"I will make them strong in the LORD, and they shall walk in his name," declares the LORD. (Zechariah 10:12)

Another year, another church budget kicks in. For many churches the creation of a budget is mostly a formality: What did we receive in offerings last year? What can we expect this year? How do we plan to spend it? It has always been a pet peeve with me that most churches run on a calendar year when it comes to their budget (January through December) while their "ministry year" runs September through June or July (not much happens in churches in August, apart from normal weekly activities). That means, among other things, that they're planning activities for which they have not established a budget (the current budget running out in December, while the plan extends to June or July), and they're spending money for which they have no plan (the current plan concluding in June or July, while the budget was made through December).

Either way, it's not good stewardship.

For the vast majority of churches, moreover, what begins in September and ends in June or July is not very well planned. The annual plan of most churches simply reflects the previous year's routine repeated with one or two changes or additions possibly included, depending on what comes along during the year. Very few churches set meaningful goals for their activities. If people come, and they seem happy, and we meet the budget, well, what more can you want? Let's repeat the same thing next year.

This way of "doing church" does not reflect biblical thinking. It is devoid of any compelling vision. It tends to be driven by the interests or wants of the people, or the whims of the pastor. It undertakes to achieve no clearly articulated Kingdom objectives. And it is limited by the prospects of members' giving, rather than by the infinite resources of the Lord. The Lord's view of His Church is much higher than that; and His view of pastors and church leaders who don't take His view of the Church is not a little frightening.

Zechariah is only one of many prophets who envision a glorious future for the Church of the Lord. Using imagery of Israel's restoration, expansion, and prospering, the prophets looked ahead to the day of salvation—the day of Christ's coming—and prophesied visions of what God intended to do in and through His people. His purpose, as our text makes clear, is to create a strong and holy people who will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory.

Let's look a little more closely at the Lord's vision for His Church as it comes to us in Zechariah 9 and 10.

First, the Lord intends that His people should provide a living witness to His goodness and beauty: "On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!" (9:16,17). This vision of the Church as glorious, shining, and exalted is consistent with what we see elsewhere in the prophets (cf. Micah 4:1-5; Haggai 2:6-9) and the Psalms (cf. Psalm 48). It matches Jesus' own words in Matthew 5:13-16, and those of Paul in Ephesians 2:19-22 and Peter in 1 Peter 2:9,10. God doesn't save His people only to leave them to muddle through in religious routines that impact no one for spiritual strength and holy living. Like the dew that brings refreshment to the earth, the Church is intended to water the world with God's grace, in daily droplets of good works and words of truth that edify and nurture all around (Micah 5:7). But like the king of beasts, the Church is also intended for rule, to leave an impression, wherever it exists, of the righteousness, peace, and joy of God's Spirit-ruled Kingdom (Micah 5:8; Romans 14:17).

Further, the Lord calls His Church to aspire to greatness in His name. He intends His people to be strong, like a mighty warrior, filled with gladness and joy, and raising up a generation of children who share their enthusiasm for the work of the Lord: "‘I will strengthen the house of Judah…[they] shall become like a mighty warrior, and their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Their children shall see it and be glad; their hearts shall rejoice in the LORD'" (Zechariah 10:6,7). God's vision for His Church is of a great army, fully armed, well-disciplined, clear as to its mission, and filled with zeal for the battle. God is gathering His people from all parts of the world, and every neighborhood of our communities, in order to equip them for the work of the Kingdom (vv. 8-10). He intends to fill up His churches with new recruits for the great Kingdom struggle to which He has called us (v. 10). And though His Church will meet with opposition and affliction, yet they will be strong, and will walk uprightly in the name of the Lord (vv. 11, 12).