Mission(al)

I shudder to think how many corporate man- and woman-hours have been spent on developing and refining “mission statements.”

Ubiquitous mission statements–espoused by everything from Fortune 500 companies to the Girl Scouts, and extending to many churches–lead to the question are these statements making a difference in how the institutions and organizations operate?

We are reminded often of the need to tie projects and activities to the mission statement, but this exercise can be just that—an exercise.  Just about anything can be “tied,” if one tries hard enough.

But what of mission itself, in contradistinction to the mission statement? I’d say it’s more important to have a mission and to be operative within that mission, than to have a mission statement, wouldn’t you?  (And I’d also say it’s more important to pray than to say “I’ll pray for you,” but that’s another story.)  The so-called emerging, or emergent, church likes to think of itself, if indeed it really is an “it,” as missional.  I think the loosely defined groups of emergent leaders, churches, and philosophies, and practices may be more missional than the rest of Christendom, but that’s not because they have mission statements.

I heard a sermon on the so-called Great Commission recently.  It’s been a while, and while I appreciate that this came up naturally in a stroll through Matthew’s gospel, I perceive a misdirected tie of the Great Commission to Christians in this age.  I’ve heard Matthew 28:19-20 referred to as Christian “marching orders.”  Where do we get this, and what do we make of it?  It does identify us as an “army” of Christians, as it were, and God as Commander-in-Chief.  That part is wholly appropriate.  But I’d like to investigate this assumption a little, and I think I will.

In the meantime, I want to propose that “ambassador” or “representative” or “member of the ‘new incarnation’ of Jesus’ Body” are apt descriptors for the Christ-ian believer’s advocacy of cause and “mission” to people in this day and age.  More apt, even, than the mission articulated to the eleven soon-to-be-evangelists, in the so-called “Great Commission.”

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Picking and frowning: bulletin bits

In the neo-Protestant vein, it’s time for a pickin’ and a frownin’ (apologies to Roy Clark and Buck Owens of the old country variety show Hee-Haw).  The name of the church has been changed to protect the guilty.  These bits come from a church bulletin near you.  I intend to pick at them.

WELCOME…The Main St. family extends a warm welcome to our visitors.

How do you know this to be the case at the time that the bulletin is printed?  These types of comments sometimes get inserted when the church is not actually that warm, but wants to become so.

We are thrilled you have chosen to worship with us today!

Well, okay … assuming there is actually worshipping going on, which happens to be the case fairly often at this church, but not at all churches!

TODAY—No devo-VBS

Sometimes churches cancel stuff too often for fear that no one will come because something else is going on.  If a bit of a schedule crunch appears to crowd out an event, it seems to me that said event wasn’t that well founded to begin with.

Oh, and P.S. … VBS is outmoded.  It’s OK to have another study/learning opportunity, but the notion that VBS will actually bring in unchurched people is kind of silly.  I sometimes wonder what the non-Christian people who drive by the fancy VBS signs think.  Most likely, they think nothing at all, but they surely aren’t going to go “Oh, wow.  Vacation Bible School is at that church next week.  What a wonderful thing they’re doing.  I think I’ll take my kids just to see what it’s all about.”  Such thoughts once inhabited the wishful minds of the most evangelistic on the VBS planning committees, but if they abide in this day and age, they are nearly pointless.

July 18th—Devo at Sickler’s

Unless there is a guy with the first name Sickler, this punctuation is incorrect.  Assuming the family name is Sickler, it should be Sicklers’. It’s the rare church secretary who knows how to form plurals and plural possessives of last names.

Growing Deep and Spreading Out as we live the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Now this “mission statement” or “purpose statement” (take your pick—I’ve never figured out which was which) is more catchy than some—like “We exist to love God and love people” or “Worshipping, Serving, and Reaching Out.”  But the Great Commission has a biblical context, and it doesn’t seem to be on par with the so-called Great Commandment to me.  The former is specific to those the Lord spoke it to, and the latter seems more broadly applicable. Ergo, I really don’t buy in to the notion that Christians today should be all about the Great Commission.  By extension, there’s some application, but I’m not interested in picking up deadly snakes (Mark 16, long ending).

[Then follows the list of leaders. ]

Elders top the list, as they do in any good Church of Christ.  Then the so-called “Minister,” a guy who happens to be paid for preaching and doing various other things.  Then the Deacons, who would appear to be subservient to those above them in the list.  Deacons are not junior Elders, and the minister might just as well appear in the list of deacons:  there is ample etymological reason to consider him a deacon.  He should not be thought of as a category of leader who has almost as much power as (or more than!) the elders, and more than the lowly deacons.  In fact, no one in the church should be thought of as having any power at all.  This is not to say that there exists no power or authority vested in roles, but it is to say that churches—and especially those actually in these leadership roles—should not act and react in such a way that shows they are wrapped up in hierarchy.

One manifestation that hierarchy is at work is the frequent distinguishing of we and you in church announcements, as in “We’d like you to know that …” or “We want to congratulate you on your generous giving last week in the special contribution” or even “It’s one of our goals to do X more in the assembly.  Please give us your feedback on this.”

I just don’t see the need to take up space printing names of who serves in which role.  Regular members already know, and visitors probably don’t care too much.

* * *

I think my biggest, broadest beef with church bulletins is that the value of them isn’t high enough to justify the time they take to put assemble and print.  I can well imagine that about half of your basic part-time secretary’s time is taken with the bulletin every week.  And in a church in which 200 copies are printed, about 70 of them are nothing more than recyclable.  Someone generally reads aloud many of the printed announcements, and those lists of who’s doing what in the assembly … oh, don’t get me started.  The lists always end up being wrong, so why print them in the first place?!

Mission statements

Before returning to my first vocational love, I was privileged to receive a business-world education in the sphere of banking.  Banking and computer technology brought me into contact with the larger business world; for a time, I actually fancied myself a businessperson.

Then I discovered Dilbert and other tongue-in-cheek looks at the business world–such as the popular TV series “The Office.”  And I learned, without really even trying, to laugh at egoistic, corporate mission statements and other such jargon and drivel.

What of church mission statements?  They seem to have taken their cue from the corporate world, after all.  (And this reminds me of a similar, though less eternally consequential, shift in the educational world–from academic titles and roles to corporate titles such as VP for Academic Affairs rather than Academic Dean, CEO instead of Superintendent, etc.).

I can’t recall the details of a single one out of the sixty or eighty church mission statements I’ve scanned, but it seems to me that they are either a) so general as to be meaningless or b) so specific as to be narrowly exclusive.  More (a) than (b).  Further, it seems to me that the efforts expended on formulating such mission statements are largely, if not completely, wasted.

What do you think?