Thoughts on Mission: Vision is a Two-Eyed Project

We are told to avoid being double-minded. The Apostle James reminds us of the instability of the person who can’t make up their mind. (James 1:8) Without challenging that solid advice, I do want to look at the idea of vision from a slightly different perspective (to use a clearly bad pun – oh, I did it again).

James is talking about our faith and trust in God. Vision, which most missionaries and local church leaders consider necessary for their mission, is a unique extension of the life of faith. The hint of its uniqueness is found in the use of the word itself––vision.

Our physical vision is perfected by the fact that we have two eyes. Depth perception is the result of two lines of sight––one from each eye. In my book, Burning Religion,[1] I tell the story of a season of stress and my experience with temporary and occasional events of binocular diplopia. This is a condition in which one eye is unable to focus on the same object as the other eye. It is a little less dramatic than being cross-eyed, but it effectively accomplishes the same result––seeing the same object in two different locations. Having experienced this suddenly while driving onto a bridge onramp, I can attest to its potentially terrifying results, as there were suddenly more cars and roads than had been present only moments before. You want your eyes to work independently of one another and make the minor adjustments between close and distant objects. It is these adjustments, in the two lines of sight from your two eyes, that give you depth perception.

In mission circles, I often hear people talk about seeking vision from God. This vision is considered the necessary component of knowing that we have been faithful to God’s personal directive for our lives. I certainly believe that prayer is necessary to our faithful walk with God, and I also believe that prayer is a two-way street of speaking and listening. But this singular view of God’s vision for our lives is only one eye of our vision for ministry and mission. Problematically, it also tends toward being a self-centered vision. It asks the question, ‘What does God want for my life?’ 

There is another eye that we must exercise in seeking true vision. This is the eye for the people and places we feel we are being sent. It is the eye of anthropology. It is the eye of sociology. It is the eye of history, culture and language. It is the eye of understanding the politics and social life of the region you are serving.

When I moved to Salem, MA, I spent eight years getting to know the culture of that quirky New England city. Because Salem has a large population of Pagans and Witches, I did anthropological studies on American and British Neo-Paganism. I entered into a subject, which in the early 90s, had almost no other Christian leaders doing boots-on-the-ground work among this people group. My short book, Witches are Real People Too, was the partial result of this study. I did not want to arrive in Salem and spend the first few years getting to know the city and its people. I wanted to feel like I was at home from the first step, and I wanted to hit the ground running. That is what happened, and in a short time, our little church was involved with large events in the city’s month-long Halloween experience.

My move to Wales has been a similar experience. Over 15 years ago, I knew I wanted to move to Wales someday. I studied Welsh as best I could without immersion. I visited as often as I could. I studied Welsh history, and Welsh politics. I’ve passed through, if not visited, most of the little country and its towns and villages. I wanted to hit the ground running. I have friends here. I know what is happening in this town of Caernarfon, and I know some of the people making it happen. Like Salem, this is a quirky place. And like Salem, I love this place deeply. It truly is, as I tell people, “fy hoff gwlad yn y byd” (My favorite land in the world.)

My sense of call from God may be my motivation for moving to Caernarfon, but it is my linguistic, anthropological, sociological, historical, and personal efforts that direct that vision. It is this that gives depth perception to my life in Wales.

If you are in the process of developing a missional context for your life. Do not forget that you have two eyes. One eye is on God. There other eye is looking at the things God is looking at. Prepare as deeply as possible before you leap into the things you believe you’ve been called to. Remember, God’s focus is upon the world that God loves so deeply. Our eyes should similarly be focused where God’s eyes are focused, and this should be one eye of a two-eyed well-studied life. 

[1] Burning Religion, pg. 59-60

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