Some visionaries are entrepreneurs. Some years ago my friend Tom Cousins, one of the major developers in the city of Atlanta bought the rights to develop above the hundreds of sprawling acres of railroad yards in downtown. He took me to see the place and described his plan for a huge complex of hotels, office buildings, parking decks and a great stadium which would rise in that empty space. In the transformation of that great city, his vision became a reality.
Yet we never read of Jesus having grand schemes and designs like that. Vision is not used in the Bible in our sense of an entrepreneurial “visionary”. In the Scriptures, the word vision is commonly used of an ecstatic experience in which people deeply aware of God’s presence receive a special word from him.
These visions come to people waking and sleeping, at night and during the day, in dreams, through angels. People from all walks of life – kings, farmers and housewives – all had visions.
Visions abounded during times of spiritual revival in Israel but in periods of spiritual decline there was a marked absence of vision. And this decline extended from God’s people through the whole society. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 – “perish” here refers to casting off moral restraint. The blindness of society reflect religion without reality, the loss of spiritual vision.
As far as the biblical record shows us, Jesus was not a visionary in the ecstatic sense.
Yet Jesus has inspired more visions – in artists, composers, architects, leaders – than anyone who has ever lived. Without entrepreneurial plans or ecstatic experiences, Jesus stands all by himself as the transformational leader.
He was able to create, articulate, and communicate a compelling vision which changed what people thought and talked about and dreamed of. Today, Jesus’ vision leads his followers to transcend self-interest and enables us to see ourselves and our world in whole new ways, ways that penetrate to the heart of things and bring about the highest order of change.
Adapted from Transforming Leadership (1991, InterVarsity Press)