The other day I heard about a church going through a visioning process. They filled the wall with a description of all the things they did well, and felt good about – like kids’ programs, a sense of community, outreach, music… it was all up there.
But then they had a discussion about where else in the community these things were happening, what groups or organizations were already doing a great job at these activities, perhaps even a better job than the church – like the community centre, government programs, a hundred and one activity clubs, schools, choirs – and then they asked the question, if this was already happening, should the church remove them from the list of its key priorities?
Call it pruning, so that there could be more fruit; call it the naming of essential priorities, because you can’t do everything; call it catching a glimpse of a burning bush. So, imagine what might be left on the wall if your congregation did such an exercise… maybe priorities like spirituality, prayer, worship, following Jesus, spiritual practices, forgiveness, liberation, radical hospitality, love, and justice? (Thanks to Simon LeSieur, ministering at West Vancouver United Church, for sharing this story.)
Which takes us back to the question – the why of church, the vision. (Or if we were more comfortable using the language of the business world, we might ask, “What business are we in? What’s our product?”) Now, there are many ways to answer this question, of course, but these days I find myself wanting to say something like…
The core purpose of the church is to enable (hold the space for, set the stage for) transformative encounters with God – Creator, Christ, and Spirit;
so that people’s lives are changed,
and they discover their ministry (calling, vocation) in and for the world.
They feel, no… they know, they experience…that they are…
well, choose your words…
accepted, named, forgiven, found, loved, challenged, spirit –gifted, enlivened, empowered, sent, purpose-full;
And – they are stirred into actions of love – of compassion and justice, for neighbour, all my relations, the world.
As we continue on this pilgrimage to Corner Brook and General Council, I invite you to share your response to the “why” question. What would you say about the vision or purpose of your congregation to someone who is already part of your faith community, or to someone who isn’t, but who might self-describe as “spiritual but not religious”?
Photo: D. de Haan, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)