We Recently Emerged from a Five-Year Winter.

I live in northern Indiana near the shores of Lake Michigan. Winter begins in early November and typically doesn’t let up until late March. It’s five months of howling winds and snowy roads. The weather systems come across from Chicago, pick up moisture off the relatively warm waters of the lake and dump it as snow on our walks and driveways. Last year over 110” of snow landed in our front yards.

I enjoy living in a place where there are four very distinct seasons. But winter gets extremely long. By early March, I’m usually wondering why I decided to live in such a place. Everything is dead, and the beauty of the white snow has long ago lost its appeal. The roads are dirty, yards are matted down, a season’s worth of trash blows in the wind, curbs are torn up from the constant beating by the snow plows and streets are full of potholes from the cyclical freezing and thawing.

The thing that is particularly hard about March is that you can begin to smell spring, but it’s still several weeks away. You know it’s coming, but you still have to get up every day and look at the ugliness that winter left behind.

Yes, sometimes winter is way too harsh. And way too long.

We recently emerged from a harsh winter as a church. It was longer than five months. In fact, looking back, it was a five-year winter.

This long winter included a beating on church finances with a terrible recession and local unemployment among the highest in the country. At its worst, one out of every five people in our congregation no longer had a job.

Lost jobs meant lower offerings, which meant we had to eliminate several staff positions and cut hours of many others.

The hard winter also included strained relationships. In fact, for much of this time, I wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye with my closest partner in ministry. It was killing me, and it was hurting the church.

I’ve spent hours thinking through the reasons for our long winter. Why did it happen? Why couldn’t we avoid it? After 20 years of growth and vitality and life—why did the harshness of winter come so strong and stay so long? I can’t blame the recession entirely. Many churches went through the same thing and yet were thriving. I can’t blame the people around me. Anyone who visits knows we have one of the best teams on the planet.

I believe the long, hard winter can be blamed on one thing only: As a team, we lost the clarity of our vision.

For our entire history, we were accustomed to having a laser-focused vision that the entire church would rally around. But with the economic realities and relational strain, the vision began to leak. We found ourselves floundering with little sense of where we were heading or how we were going to get there.

It was bizarre, really, as I’m a student of vision. I’ve seen the power of vision, both in history books and in my own experience. I’ve helped hundreds of church leaders define and refine their vision. I’ve seen the power of a clear and compelling vision do the impossible and bring a nearly dead organization to life and strength. I’m surrounded by other leaders who also know the power of vision clarity. And yet, somehow, we couldn’t pull it together. We lost our vision...

Excerpt from Vision: Lost and Found, available today on Amazon.