart. When you understand the difference, it can make you very confident in saying ‘I’m not sure’, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘let’s have a go’ and it heavily reduces the fall out if what you attempted to do doesn’t come to pass. Everyone’s up for it again when you attempt another project because they’ve learnt to live in the spirit of faith. Short term failure isn’t such a big deal because in the long run, God’s plans to make us prosper and multiply will find their way into our life and ministry.

This is an extract from Dave Gilpin’s new book, ‘Jesus, save me from your followers: the reinvention of leadership.‘ Out now!