The Four Stages of Visionary Leadership

I have reflected over a decade on the question of how visionaries develop. These are some initial thoughts that I want to share with blog readers as I think out loud a bit. I would really appreciate your comments and input toward the development of these ideas.

Stage One: VISION CATCHING

Every visionary leaders starts by following someone else’s vision. Here, the fundamental practice of following well precedes and develops the ability to lead well. During this time, a future visionary learns to submit to godly authority. In this stage the future visionary’s style is shaped by the strengths and limitation of the lead visionary. Strengths provide a foundational modeling opportunity. Limitations and weakness forge convictions that will eventually shape the values of the future leader.

Stage Two VISION CASTING

Eventually the visionary leader starts casting vision themselves. There are three nuances of how this vision relates to the the prior vision-catching content. In other words, most of early vision casting is found “underneath” the vision of a leader and/or organization of the developing visionary. The visionary casts vision: a) in support of, b) in relation to, and finally c) in contrast with.

  • In Support Of: The first practice is recasting the vision that already exists. The visionary is articulating and communicating what was given to them. The art of communication is matured as commitment, passion and ownership of the vision progresses. For example, a student pastor shares the greater vision of the church he has been serving for the last two years with his seminary buddies.
  • In Relation To: Eventually the emerging visionary will create and develop their own initiatives or ministry models within the larger vision. This mini-step takes the art of visionary leadership to a new level. As a visionary leader “builds” within their “domain” of the larger ministry they are responsible to relate what they are doing to the bigger picture. That is, they are advancing and enhancing the vision that they “caught” by casting new vision for their team, event, group, area or department. Our student pastor, for example, is recruiting two dozen new volunteer leaders for a high-school, gospel saturation strategy he developed. This strategy and mini-vision is developed in concert with the broader church vision.
  • In Contrast With: This is the positive step of beginning to sense a shift in calling or being attracted to a new ministry vehicle. While this is not an eventual reality for all visionary leaders it will happen for many of them. And by the way, it’s difficult for many senior leaders to watch this happen without sensing betrayal or hurt. This is normal. Yet from God’s perspective, isn’t it natural that a strong emerging visionary will develop completely a new “holy discontent?” Won’t he see new problems and want to find new solutions? The term “in contrast with” is helpful because oftentimes in the mind of the developing visionary, the language of the new is contrasted with and compared to the existing vision. (Hence we talk about missional vs. attractional approaches  or going to unreached people groups vs. growing an existing flock.) For example the student pastor starts dreaming of planting a different kind of church in contrast with the vision he has been serving in.

Stage Three: VISION CARRYING

At this pivotal place, the vision casting stage has matured to a point of full ownership, most often embodied by the senior position or lead role. Hence, not every visionary leaders reaches this point. And it is wrong, in my opinion, to expect that all visionary leaders should aspire to. (Or we would have not visionary second-chair leaders or visionary teams.)

The greatest experiential difference for the vision carrier is the increasing awareness that the vision came from God not himself. Over time, a greater convergence of spiritual maturity, life circumstances, and divine relationships unveil how little the vision truly emerged from within. Eventually he sees how God was orchestrating the events of life to the point that he knows that God himself gave him a vision to carry. Of course his practice of vision-casting hits full-bloom as the vision grows and expands from an ever-strengthening identity and awareness of God calling.

Stage Four: DESTINY STEWARDING

The final stage is one that fewer leaders reach because it is found only with unusual favor AND demonstrated success as a vision carrier over a long time. The success builds a platform of extraordinary influence beyond what was ever imagined. Hence, I believe this stage is experience by leaders in or after their fifties. The feeling of “carrying” a vision for a time, which is in itself a stewardship, moves to an even greater awareness of unplanned, yet God-ordained impact. For the best leaders, this enables them to guard a humble spirit and embrace a broader influence. For example the student pastor plants a church that becomes a church planting movement, or or transforms a city or adopts an unreached people group. At this stage, decades of vision carrying are seen from a different and more enlightened perspective.

At this stage it’s easy for current names to come to mind like Rick Warren or Bill Hybels or T.D. Jakes or Mark Driscoll or Andy Stanley. But I believe there are thousands and thousands of leaders who reach this point, that we will never read about. Despite tremendous impact, they steward a more silent destiny.

So how do you react to this initial framing of these stages? Specifically how does this match up to your personal experience? What would you add or tweak or take away?  Thanks for considering a response.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of VisionRoom.com and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Elder Chris Allen — 03/20/14 11:38 am

** I think the Area that Needs the most care, Prayer & Training is the 'In Contrast to Vision Casting'. If not fully understood, not only can the Senior Pastor feel rejected or betrayed, the Student Pastor can feel a sense of Guilt with can turn into a sense of rebellion. During this time, the Student Pastor may be in need of even more guidance from the Senior Pastor, but to many times the Relationship becomes Strained & distant.

klministriesKay Lenear — 03/20/14 10:03 am

A visionary must be given the gift of seeing through the Lord's eyes, in fact, a visionary must have his eyes. This is what the Lord has said to me.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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