Building Vision by Seeing Through the Chaos

The Dutchman William van Dusen Wisharm once said, “The core of leadership is vision. Vision is seeing the potential purpose hidden in the chaos of the moment, but which could bring to birth new possibilities for a person, a company or a nation.” He might have added, “Or a church, a denomination or an agency.” Vision is not just the core of leadership, but the core of prophecy as well. So what is vision?

Examples of Seeing Through the Chaos
Vision is seeing the invisible, and then acting in faith on what you see. Moses “endured, seeing him who was invisible,” thereby turning a cluster of slave brick builders into a community of citizens ready to inhabit a new country. He had given them a moral code (via the instructions God gave him), a health code, an environmental code, an organisational code and a set of theological principles by which to live (the Ten Commandments). With the help of his father-in-law Jethro, Moses also gave them a judicial code. What he did not know at the outset, of course, was that he would have forty years to train the children of the Israelites in all these things. His leadership was not simply about taking two million people across a desert; it was about passing on the vision of growing as the people of God and conquering, under Joshua, the land God had promised them.

Abraham had also learned to “see through the chaos” of the moment. As Lot walked down the path toward Sodom and its fertile land, God told Abraham to look around. He saw the desert scrubs and patchy grass in every direction, but still regarded it as a country. Later, Moses was awakened at night to count the stars; instead, he saw children. On a lonely hill, Moses recognised in the ram rustling in the bushes an alternative sacrifice for his son Isaac, foreshadowing God’s eternal sacrificial provision. He had the ability to see the invisible, to look at what we all would see and see something else.

Pointing to the muddy grass in one part of the field, he said, “That’s an AIDS hospital,” and proceeded to show me where the entrance, the operating theatre, the reception and the out-patients’ department would be.


Five years ago I visited the pastor of Fishhoek Baptist Church, located in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. We visited a local squatter town where every other person had AIDS. He showed me a field opposite the camp and said, “See that?” South African fields are much the same as English fields, so it was easy for me to say yes. Pointing to the muddy grass in one part of the field, he said, “That’s an AIDS hospital,” and proceeded to show me where the entrance, the operating theatre, the reception and the out-patients’ department would be. He saw through the chaos. When I wrote about this two years later I sent him my draft text to ensure accuracy. “Yes, it’s fine,” he wrote back, “and by the way, the AIDS hospital is now open and functioning!”

Jesus saw through the chaos also. In Matthew 26, after the last supper and with Judas already on his way to the high priests, Jesus and the other eleven apostles walked through the moonlit streets of Jerusalem en route to Gethsemane. Peter declared he would never forsake Jesus, even if he had to die for him; Jesus told him he would deny him three times before the cock crows. Then Jesus said, “After I am risen, I will meet you by the lake.” While facing betrayal, arrest, flogging, an unjust trial, crucifixion and death, Jesus talked about meeting them by the lake. Jesus also saw through his death and resurrection toward his ascension and, through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the worldwide movement of his kingdom. That is strategic thinking!

What Seeing Through the Chaos Looks Like
If “seeing through the chaos” is the meat of vision, how do we do that?

  • Looking ahead to the future. What will your church be like in 2020? Ask your elders or deacons what they think it will be like in fourteen years’ time. If it is very different from what it is now, ask them why. If they find this difficult, instead ask them to explain what has happened in the last fourteen years. Strategic thinking is seeing through the chaos of all the changes to the durable and key elements which will mark the new situation.
  • Looking at the big picture, of which your church or agency is just one part. What will society be like in say 2020? What will the Church be like in 2020? Will it still be here? (Though probably very different, the answer must be yes.) What will churchgoers look like then? Which political party will be in power, and what differences will it have made? How many people will have AIDS? Will violence have been curbed or grown worse? Will education be similar or greatly changed? How will the Internet have changed our lives?
  • Answering the question “What is the one thing that I want to have done by then?” This means looking at the impossible and believing, with the Lord’s help, that all things are possible. It includes stating firmly the specifics of your dream. It must then be worked out; there needs to be a strategy by which it can be accomplished. This is how vision is built—by identifying the key steps by which it will be fulfilled.

William Blake caught the gist of this in his poem “The Everlasting Gospel,” when he wrote, “…Leads you to believe a lie,/ When you see with, not through the eye.” Seeing through the eye is what is needed. Vision looks through the chaos of the moment to what is beyond, in the context of the big picture. “Here I stand,” said Martin Luther, “I can do no other.” We need to pray as Origen, one of the early Church Fathers, did: “May the Lord Jesus put his hands on our eyes also, for then we too shall begin to look at not what is seen but at what is not seen.”

Dr. Peter Brierley, a church consultant, is the Senior Lausanne Associate for Church Research. He attended Lausanne I in 1974 and has been involved with the Lausanne movement since 1984. He is former executive director of Christian Research, a UK charity which produces resource volumes like Religious Trends and the UK Christian Handbook. Brierley can be reached at [email protected].