At least 15 years ago, when I was consulting with a prominent chemical company on their growth programs, I presented the familiar planning framework which begins with formulating a corporate mission statement. It is axiomatic in business that a management team doesn’t begin planning its objectives, strategies and tactics until it can articulate the vision and mission for the business; e.g., “What is our unique market niche?” and “What are we committed to accomplish?” When I flipped the usual powerpoint presentation onto the screen, the CEO said “Oh, we have that down pat. We’ve already worked through the mission statement for strategic planning. Let’s move on to the growth strategies.” I smiled because I knew what was coming.
“Fine”, I said. “So let’s begin.” Then I turned to the 25 member management team in the room and said “Everyone take out a piece of paper. You will want to disguise your handwriting. Now write down the corporate mission statement; don’t sign it, and leave it here on the table in front of me, face down, and grab another cup of coffee.” To those who were reaching into their wallets to copy the mission statement from a laminated card, I added: “And don’t take anything out of your pockets until we’re done.” After about 5 minutes, I had a pile of papers in front of me, which I shuffled and gave to the CEO. He read through them during the coffee break, and when everyone returned he said: “We better begin with formulating a mission statement.” Later I learned not a single person had properly articulated the mission statement, so that’s where we restarted the seminar.
After such an experience, and many others, though less dramatic, I think it is not surprising (though it is deserving of a mea culpa) to confess that during the diocesan pastoral planning ordeal of about a decade ago, my pastor at that time asked me to be a resource to him for the strategic planning which the diocese was undertaking. On the subject of mission statements, I gave the same input regarding its importance. The advice wasn’t wrong; but, if we had all been more imbued in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we would have been able to say: “Yes a mission statement is crucial, BUT WE ALREADY HAVE ONE!” Later, in retrospect, the silliness of months of word-smithing to formulate a mission statement that almost no parishioner knows or can articulate (even though it has been on the front page of the bulletin for years) brings the point home.
Enough time has gone by and, as pastors get reassigned and find themselves with a mission statement which they didn’t formulate, or which they can’t remember, or which doesn’t mean anything anyway, they seem to be quietly dropping the mission statements from the bulletins. But there are still many afloat in the Rochester Diocese and in other dioceses as well. What a waste of time and effort of so many people in so many parishes!
Think this is a wrong conclusion? What is YOUR parish’s mission statement? Does it even have one in the bulletin or has it been quietly dropped without even a mention? Can you write it down, right now, without peeking? Do you understand it? Do you agree with it? And why does your parish need any “mission statement” which is worded differently from Christ’s own commands? Did He not say:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28: 19-20.
And if we really need to add more, could we not remember:
“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5: 48.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15.
And if we are really hungry for more words, the Beatitudes provide plenty, and so does Matthew 10:42, and also the Greatest Commandment, and the one “second” to it.
Rembrandt’s “Laborers in the Vineyard”
Perhaps one reason why the “new evangelization” seems so challenging at times, is because the “old evangelization” hasn’t been tried enough. Even now, I have begun to hear homilies which basically say it is our lives that evangelize, that we don’t need to do something else. How easy it is to set aside the conscience nagging “Maybe I should be doing more.”
If I were “consulting” today, I would say get rid of those wordy, confusing, and self-serving mission statements, and get back to Christ’s words. Those are enough of a challenge for a lifetime. Self-serving mission statements? Yes. When mission statements are written to describe what we are already doing, or are so nebulous that spiritual success can be claimed, it is fair to call it “self-serving.” And it is fair to ask if such mission statements serve to placate the urge to “do more.”
Now, as a “fun” exercise, here are 15 mission statements right off the Sunday bulletins in the Diocese of Rochester, minus the names of the parish or extreme identifying characteristics. Would you like to take a crack at which church each belongs to? Can you tell the identity of any of them? If you have a mission statement to add to the list, post a comment (without naming the Church, please). Here are the 15, in no particular order::
1. “______________is a Catholic Community committed to the spiritual growth of all people as we share our faith and serve our community.”
2. “The parishes of _________ and ____________ are Roman Catholic Communities that worship and live in faith. Nourished by the Sacraments, Scripture, and a diversity of individual gifts, we understand that our mission comes from Jesus Christ who calls us to teach, to preach, to serve those in need, and to be a presence of Christ in the world.”
3. “We are an urban, Roman Catholic parish that worships and gathers at _______________. Our mission is to reach all in our community and beyond, teach the word of God, and send forth ministers of the Gospel.”
4. “We are a Christ-centered community of Catholic Churches working towards the spiritual renewal of all. As we pursue that hope and dream together, our common Mission Statement calls us: to carry on the work and teaching of Jesus through Imitation, Proclamation, Celebration and Social Transformation.”
