Bishop Eleanor was invited to contribute an article on vision to Edge, the magazine of the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management. Here’s what she wrote.
Vision is a very popular concept in the business world today, but it has long played a central role in religion. In the Bible (Proverbs 29:18), we hear these words: “Where there is no vision, the people will perish.”
Since the word ‘vision’ is so widely used, it can be hard to discern exactly what it means. In my work as an Anglican bishop, I am careful to distinguish between vision and mission. In a Christian setting, we understand our church, or our community, as participating in the mission of God – which is God’s reactivity in Christ – to recreate things that are not as they should be into something good. The vision is how we see ourselves taking part in that mission. Throughout our church, there are visionaries with a clear passion for making things truly good.
The church is often described as a group of people who exist not for themselves. Arguably, the same could be said of businesses and other organisations, yet that is not how they are perceived. When you have a religious mission, you might make decisions to do things that seem unnatural or even harmful to your own interests – for example, the discipleship call to leave everything and follow Jesus. One of the great joys of my role is supporting people who make decisions that seem surprising on the outside, such as giving up a great job because they have discovered the richness of living a deeper life in community with God, and making a difference to the world.
Jesus did not cultivate the rich and powerful. Instead, he spent a lot of time on the margins of society. So how does that play into how Christian leaders shape visions today? We have to be careful we don’t assume the dominant culture or language is the same as God’s culture or language. You need to constantly check in with the way other people see the world. This principle applies equally in the lay world. The more a business understands the way it is experienced by different genders and cultures, the greater its ability to move towards its vision.
One of the great challenges with vision, for both secular and religious leaders, is that it is intangible. In this respect, it is similar to faith. Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Meanwhile, the vision referred to in the Book of Proverbs is a God-given revelation. The process of calling people into something that cannot be physically seen is what actually brings vision to life. We have to become the living example. Interestingly, the word ‘bishop’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘overseer’. That’s why leadership for me is very much about honouring the hope and possibilities that other people see, outside as well as inside the church, praying for grace to see the world through God’s eyes and finding ways to bring all these visions together.