Many years ago, I was part of a team of people who worked very closely on a series of projects, mostly of the “crisis” kind. The team leader was generally well liked, and prided himself on having a strategy for every project and every crisis.
As can happen with a team like this, we tended to lurch from crisis to crisis, and we often seemed to be doing ongoing crisis management. This kind of work is hard, harder than most. You’re usually dealing with negative news. The news is always highly visible inside and outside the organization. And your personal “exposure” can often be high, especially if what you say is likely to be repeated in places like newspapers, TV reports and blog posts.
One day, after yet another meeting on yet another crisis, a team member and I were walking back to our offices when, almost out of the blue, he offered this characterization of our team leader: “He has a strategy for everything and a vision for nothing. And it’s killing us.”
It was one of those startling moments, when something is said and you immediately grasp the truth of it. In this case, my co-worker had nailed it.
Unless a vision comes first, strategy will become generally useless – and counterproductive.
The fact is, vision has to come first. Then strategy. Then tactics.
Take, for example, the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Jesus tells the disciples “to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching to obey everything I have commanded you.” There it is – the vision. Christianity was for all nations, and the disciples would be the ones to make that happen.
The strategy was to send disciples out, like Barnabas (and later Paul) to Antioch. Paul perfected the strategy. The tactics were generally straightforward and simple – show up at the local synagogue and preach the gospel; if thrown out take the few who believed and meet in house churches. In some cases (like Athens), preach to the local leaders; if ridiculed or stoned, take the few who believed and meet in small groups.
The strategy and tactics surely don’t look like “making disciples of all nations.” In fact, one might argue that, at least in the short term, the strategy and tactics looked more like failures than successes.
But the vision was long term, and that’s what the disciples grasped. No matter what happened in the short term – persecution, stoning, imprisonment, harassment, even death – the vision of Jesus in Matthew 28 was eternal. Jesus even implied that in the Great Commission: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Strategies and tactics can change. Visions tend to be for the long haul.
This post is submitted to the One Word Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. The one word prompt is “strategy.” To see more posts, please Peter’s site.
Photograph: Street Chess by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.