Mission and vision are two closely related terms that are often confused. If you survey websites of churches and nonprofits, you’ll often see the two terms used interchangeably. Sometimes both mission and vision are included in one heading, which is fine. It’s good, however, to understand the differences between these terms so that you, as a Life Team leader, can properly use them as you lead your Team and your church in the life arena. Having clarity of your mission and vision is vital, as it identifies your Life Team’s destination, establishes the path your Team will follow, and guides your Team in setting specific goals. A lack of clarity will result in a confused purpose; however, clarity of your mission and vision will enable your Team to make tangible and observable strides toward its stated end. Generally speaking, mission tells “what you do,” whereas vision describes “your destination, the state of things when your goal is realized.” Let’s look at a few biblical examples.
The Bible and Vision Casting
Vision casting is a common feature of the Old Testament narratives. God cast a broad mission and vision for Abram (later Abraham) when he called him in Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV):
1 Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Pay close attention to the verbs in the passage above. The mission that God gave Abraham was part of God’s larger mission for his people. Notice how the two are interconnected. Abraham’s mission (what he does) is simply to “go.” God’s mission includes blessing Abraham, making his name great, and making of him a great nation. Working through the human agency of Abraham, God directs Abraham toward the eventual end result of that mission, we can label as vision. And what is that vision? It is this: All the families of the earth shall be blessed.
We see this same mission picked up in the mandate Christ gave to his disciples on the mountain at the end of his earthly ministry. This mandate, called “the Great Commission,” appears in Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV):
19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The mission is clear: “go,” “make disciples,” “baptize,” “teach.” But what about the vision? Did Jesus forget to give them that? What is the end state of discipling the nations? What is the goal? The disciples were well versed in Scripture and knew the goal, the vision of discipling the nations. It was for the name of Christ to be known in all the earth and for God to be glorified. They would have recognized that Jesus’ ascension to the Father connected directly with Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV):
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Do you see it? The mission of the disciples in the Great Commission to go to the nations is to endeavor and strive for the fulfillment in which Christ is given the nations as seen in Daniel 7. In that fulfillment rests the vision of all of Scripture you might say, where God’s people have been restored to right relationship with him through Christ’s redeeming work. God has placed that mission in the hands of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit to work to that end — to that vision!
Putting the Truth to Work
So how do we apply this? First, do a self-assessment of your Life Team’s mission and vision. Are the two distinct enough so that people can recognize which is which? Let’s look at a hypothetical Life Team mission and vision.
A community of believers that is equipped to consistently affirm life at all stages and to stand against a culture of death.
To equip our church and community to be gospel-rooted disciples affirming the value, dignity, and worth of each human being, all of whom are made in the image of God.
Let’s compare these two. The vision isn’t bad, but it lacks the teeth the mission could give to it. Without the mission, we have no idea how we’ll make that vision a reality. By what means, vehicle, or medium will the vision be realized? We aren’t told.
Now look at the mission. It seems solid; it’s similar to the mission statement of many churches and Life Teams, and it even contains some elements of vision. Is there anything missing? Where’s the vision? Sure, an equipped community that affirms the value of life is a kind of end — but it isn’t specific, is it? Mission and vision, then, are two sides of the same coin; they clarify and complement each other. We often assume that if we have one, we have the other as well, but if both aren’t stated, we lack the clarity they can give together.
So how do we craft our mission and our vision in a way that (1) paints a real picture of our destination in the vision and (2) presents at least a general route to realize that vision through the mission?
First, if you don’t have a distinct Life Team vision and mission, endeavor with your Team to work through writing the piece(s) you’re missing. If you already have both but perhaps have the elements intermingled, here are two things you can do to make the vision and mission distinct without drastically changing your Life Team’s past efforts:
Example Combination of Mission & Vision
To equip our church and community to be gospel-rooted disciples affirming the value, dignity, and worth of each human being, all of whom are made in the image of God. We will do this primarily through the vehicle of a gospel-rooted Life Team in the context of our local church. To that end we endeavor to:
1)Annually give voice to the voiceless on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
2)Monthly plug in volunteers for (a) the local crisis pregnancy center and (b) sidewalk counseling at the abortion clinic
3)Weekly collect care items such as diapers, wipes, baby clothes, formula, etc. for the crisis pregnancy center or other families in need
That’s a little better, isn’t it? The vision describes a destination, or end result, and the mission explains the primary means to get there. Additionally, there is no ambiguity about this hypothetical Life Team’s goals. They are specific and observable, and more short-term goals can be added.
What will you do with this? Does your own Life Team’s vision paint a picture of the Team’s destination? Do you have a specified mechanism/vehicle to get there? Are your stated goals not only consistent with your mission and vision, but also clear and concrete? Finally, and most importantly, how does your vision connect with the vision of Scripture, which is to make Christ’s name known, and to glorify him in all you do?