Expatriate missionaries as vision casters

Missionary ministry that reflects Christ

"Your daughters will prophesy . . . Your young men will see visions." -- Joel 2:28

Jesus was a vision caster. For instance, early in His ministry, He challenged two Galilean fishermen to leave their nets and become "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). Jesus spoke so compellingly that Simon Peter and Andrew immediately followed Him.

To those two men and to multitudes of others, Jesus cast a vision of what life in the Kingdom of God could be like. In one of His first sermons, Jesus' pithy "beatitudes" in Matthew 5 point to God's design for human beings. Jesus talked about how relationships should work. He challenged people to make good choices. He told His followers to go and make disciples in every people group. He laid out for them how some things in the future would unfold.

Sometimes people didn't immediately understand the vision Jesus cast before them. He talked about high ideals and such radical transformation that people still respond: "That's not possible."

The truth is, of course, that what Jesus said wasn't pie-in-the-sky stuff that will never happen. Jesus was realistic about the way things were. However, He also knew that things could be different through the transforming and energizing power of the Holy Spirit, and He painted a vision of that for His listeners.

While He was here on earth, Jesus sought to lead people toward the realization of that vision. The vision struck such a responsive chord in people that it did not fade with His Ascension. Through the centuries, millions have found Jesus' vision believable and have committed their lives to it.

About three decades ago, Burt Nanus wrote a book titled Visionary Leadership. That book defines a leader's vision as the picture of a "realistic, credible, attractive future. . . . a future that is better . . . or more desirable."

Missionaries would do well to follow Jesus' example of casting vision. That vision needs to captivate people because, just as in the case of Jesus, the day will come when the missionary will no longer be there. If missionaries are not casting a vision, the risk is that their ministry will wind up being nothing more than "sticking a finger in the water," as my Italian friends say. In saying that phrase, Italians refer to the fact that a finger withdrawn from water leaves no lasting sign it was there.

Vision casting. It's important.

Discussion questions

  1. How can missionaries effectively cast a compelling vision for the future of their cross-cultural ministry?
  2. What are the potential consequences of missionary work without a clear vision for the future?
  3. In what ways can it be said that Jesus' vision casting challenged societal norms and expectations of his time on earth?
  4. How can missionaries balance the realism of current circumstances with the vision of a better future, similar to Jesus' approach?
  5. What practical strategies can missionaries employ to ensure that their vision continues to inspire and have a lasting impact even after they have left?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on Christlike attitudes and actions that need to be present in cross- cultural missionary service is one of a dozen articles in the :Missionary ministry that reflects Christ" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.

"Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." -- Acts 2:27

Afterword: What Could Be

Describing the act of casting a vision of what could be as a reflection of Jesus Christ's ministry draws parallels to aspects of his teachings and actions as recorded in the Christian scriptures.

In essence, by casting a vision of what could be, individuals and leaders emulate the essence of Jesus Christ's ministry by inspiring hope, promoting transformation, challenging injustices, nurturing faith and imagination, and embodying servant leadership.

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