Perfectly Executing the Wrong Vision

By Jim Tune

In his acclaimed book Why Smart Executives Fail, Sydney Finkelstein describes a fictional situation about a meticulously planned military operation. In his scenario, a special forces unit moves in with devastating efficiency and successfully accomplishes every objective; the forces kill or capture everyone in the base they were attacking. The unit suffered very few casualties. There was only one problem. The target they had attacked and captured belonged to friendly forces.

06_Tune_JNCentral command launched a massive investigation to figure out what went wrong. Several missteps were eventually identified. Operational protocols were reviewed, changed, and corrected. The only thing that was certain though, was the soldiers had successfully accomplished the wrong mission. The operation was guided by a picture of reality that was seriously inaccurate.

We’ve heard stories like this before. The basic story line has repeated itself often enough in real life. In his book, Finkelstein cites the demise of once-thriving companies that suddenly nose-dived into financial disaster even while flawlessly executing their business plan. Finkelstein refers to this as “brilliantly fulfilling the wrong vision.” The companies Finkelstein investigated were all carrying out their operations well. Unfortunately, every company studied in his research was found to be carrying out the wrong operations.

Tim Spivey likes to ask church leaders this question: “Does your church have a vision or a hallucination?” Embrace vision, Spivey says, not hallucination.

Most good leaders will at some point mention that their vision is “inspired by God.” But I’m not sure the process always reflects that. There are a great many vision statements on church websites that reveal the church leaders did, at the very least, research the vision statements of other churches. That doesn’t equate to a “revelation from God.”

My sense is that all too often we are asking what our plans, hopes, and dreams are rather than entering into a process to seek God’s. And when the vision is created and cast from the top down, that always allows for the possibility of a human agenda—one that reflects the plans, hopes, and ambitions of a single leader while ignoring the dreams and visions of congregational members.

I’m not against strategic planning, not at all. I think it has its place. We do need to know what we’re aiming at. Maybe it really is God’s will for every church to become a megachurch or build a “family life center” and a gym. Who am I to say?

I’m merely wondering if we’ve given strategic planning too much prominence. With the best of intentions we can sometimes make things more about a man-centered vision than a God-centered one.

Vision matters. Just don’t brilliantly execute the wrong one.

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