Without a Vision the People Perish

Mrs Jones was a phenomenal teacher and community organiser. She was particularly active in her local church where she had rejuvenated the Sunday school, the classrooms of which were packed to the rafters with dedicated teachers and excited and engaged children. For decades the Sunday school had been the talk of the town and the church had thrived with the young families that had been drawn through its doors.

But Mrs Jones’ health started to deteriorate, and she eventually moved into a nursing home. She no longer attended church, much less was able to lead the Sunday school. A succession of people tried to follow in her footsteps, all burning out and giving up. The church struggled to find teachers for all the classes, and the children became bored and disengaged.

The problem was that they were holding on to a golden calf. The vision for the Sunday school had been given to Mrs Jones, not the succession of people who followed her. If we attach ourselves to the visions from the past, we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us in the present.

Over the years, I have had a number of opportunities to lead and help facilitate communities and projects, both sacred and secular. During that time I have learned much about what it means to lead, how to build community, how to raise up new leaders, and how to help people to thrive. The first, single, and probably most important thing I have learned, is that the project is the people and the vision emerges from those who are in front of us, right here, and right now. Like manna from heaven, with every new person who comes through the door comes new possibilities, new ideas, new gifts, and a new vision. All we need to do is make space for that vision to be nurtured and to grow and then we see things happen that are beyond our wildest dreams.

Sure you need structure, but that structure needs to be simple, modular and malleable. Components need to be able to be easily added to or put to one side to accommodate the ebb and flow of people through the group. Nothing need become like Mrs Jones’ golden calf. There will always be infinitely more to do than we could ever get done, so why not do the things which we’re good at and excited about in the here and now?

In November 2017 I was asked to lead the England Project on WikiTree. WikiTree, like its name suggests, is a genealogical community where volunteers collaborate on a global family tree with one profile per person who has ever lived. When I took on leadership of the England Project it was a quiet affair. There was a list of 400 names on a static free space page. Some of the people on the list were no longer alive, many were no longer on WikiTree. Yet I had a vision. I had a dream of a virtual community of hundreds of members who would gather together to achieve the single, simple goal of increasing the quality and quantity of English profiles on WikiTree. But where to start? It’s simple. It begins with talking to people. It begins with communication.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to gather people together and get them talking to each other.