Jim Merriam made some good points in his column last week about the direction in Christian churches (and specifically the United Church of Canada) regarding the necessity for "essence statements".
He’s right. It’s a bad use of language. It’s jargon. And jargon only alienates.
I agree with Jim when he says the mission statement for the church is found in Christian scripture.
But which mission statement do you want to use? I can name three, off the top of my head, from scripture.
Micah 6:8 says, "...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Then there is Luke 10:27, in which Jesus himself says in response to a question about what the greatest commandment is, replied " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."
Finally there is Matthew 28:19, in which Jesus says, "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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
All of these passages are worthy reflections of the Christian faith, but all of them also point in distinctly different directions for the mission of the church.
Perhaps it’s a case of "choose your poison"?
Jim’s reference to Pope Francis and his ten ways of living a happier life is also interesting. Not really relevant, but interesting.
Before we can start talking about what Pope Francis is saying, I think it’s better to look again at his frame of reference and the context out of which he offers his suggestions.
Francis is very much a Franciscan and well schooled in the works of liberation theology. If I may be so bold as to suggest the framework he is using, it has far more in common with Micah than the Luke or Matthew passages I quoted.
Micah’s text, which is reflected and amplified all through the Old Testament, tells us that the beginning of faith is a relationship with God. In that relationship with God faithful people are called to live their lives in a certain way, reflecting justice, kindness and humility. The way we do that can be seen reflected in Pope Francis’ words.
I agree that "essence statements" are kind of silly. In the United Churches in Grey County we are now required to do something called "mission articulation". That is a process to help a congregation determine how it will live out its life and relationship in the community and to come to terms with the resources it needs to do that.
The challenge is that the church is not, by and large, used to thinking that way. The local church is generally focussed on making sure that worship happens, the sick are visited, the young are raised in the faith and at the end of the day, there is a good and convivial feeling.
Any kind of thought about mission is not a high priority.
That has to change. The assumptions of the past are simply not sustainable.
I recall a very high-priced consultant telling the board of a non-profit organization I was a part of that everything in the organization, from governance to policy to finances, came out of and was directed by the organization’s mission statement. And everything the organization said or did should reflect the mission statement.
Jim is right. The Christian church has to clear on its mission. But what the church’s mission statement is, is by far the more important question.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County