“Visioneering” by Andy Stanley is intended to help Christians in understanding what he calls “God’s blueprint for developing and maintaining personal vision.” Andy, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, is the son of Charles Stanley and the founding pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. “Visioneering” is clearly a book about leadership, but he broadens his audience by making applications of the material, which can be used by anyone. Examples include having a vision for your children or your marriage – after all, we are all leaders to someone. He writes as if he were speaking – very down-to-earth and personal rather than the heady, scholarly style of so many others who have written on this subject. This style also encourages readers who might not normally pick up a book on leadership. A tag line used on the jacket says, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. You can end up somewhere on purpose.” This paints a pretty solid picture of the content. Andy seems to be genuinely concerned about this topic and desires to help others to know the “power of purpose.”
“Visioneering” takes the reader through the story of the classic biblical example of leadership, Nehemiah. Along the way, Andy points to many of the biblical events drawing out all the applications to leadership and vision. Before diving into the biblical account, he spends a chapter defining vision. He defines it as a clear mental picture of what “could” be, fueled by the conviction that it “should” be. (pg 18) It is “Inspiration + Conviction + Action + Determination + Completion.” (pg 8) Vision, according to Andy, weaves four things into the fabric of our lives: Passion, Motivation, Direction, and Purpose. (pg 9-12) I will seek to summarize the content by using the “Building Blocks” which Andy describes in regards to vision.
Andy shows how a vision is born by pointing to Nehemiah. It began as a concern. (pg 19) Nehemiah was burdened by the report from Jerusalem. (1:4) It does not necessarily require immediate action, (pg 19) but in waiting, vision matures in us, we are prepared, and God is at work preparing the way. During this time Nehemiah prayed for opportunities and planned as if he expected God to answer his prayers. (pg 38) There was little, well, nothing that he could do to help the situation, but in waiting, praying and planning, he was not disappointed. In spite of overwhelming odds against him, God used Nehemiah’s circumstances to prepare him for his vision. (pg 43) It seemed impossible that Nehemiah could make any difference – he was in Persia serving in the king, serving the very people who tore the walls down in the first place. Even if he could get to Jerusalem, he had no authority and the people had ignored the walls for almost 150 years. Bottom line: It was a hopeless situation – in human terms. Of course if you add God into the mix, things change. Nehemiah understood this, and during this time of uncertainty, he remembered that “how is not a problem for God.” (pg 61) What God originates, he orchestrates. (pg 56) Eventually, God would take the very same circumstances to orchestrate the vision by changing the heart of the king so that he would provide safe passage, lumber, and supplies to Nehemiah. (2:4-8)
Even after such an incredible act of God, Nehemiah must have felt overcome when he rode into Jerusalem. This was not a vision he would be able to accomplish alone. Although, he had a plan and was ready, he didn’t immediately ride into town and start recruiting. He walked before he talked; investigated before he initiated. (pg 75) He waited for at least three days before saying anything. (2:12) There is usually some fact-finding or exploration that needs to be done before telling people what you’re up to. As soon as you start telling people, you’ve got to have the answers to the questions/criticisms that are bound to come. This type of exploration will either confirm or deny the divine origin of the original vision and it can help to further define it.
After such investigation, Nehemiah communicated his vision as solution to a problem that must be addressed immediately. (pg 86) He stated the problem, the solution, the reason, and the urgency. (2:17-18) He told the appropriate people at the appropriate time. (pg 105) Another reason he found so much success was that he had risked so much himself in the process. He had risked his very life by being sad in the king’s presence, quit a job in the palace, and traveled for miles to ask a foreign people to help in a project which had little chance of success. He didn’t expect others to take greater risks or sacrifices than he did. (pg 132) He wasn’t calling them to do anything that he wasn’t willing to do himself and they could see his commitment.
