One thing that I notice about leaders of organizations is that there is a significant amount of confusion between vision and mission. Especially when it comes to the small church. These guiding principles are essential for keeping the members aligned to God’s will for a congregation’s ministry and areas of focus. The short way of understanding the distinctiveness of vision is a robust, long-term view of what an organization wants to take place in the future. The same approach to mission is a shorter and narrower perspective of what the organization is presently doing to achieve the larger vision.
In light of Nehemiah, we can see a clear vision and mission resting upon him. What follows is a demonstration of what vision and mission would look like in light of Nehemiah’s behavior and actions. These are my musings of what was happening in Nehemiah’s mind. Possibly, or maybe not. The present reality of Jerusalem was dire, and the Jewish population was devastated. Nehemiah was given four facts about his people and Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3). The people were in great affliction, meaning oppressed by poverty and other people groups. They were also in great reproach. To be under reproach is to be disapproved by others, to receive derogatory remarks, and to be mistreated because of a perceived low status. The city gates were continually burned like trash heaps, and the protective walls were broken down.
So, what was Nehemiah’s long-term vision? No doubt, when he looked forward in time, Nehemiah saw from a far distance, a city built on a hill that could not be hidden. Merchants and travelers walking with excitement toward Jerusalem. He didn’t see smoke rising from a destroyed city, but perhaps he could see smoke rising from a restored temple as sacrifices were offered. As he walks closer to Jerusalem in the vision, he can see the walls standing firm and providing protection to all the inhabitants inside. The gates were bustling with life when open and formidable obstacles invaders could not pass through when closed. As he walks through the city as he pictured it in the future, businesses are thriving. Families are healthy and happy. The order is maintained. The people are devout in their faith. The leadership is strong. The buzz in the kingdom is that Jerusalem and God’s people are respected among the other nations.
Sounds like a beautiful vision, but there needs to be a bridge built between the present reality and the preferred future. This is where the mission comes in for Nehemiah. If the vision is where he envisions Jerusalem to end up, the mission is what is happening in the present that positions them toward achieving the vision. It’s simple but it is more than a few words, or it becomes a motto. Nehemiah 2:17 finishes with a great mission statement, “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” It is succinct and clear. We don’t have any questions about where their focus, resources, and energy are going. The people react to this clear mission with excitement by creating a good short motto, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).
I pray and hope that this little journey through mission and vision help you to understand the benefits for your organization. We see the results that Nehemiah achieved as a faithful steward of God’s vision and the resources God put in his hands. Perhaps this will be a tool for you to move forward where you serve.