Is there a difference between the Vision and the Mission of a local church?
I suppose that in a very technical sense, both of these terms – ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ – are more contemporary than they are biblical. That is, neither of these terms is used biblically in the same sense it is used today in Christian literature.
I must first confess to you that I’m not one who reads a whole lot of books on “the church,” “church growth,” etc. that are not deeply rooted in the Bible (though the may say they are). In saying this I’m warning you that the way I might understand these terms may differ significantly from the way some contemporary authors may use them.
Having said this, I would be inclined to view the “mission” of the church in this way:
The mission of the church is that which our Lord has commanded it to do. It is that which we see the apostles teaching, and the New Testament churches practicing. The mission of “the church” is the mission of the universal church, and of every local church, without exception. Some primary biblical texts (in my opinion) would be Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; and 1 Corinthians 11-14. The church should be practicing holy living, carrying on the work which Christ began in His earthly ministry (we are His body), proclaiming the gospel and making disciples, and worshipping the risen Lord as a body (e.g. Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11-13; Hebrews 10:25).
The “mission of the church” as I understand it is to do those things which our Lord and His apostles have commanded the church to do. No church has the option of setting any aspect of this mission aside.
I would suppose that the term “vision” has a different focus. It would be any one particular church’s sense of calling above and beyond its mission, or in terms of how it sees God has equipped it to carry out its mission.
Let me illustrate this on an individual basis. Every Christian has clearly defined duties and obligations as a Christian. We are to gather together with other Christians and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25); we are to show compassion to those in need; we are to forsake sin, etc. In addition to this, every Christian has unique gifts, and a unique contribution to make to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). I would say that the individual’s duties are his “mission,” and that his particular ministry should be his or her “vision.” I am inclined to say the same for every local church.
Our church, for example, is located in Dallas, Texas. We have a number of gifted teachers who are a part of our church body. Over the years we had a “vision” to capture some of the teaching of our church, and to preserve it for the edification of others, free of charge. When the Internet came into existence, we then made these messages available. Not every church may be able to do this, but each and every church has a unique role to play in the body of Christ. I would call each church’s definition of that role its “vision.”
I’m not sure this helps to explain these terms as they are used in contemporary Christian literature, but by whatever terms, I think we should ponder, as a church, what we are commanded to do (our mission) and what God may have uniquely gifted us to do (our vision).
I fear that the term “vision” may be used in a more limited way – in terms of size, buildings, etc. This may not be bad, but I would tend not to limit the church’s vision to such things. These also happen to be the very things that spell “success” in this world.