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A SUSTAINING VISION

by David Wells

“More than 80,000 square feet of prime ministry space was almost ready to be dedicated and put to use. My eyes couldn’t help but wander to the old tire warehouse I could see out the office windows.”
Sustainability as a value is a given in any project or strategic plan in today’s leadership contexts. For instance, as a volunteer manager serving with the 2010 Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee (VANOC), I understood that for VANOC sustainability meant “managing the social, economic and environmental impacts and opportunities of our Games to produce lasting benefits, locally and globally.” This was consistent with the organization’s overarching mission “to touch the soul of the nation and inspire the world by creating and delivering an extraordinary Olympic and Paralympic experience with lasting legacies.”

As a result, the community received regular reports on VANOC’s sustainability goals. Of course, not all sustainability targets were met; but I did watch with interest as many were met or exceeded, and how they served as a measuring stick for the outcomes and as an indicator of what the ongoing legacy should be.

Being immersed in this type of leadership environment prompted me to ask some questions about my own leadership and lifestyle. Melted down to their core, the two main questions are: (1) legacy—what do I envision I am doing that will outlast me? and (2) sustainability—am I living and leading in such a way that the legacy I envision is obtainable with ongoing impact?

In my role it is not unusual to connect with pastors and other types of leaders who are worn down because what they envisioned for their lives or ministries has not become the reality. Sometimes things start well with initial enthusiasm and everything in sync, and then progressively the momentum slips away and inner turmoil increases. Am I doing the right thing? Did I hear from God? Should I just quit? Of course I’ve been there a time or two myself!

Personally, I have found that a God-given vision which includes a clear sense of legacy instills the dynamic that sustains us. Even when the vision is on life support and our own energy is dangerously waning, if we clearly know that God has planted that seed, we will find a deep strength from Him to persevere through the roller-coaster ride of vision becoming reality.

In the fall of 1993, I walked through the gorgeous new facilities of the church I was coming to serve. More than 80,000 square feet of prime ministry space was almost ready to be dedicated and put to use. My eyes couldn’t help but wander to the old tire warehouse I could see out the office windows. “What are the plans for that place?” “Oh, we might have to tear it down to meet parking codes or just use it for storage” was the reply. At that moment God planted the seed of a thought … call it vision. “What an ideal facility for a community based-ministry centre. It could be called ‘the Warehouse’!”

Well, for the next five plus years I advocated for the concept of the Warehouse. At times it looked bleak. Maybe it would have to be torn down to meet city requirements. Maybe, with all the expenses related to the new church building, there just weren’t any funds available for an old brick building needing a lot of renovations. Perhaps, considering the great new facilities we had, it was wrong to be renovating the derelict place next door.

Then something encouraging happened along the way to the wrecking ball. Others began to capture the picture of what could be. They wouldn’t let the building be demolished. They began to draw up pictures of what the design could be. They worked on business plans and budgets of what it would take to run effective community ministries out of a remodelled warehouse. Generous people called other generous friends to match their commitment to see the vision become reality.

As a result, a beautiful thing happened. A couple years after I was no longer on the staff of that church, and several years after the first seeds were planted, the dedication event for the Warehouse was held. Today, it is fulfilling the vision glimpsed that fall day in 1993. Out of that warehouse the church, in co-operation with the society that generates support and runs the facility, provides services such as out of school care, a food bank, a community kitchen, tutoring, legal clinics, and family, youth and children’s programming. Of great joy to me is the fact that my friend, who early on captured the vision of the Warehouse and designed drawings of it, became the founder of a weekly worship gathering and mealtime for close to 150 people, many of whom are seeking spiritual direction, affordable housing, employment, and addiction recovery.

George Bullard, in his lectures regarding The Life Cycle of the Church,1 speaks of four organizing principles that allow vision to become reality and which determine the ongoing health of a ministry endeavour. I would state them in the following way:

Vision—Caught by God’s vision—there is clarity regarding our desired future as we fulfil His mission.
Relationships—Lovingly relating to:
  • God—He calls, unites, motivates, provides.
  • Those for who share the vision.
  • Those for whom the vision exists.
Programs—The means to meet real needs in real time.
Management—Support of and accountability to the vision.

My experience with the Warehouse taught me that to have a sustainable vision which in turn requires that all these organizing principles be in place. A God-given vision always has the component of legacy. It is about a desired future. It is never to be “flash in the pan” or “flavour of the month.” God-given vision produces a circle of people who share in the vision with others and are engaged with those who will benefit from the vision.

Closely related is the fact that real needs are being met in real time. The Warehouse vision has been sustainable—not just because a circle of people in the church were captured by it, but also because it has connected with and been embraced by the community that was the focus of the vision. Failure to connect with the focus group of a vision will inevitably lead to the death of that dream.

Often by this point of an initiative (or article!), the “visionary” leaders have moved on. Hence, the reason that so many ministry ideas briefly lift off the ground, only to drop quickly back down to earth and soon be forgotten. A sustainable, fruitful vision that leaves a lasting legacy always respects the need for organizational health, resource development and care for the participants. The legacy of too many Pentecostal initiatives goes unfulfilled because the care and feeding of the vision for the long haul were not taken seriously. The vision for the Warehouse continues to be fulfilled because a committed staff, society board, and loads of volunteers keep caring for the details that help make what was a seed of vision in 1993 a multifaceted reality today.

Believe me! It adds ongoing joy to one’s spirit when, on the CityReach Care Society website (cityreach.org), one reads,

Our main facility, known as “the Warehouse,” is a renovated tire factory in the heart of East Vancouver. Once nothing more than a storage area, it has been transformed into a fully functional centre for outreach into one of Canada’s most diverse communities.

Yep, this will keep me marching on and believing for more of what the Lord has in mind for us.
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DAVID WELLS—
is the General Superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
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