5. “The Mission of ____________ Parish in unison with the Universal church is to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ. The mission of the Parish is carried out in Word, Sacrament, and Service to God and neighbor. The continuing vitality of our staff and parishioners, we feel is evidence of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.”
6. “As disciples of Jesus Christ serving on the Parish Pastoral Council, we collaborate with the Pastor and Staff inviting the people of ___________ to joyfully celebrate the Eucharist, faithfully teach Catholic tradition, and fervently form Catholic spirituality, so that together we may go forth in love to serve the Lord and each other.”
7. “With Mary as our model, __________ seeks to be a welcoming parish. Recognizing that we are made up of diverse rural communities, we strive to live as members of the one Body of Christ, ministering to each other, and working together to nurture our God given talents in order to reach out to others in a caring and compassionate manner that witnesses to our fervent love for God.”
8. “We profess our belief that Christ sent His Spirit to bestow gifts on His followers according to their part in carrying out His mission. We are committed to be visible signs to each other, and to our community, of Christ’s Presence among us: Proclaiming and evangelizing the Gospel, witnessing to God’s love according to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching, ministering to the needs of all; and fostering the spiritual life and growth among parishioners.”
9. “We, the members of ___________, believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Empowered by this belief, we seek through the celebration of Word and Sacrament to be Christ present in our world. As a community of faith, we strive to build Christian unity through worship and commitment to ________ ministries. We invite all to seek Christ through prayer and provide love and support to those in need.”
10. “We are an inclusive, welcoming, compassionate community united by a faith that is alive and growing. As sisters and brothers baptized in Christ, our mission is to be Christ for one another, our community, and the world by teaching as Jesus did, loving as Jesus loved, serving as Jesus served, and by seeing in every face the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
11. “As the Church of _________, we welcome all to our parish family. Guided by the Holy Spirit, rooted in God’s word, we seek to grow in faith through the joyful celebration of the sacraments. Reflecting Jesus Christ through the warmth of our hospitality, we commit to lovingly proclaim the Good News and serve one another.”
12. “__________ is a welcoming Roman Catholic faith community formed from the heritage of _#___parishes in _____. As one parish in Christ, we are committed to continuing His mission to build the Kingdom of God. As Christ’s disciples, strengthened by the sacraments, we enthusiastically engage in vibrant ministries which evangelize, unify and serve others within our parish and beyond. We are dedicated to worship, faith formation and social outreach as expressions of our faith.”
13. “Energized by the Holy Spirit and nourished by the Eucharist, we the parishioners of _________ and ________, in joyful unity embrace our baptismal call to worship God, spread the good news of Jesus Christ, build up a welcoming community of faith and hope, and lovingly serve and comfort those in need.”
14. “_________ Parish seeks to be a community where: ALL ARE WELCOME! ALL are INSPIRED to live the Good News of Jesus Christ where • Worship leads to Service • Service leads to Love • Love leads to Eternal Life •”
15. “We are a Catholic Community, called to be faithful, caring and enthusiastic disciples. We build up the kingdom of God by worshiping and praising God, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and witness, giving loving service to our neighbor and strengthening the parish community.”
Truly, can the thousands of “person hours” spent doing these statements all over the diocese have made any difference at all? Imagine what fruit could those thousands of hours have yielded if directed to the actual services which were being claimed? And that was just for the mission statement part of planning. Yet those same “leaders” continue to claim a competence which defies defense.
Some sanity at the parish level is beginning to emerge. There are noticeable trends to omit the Mission Statement, to reduce the font to miniscule size, and forget it once in a while. If all pastors were clearly given permission to “drop it,” I wonder how fast all these mission statements would disappear?
Light Under a Bushel?
And regarding church bulletins, another, unfortunate trend is that there is a significant increase in churches/parishes not showing their bulletins on line at all, but rather requiring a subscription in order to access the bulletin content. That doesn’t work at all for travelers, looking for a place to go to Mass when they plan their trips and who don’t want to end up on mailing lists. It doesn’t work for those who need to go to daily Mass in various locations, to accommodate work and family schedules, and need to verify the schedule. It makes a church look closed and insular.
Further, CF occasionally receives inquiries for a recommendation for a parish which is consistent with Church Teaching, with respectful behaviors and dress, and liturgical faithfulness. How can a church be recommended without a relevant link to which to direct the interested party? For example, CF was recently contacted by a family in California, relocating to Ithaca. But most of the churches there don’t have bulletins on line and they require a subscription, so they weren’t referenced, only the one which has its bulletins on line. Makes one think again about all those “mission” words of hospitality, openness and welcoming embrace, doesn’t it?