Can two walk together if those "two" are a man with a vision and an organization with a program?
Can private vision and collective vision walk together?
The "independents" say it cannot be done. They say that an organization inhibits private vision. They say that a committee seldom hears the voice of God. Is there no place for private vision within an organization? Must private vision always go it alone? Is there no way in which the two can walk together?
The prophet Amos said that two can walk together if they are agreed. So, if we can find a way for private vision and collective vision to agree, then they can walk together. How can it be done?
First, an organization can "facilitate" private vision. Almost all "independents" have organizations. If an "independent" has a vision of any size, he has to have people who will help him carry it out. So he organizes. He is now "independent" only in that he is in control. He is almost totally "dependent" in that he can do very little without his helpers who contribute to his vision, who work in his offices, who read his mail, who stuff his envelopes, who contact his supporters, who manage his meetings and his program. When an organization is merely a "facilitator," private vision can walk with it because the organization has no vision of its own ... it merely does what private vision tells it to do.
Secondly, an organization can "direct" private vision. Church organizations are more than "facilitators." They are "directors." In a church organization control passes from private vision to the organization with its offices and committees. If private vision is to function within the organization, private vision must become collective vision. Otherwise the two cannot walk together.
Should private vision become collective vision? Should organizations direct private vision?
They certainly should. Let me explain. Back in 1914, there were already many missionaries of private vision overseas. Many of them were supported by local churches who "facilitated" their vision without controlling it. Some of them did very well under this arrangement; some did not. Some were excellent missionaries; some were not.
There was no way to help those who lacked, and there was no way to monitor the quality of work done. The missionary worked overseas far from the eyes of his "facilitators," who knew only what he told them, which was, understandably, only success stories that stirred them to continue their prayers and support.
As the number of missionaries grew, the need for credibility and accountability became apparent.
So the General Council of the Assemblies of God was organized back in 1914. One of the main reasons was to correct the problems that accompany private vision and through collective vision to reach the world for Christ. There was no desire to do away with private vision. Rather, it was to give direction and strength to private vision through a multitude of counselors and contributors. But, it did mean that control passed from the independent to the organization.
Many years of adjustment have followed... The two have walked together. But in those cases where private vision found it difficult to accept collective control, the road became rocky. To agree was difficult. In some instances, the man of private vision decided to go it alone ... much to the regret of the brethren of the organization.
But walking together is better than walking alone. There are some distinct advantages of organization. Organization affords control, coordination, continuity, and credibility.
We have already talked about control. An organization is both facilitator and director. The Division of Foreign Missions assists more than 1,300 men and women to fulfill their calling. Private vision need not be inhibited by collective vision. There is latitude within the organization. A host of helpers stand by ready to facilitate what God has asked the missionary to do. But to gain the benefits of endorsement and backing, the missionary must recognize and accept the fact that control is in the hands of the organization. He must agree with the organization in order to walk with the organization. He must share his vision with it and submit his vision to it.
The second thing that organization does is to coordinate private vision. Private vision works when it is alone in a given territory or ministry. But when two men of private vision claim the same territory or ministry, organization is needed to coordinate their efforts. For instance, if both of them say that God has called them to be principal of the same Bible school, authority has to come from somewhere to decide who should do it. If both agree to submit to the authority of the organization and its leadership, then the two can walk together ... though only one of them will be principal.
Continuity is another benefit that organization affords. Too many times a vision ceases with the death or departure of the man of vision. We all know that great ministries are started by men of vision. But lack of continuity is one of the weaknesses of private vision. When vision is controlled by one man, the whole program hangs on a tenuous thread, i.e., the life of the man of vision. Unless he is willing to share his vision with his brethren ... unless he is willing to make his private vision a collective one ... the probability that his vision will continue after he is gone is unlikely. When a man of private vision clings tenaciously to control, he lives in fear of those who wait in the wings hoping to take over when he is out of the way. Organization takes care of this. He can carry out his vision knowing that competent and consecrated leaders will appoint his replacement.
There was a day, before the Assemblies of God was formed, when some missionaries of private vision suffered when their supporting churches defaulted. They were stranded on a foreign field without adequate income. Organization changed all that. Since the founding of the Assemblies of God, the missionary has received his monthly allowance without fail (barring delayed mails, of course).
Then, too, there has been continuity of ministry. The organization sees to it that one missionary takes over for another so institutions and programs continue without interruption. This did not always happen under independent programs. Founders tend to be very protective of their vision. Organization takes away the tendency for private vision to become "personality cult" and promotes Christ-centeredness.
And finally, organization produces credibility. When I go to a missionary convention as a minister of the Assemblies of God, I am warmly received even when the pastor and the people have never seen me before. How do they dare receive me? How can they be sure I am not a con man? How can they trust what I am saying to be true? They trust me ... not because they know me ... but because they know the organization to which we both belong. If I were independent, they couldn't be sure. But because they know that I have been chosen ... by spiritual and qualified men ... they accept and trust me. I am glad I'm a member of the Assemblies of God. It gives me credibility.
Not only does organization give credibility in America, it gives credibility overseas. When men of private vision were each working out their own philosophy of mission and doing their own thing, missionaries were extremely unpredictable to the national sister churches with whom we work. By organizing our missionaries, we are now able to speak with one voice to our national brethren ... giving continuity and credibility to our walking together! It was very confusing to the national sister churches when our way of working changed with every new missionary of private vision.
So we come back to the question, "Can private vision and collective vision walk together?" The answer is, "Yes ... if collective vision will facilitate private vision and if private vision will recognize the authority and control of the organization."