As the work begins, Nehemiah gets hit with criticism (Neh 4:3) and he provides a great example for us in the way he responds – prayer, remembrance, and revision. He unloads all his feelings on God and then goes back to work remembering what God had done and how he had provided for him throughout the process. (4:14) He also responded strategically by setting up a guard (4:9). He trusted God, but still did everything he could to help accomplish the vision. Nehemiah didn’t confuse his plans with God’s vision. (pg 156) This is why he was able to revise the plan so easily. The plan is only man’s interpretation of how to accomplish the vision. When man’s plan fails, it doesn’t mean that the divine vision has failed, only that the plan was somehow flawed. Visions are refined – they don’t change; plans are revised – they rarely stay the same. (pg 158) Like Nehemiah we should respond to criticism with prayer, remembrance, and if necessary, a revision of the plan. (pg 160)
It’s vital to keep a team unified in order to accomplish a vision. Visions thrive in an environment of unity and die in an environment of division. (pg 68) It’s natural for a team to struggle in this way. Like a car’s alignment, normal wear and tear over time or a bad bump can cause problems. Many of the wall workers had neglected their own fields in order to work on the wall and when forced to mortgage their homes to provide food for their families, they began to resent the entire project. (5:1-5) Meanwhile, some of the nobles and city officials were profiting from it. Nehemiah called them to account (5:6-7) and unity was restored. The workers were able to focus on the wall once again. He also understood that his own moral authority was critical to his leadership and therefore to the vision. His position as governor gave him the right to exploit the people and to live “high on the hog” but he chose not to do so. (5:14-19) Nehemiah’s moral authority was not just a leadership requirement, but was a natural extension of his relationship with God. Stanley suggests that we abandon the vision before abandoning out moral authority. (pg 185) This was a no-brainer for Nehemiah.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes good opportunities can distract us from our vision. Other times it comes as criticism or fear. Nehemiah didn’t get distracted (pg 216) when he was accused of trying to set himself up as king (6:5-6), but rather turned his attention to God. (6:9) When given the opportunity to meet with some other leaders, Nehemiah explained that he was “doing a good work and couldn’t come down.” (6:2-4) Even in the midst of a death threat, Nehemiah remained calm and held his ground knowing that this was God’s vision. (6:12-13) It’s clear that he would not be distracted – Nehemiah had a singular focus – to rebuild the walls and position Israel for blessing once again.
Stanley points out that Nehemiah also understood that this vision was a part of God’s vision. There is divine potential in all you envision to do. (pg 225) Nehemiah’s vision, when accomplished, struck fear into surrounding nations and they were able to see the power and presence of Israel’s God. Because of God’s intervention, Nehemiah’s crew did what some said was impossible, and they did it in only 52 days! (6:15-16) God gets the glory! He orchestrated and moved on the people to rebuild the walls and re-establish Israel’s relationship with Him. The end of a God-ordained vision is God. (pg 237) When the wall was built and the people assembled to celebrate, (8:1-6) the focus is God. The wall is never mentioned. Only God is lifted up!!
After the wall was built, it had to be maintained. Nehemiah understood that once the vision was accomplished, it must be nurtured in order to stand, and so the people developed a written covenant between themselves and God. (9:38; 10:28-39) (Isn’t it interesting that the vision was about the walls and the maintenance of it is about their relationship with God?) This covenant would require great sacrifice for the people and centered around the main reasons they had been at odds with God in the first place – their relationship with foreigners, their Sabbath practices, and care for the temple. Maintaining a vision requires adherence to a set of core beliefs and behaviors. (pg252) It also requires constant attention. (pg 216) Nehemiah failed on this one. He left Jerusalem in order to return to the king in Persia and while he was gone, things went south. When he finally returned, he found that the temple had not been a priority, the Sabbath had become just another workday, men were marrying foreigners, and children were being taught foreign traditions instead of their family Hebrew customs. (13:10-24) Angered by what he saw, Nehemiah acted boldly by rebuking the city officials and even threatening merchants who tried to work around the Sabbath with bodily harm. (13:20-21) Maintaining a vision requires bold leadership. (pg 266) A leader cannot be timid and must have “tough skin” to persevere.
“Visioneering” is a great book! Andy Stanley handles the content well and very thoroughly. For the reader who is completely new to the idea of vision, this book will provide a nice basic structure for the visioning process. Andy also explains the need for vision and the effects of a lack of vision in regards to every area of our lives. This is a great benefit. The businessman seeking new direction for his company can benefit as well as the mother seeking to raise her child in Godly ways. Andy seems to be very calculated about his doctrine. He maintains high Scriptural content throughout the book, backing up everything with Scripture – even basing each of his premises off of the basic outline found in Nehemiah. This structure, based on Scripture, is one of the books most profound qualities. The reader isn’t made to feel like he is reading Andy’s opinions about vision, but instead he is allowed to sit in on his personal thoughts about the Scriptural truths found in Nehemiah. The focus is the Scripture rather than the thoughts of man.
I personally enjoyed this book immensely and believe it will help to guide me through many of my future ministry endeavors. I found it interesting that we have been taught the difference between leadership and management is the difference between future change and maintenance, but Andy actually uses the word “maintain” in regards to vision. I believe this is an important distinction because so many times, it seems that people accomplish a task and then they are finished, but in order for the vision (ultimate goal) to be accomplished, the task/project has to be maintained. Example: Someone gives his or her life to Christ. Their friend who has seen this as his/her mission/vision quits praying for and working with them. They never grow spiritually. Was the vision to see them give their life to Christ only? Or was it to see them develop an ever-increasing intimacy with Him? If it’s the second, then there clearly is a bit of “maintenance” to be done. Maybe the problem is that we confuse the vision path/goal or symbol with the actual vision. The bottom line lesson for me is that leaders have to be concerned about management too.
In regards to this book, I will recommend it to anyone interested in leadership and the vision process. We have struggled immensely in my own church with these issues and I plan on suggesting this material to quite a few people. I also intend on teaching a Bible Study which goes through Nehemiah. In doing so, I will refer to many of these principles, drawing them out for my students.