John Piper and the Power of Vision

Today’s post is written by Matt Perman, author of What’s Best Next and his new book How to Get Unstuck: Breaking Free from Barriers to Your Productivity, and is sponsored by Zondervan.

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Six years into his thirty-three-year ministry at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper wrote in his journal on November 6, 1986:

The church is looking for a vision for the future—and I do not have it. The one vision that the staff zeroed in on during our retreat Monday and Tuesday of this week (namely, building a sanctuary) is so unattractive to me today that I do not see how I could provide the leadership and inspiration for it.

Does this mean that my time at Bethlehem is over? Does it mean that there is a radical alternative unforeseen? Does it mean that I am simply in the pits today and unable to feel the beauty and power and joy and fruitfulness of an expanded facility and ministry?

O Lord, have mercy on me. I am so discouraged. I am so blank. I feel like there are opponents on every hand, even when I know that most of my people are for me. I am so blind to the future of the church. . . . I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.

John Piper, one of the most effective preachers in the history of the modern church, was stuck.

Stuck From Lack of Vision

Why was Piper stuck? Because of issues surrounding vision—one of the most difficult yet important areas of leadership and personal effectiveness.

Does Piper’s experience mean that the entire enterprise of discovering a vision for a church (or your life) is misguided? Does it mean that trying to develop a vision leads only to discouragement because it is so hard to do? And is the concept of vision even necessary anyway? Developing a vision is incredibly difficult, and it is made more difficult by the ambiguity of terms surrounding the concept of vision and the general lack of clarity most of us have about its meaning.

More important right now, though, is the second issue: is having a vision even necessary? And, for Christians, is it biblical?

We might think that John Piper wouldn’t endorse the need for vision, for he has been known to be skeptical of some concepts that may seem to come from the business world. Maybe concepts like “vision” are just tools of the business world and not relevant to the church and individuals?

But notice that Piper did not go that direction. He did not even hint at that direction. His issue was entirely one of uncertainty about what the vision should be—not about whether there should be a vision. In fact, the primary reason that Piper was discouraged here was precisely because he did not have a vision for the church. And, beyond that, others in the church had tentatively arrived at a vision that he did not find inspiring or meaningful. Lack of a shared vision, which Piper was confident to be God’s vision for the church, was the cause of Piper’s great discouragement.

And so we see, from the negative side, the great importance of vision. Piper was stuck and discouraged because the vision was lacking. He was so stuck and discouraged, in fact, that he almost quit—for that’s what he titles the article where he recounts this journal entry.

Nevertheless, he did not quit. He went on to preach at Bethlehem for twenty-seven more years. More than that, Bethlehem went on to become one of the most well-known and influential churches in the nation. Piper’s ministry touched a generation of millennials with a passion for God and a passion for missions2 and expanded to reach millions online every month.

How did Piper get unstuck? How did God unleash such blessing through his ministry—and so consistently, year after year, so that today, even after retiring from his role at Bethlehem, he is writing and teaching more than ever before and his ministry continues to expand online?

Many components worked together to get Piper and his church unstuck. Perseverance was one of them. I am certainly not implying that Piper or the church was at fault or somehow flawed for not having clear vision at that time. We all go through a lack of clarity at times, and we need to know how to persevere even when our vision is not clear. We are not to let ourselves or our organizations languish without vision. That’s not what Piper or his church did. The key component (after prayer), to how they got unstuck was that they persevered in developing a shared vision—and succeeded.

Unstuck Through a Compelling Shared Vision

Over a period of time, Piper and the other leaders developed a renewed vision for the church that gave the clarity, inspiration, and conviction they needed. When they received clarity on their mission, values, and ministry philosophy, they articulated these things in writing and wove them into the fabric of the church. Over the years, Piper has become one of the most effective vision casters in the entire North American church. Vision is central to his ministry and effectiveness, and vision can be central to your life, work, and ministry effectiveness as well. In fact, developing a clear vision is essential to getting unstuck, staying unstuck, and being the people God has called us to be. It is not simply something nice to do or a good idea to try out “if we have time or are that sort of person.”

The Power of Vision

There are two groups of people when it comes to the importance of vision. Some—and, in my experience, very few—don’t think it matters much. The second group, on the other hand, are convinced of its importance and want to get on with the act of creating it.

If most people are in the second group, why spend any time at all on why vision matters? The reason is that you can’t unlock the power of vision in your life unless you first understand why vision is so powerful and so vital. You must first understand why developing vision is not just a good thing to do but is your responsibility. When you grasp this concept, you gain a deeper commitment to living by your vision and a greater ability to live it out.

Perhaps the biggest truth about why vision matters is this: vision is essential for unlocking your full potential and achieving great things. It is, in fact, the most powerful tool for doing so.

To learn more about developing your vision, order a copy of How to Get Unstuck and get access to 6 bonus chapters that did not make it into the book. Four of the bonus chapters take you through the process, in detail, on how to develop a vision for your life on the basis of the Scriptures.