Being a leader requires vision. Not necessarily physical vision, but definitely the ability to dream a better future and get people excited about that vision.
I don't see vision as the end all of leadership. There are things that are more important for a leader to have than just vision: integrity, a radical pursuit of God, leadership ability, etc. The ability to visionize is part of the leadership process, but only part. And, the vision must be God's vision for the community you are in, or else it simply your own desires.
How do you know if a vision is from God? It burns. It burns inside you to see it accomplished.
So how do you develop vision?
1. Have a consistent time with God. I believe that regular time spent with God is essential to the Christian life. I also think that spending concentrated amounts of time with God in search of a vision without a regular relationship is like going to God only when things go wrong. If the leader is not spending regular time with God, it also reveals deeper problems in the leader's spiritual life.
2. Spend concentrated periods of time in prayer, fasting, silence, and solitude. Once the leader has a consistent time with God, the concentrated periods of time are more effective. Prayer and fasting place the responsibility of the vision on God. It is His vision working in the leader He has called that will accomplish the vision. When fasting, we put aside our desires (in the form of food, noise, and company) and seek the will of God.
3. Do your research. Know the who, what, when, where, and why of the area you are going to and the people you going to lead. God gave us brains, and often, while researching the area, God will give insight as you study the raw numbers.
4. Have an eraser. God-given vision often does not have all the details. It is a general direction. Sometimes the details are crystal clear. But often along the way, changes have to be made and course corrections have to be made.
5. Write stuff down. Take the time to write things down in a way that helps it become more understandable. Be precise, be clear, use bullet points to help you get the main points. After you have the basic structure and outline, then learn to tell it as a story. One activity that helps you tell your vision as a story is to write one. Try this: imagine you visited your visionary church for the first time, and you are writing an E-mail to a friend to tell them what you saw and experienced.
6. Know what is NOT PART of the vision. Vision is as much about what you are going to do as it is to know what you are NOT going to do.
7. Create Various Versions. You need to have a 30 second version, a 2 minute version, a 10 minute version, and a 30-40 minute version of your vision.
8. Have a mantra rather than a mission statement. I have been influenced away from mission statements in the last few years. They are often inspiring only to person who created it, and they are often redundant of the vision. I think, instead, we should have a mantra-a memorable statement that encompasses the essential message of the vision.
9. Ask others to help. As the primary leader, you need to know where you want to take church, but this does not preclude the inclusion of other leaders in your organization. Have people help you write stuff down. Ask them how they would explain your points. I would also include in this the need for a mentor and coach. You need people who have been there and done that.
10. Have it burn. If your vision doesn't burn inside you like a fire, you may not have found the vision. God-given vision is more like a calling. As a counter balance to this point, I think there are times when God gives visions that don't burn, or that were not meant to be fulfilled at the current ministry location; especially if you are a young leader. God often puts young leaders in positions that test and prepare them for something later in their life.
What would you add? How does God help you formulate your vision?
Read some of my other posts on vision: go here, here, and here.