In the last 30 years, many within evangelical churches in America have become enamored with worldly paradigms for success and have unfortunately incorporated them into the life of the church. Evidence for this can be recognized by how many churches today expect their pastor to be their "chief vision-caster", "chief ministry-strategist" or even "lead-dreamer." These churches look to their pastors as the one having or receiving these great ideas or visions for their church in order for their church to grow and to make a difference in the world. In order to sell their "vision" to their church the pastor will often describe how he came up with his idea as if he had received it from God. Therefore, it is not just his vision for the church he has been called to lead, but it is a divine vision that they are called (commanded?) to follow. American evangelicals are known for getting really excited about such things, because we really do want to make a difference in our local communities and in the world. Therefore churches more often than not, jump on board their pastor's vision without much discernment.
The one verse from the Bible that churches and their "visionary" pastors have used to justify this type of leadership philosophy has been Proverbs 29:18. In the King James Version which is the translation that so many Baby Boomers grew up with the verse reads, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." "There you go," they argue. "If we don't have a vision for our church, or if we don't have a visionary pastor God's word says our church is as good as dead." Nobody wants that, so they make being a "visionary" a part of their job description for pastors and expect him to have a vision for their church otherwise, they fear failure. Being this kind of "visionary" is much more highly regarded than whether or not the pastor can faithfully preach God's Word, or whether or not his character is godly and above reproach.
In his 2002 book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper wrote the following because of his great concern of the professionalization of pastoral ministry within American churches:
"We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake.
. . . . The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism (parity among the world's professionals) kills a man's belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.
The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man.
. . . . Banish professionalism from our midst, Oh God, and in its place put passionate prayer, poverty of spirit, hunger for God, rigorous study of holy things, white-hot devotion to Jesus Christ, utter indifference to all material gain, and unremitting labor to rescue the perishing, perfect the saints, and glorify our sovereign Lord."
Pastors are called to feed the flock, care for them, protect them, and help them to know and to love their Chief Shepherd. Pastors do this by proclaiming the Word of the Lord, like a prophet, to their people and within a culture that does not want to hear what God has to say. They are to make disciples by "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (which implies that we must teach these disciples who these three persons of the Godhead are) and "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20) This is the "vision" or command that the Sovereign Lord gave to His church and those who are called to serve His church. That is what I am called to do as a pastor, to preach, to pray, to love and care for God's sheep which He has placed in this local flock under my care.
A better translation of Proverbs 29:18 reads, "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." (ESV) The verse is really pointing to the need for prophets to proclaim God's revelation, His Word, to the people so that they will know His ways and thus keep from casting off restraint and falling into sin. May the Lord help me to faithfully proclaim His Word and teach God's law as well as His grace.