Ever since I started leading people, I believed that purpose and vision came first and then people. Then, Jim Collins’ book Good to Great made me question my view of this priority.
He contends that in great organizations, the CEO picks a great team of people first and then, in essence, figures out the vision. I can certainly see where a CEO with a group of strong, well-rounded, flexible leaders would figure out a better vision than a CEO with a group of less talented, less balanced, and inflexible leaders. (Collins, 2001)
I finally settled this in my mind by looking at what the Bible teaches in this regard. God didn’t create people and then come up with His purpose and vision for them. Purpose came first and then people. Jesus, the ultimate example of a leader, didn’t pick a group of people and then say now let us figure out what we should do. Instead, he was clear about his mission (purpose), why he was on this earth, from the very beginning. He said, “For this purpose I have come to offer my life a ransom for many.”
Next, Jesus had a vision. His vision was the New Testament church which was his way of reaching the world. Remember, in the Old Testament, Israelites were God’s chosen people and were given the call to take up the mission and given the vision to reach other nations for God. They refused to take up the call and, therefore, the mission was given to the New Testament church, and the vision was given to Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus’ mission was to reach the world for God’s kingdom, and his vision was to do it through the church. Then, he called his disciples, after a season of prayer, for the role each one would play. He selected Peter to be spokesman of the group. He selected Judas, knowing that he would be the one that betrayed him. He selected John, knowing that he would be a loyal friend and that he would leave the care of his own mother to him after his death. With Jesus, it was purpose and vision first and then the selection of his team.
I see this pattern throughout Scripture. Let’s go early in the Old Testament to the story of Moses. He was living his life quite content on the backside of the desert raising a family. God did not say to him, “Moses, pick some good leaders and then figure out what you would like to do with the rest of your life.” God had a mission for Moses. It was to free the Israelite people. He had a vision for the Israelites. It was the Promised Land—the land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey.
We should pause at this point and talk about where vision comes from in the life of a godly leader. Many leaders come up with their own visions. Or, as suggested by Collins, they get a good team of people who come up with a vision. For God’s leader, vision is really a revelation of God’s plan. Scripture says that God shares His plans with His trusted people. God had a plan, a vision, and He shared it with Moses. Later, God had a plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and He shared it with Nehemiah. The examples are numerous.
Christian leaders should get God’s revelation in prayer for what their life and organization is to be about—its destiny. This should be the vision. Sometimes, God gives revelation to an individual, and sometimes He gives it to the group of people. Engaging your leadership team in the discernment of God’s revelation or vision for your organization is both inclusive from a practical standpoint and healthy from an organizational view.
The bottom line is when I look at this issue from a biblical perspective, I see a pattern. God envisioned, revealed the vision to His people, and then selected the team based on the vision. For example, God’s vision was to reach the world and draw people back into relationship with Him. Peter had a unique background which allowed him to do that with the Jewish people and was called to that task. By contrast, the Apostle Paul was prepared to reach the Gentile people and was called to that task.
For more on organizational purpose from a Scriptural perspective, check out Leon’s new book, Good King/Bad King – Which One Are You?