The code words “vision” and “mission” have been floating around our church for a few decades now. They are heard at Synod workshops, at church council meetings, in evangelism committee meetings and in church basements. Every living bishop and every known ecclesiastical bureaucrat speaks about them. In fact they have been used so much that it seems we’ve used them up. Do they have any meaningful content left for us?
We both just happen to be serving on the Synod Council and on the Editorial Council of Let’s Talk simultaneously. As Synod Council members, we have been engaged in a yearlong process that began not with the questions, “What is our vision?” or “What should our mission statement be?” but with a very practical, yet extremely important ecclesiastical question: Of what importance is the Synod to the congregations of Metro Chicago? That is where we started in the fall of 1996. In June the Council came to the Synod Assembly with a proposal for a new mission statement and with a single key initiative. Discussion of these items was held during one of the many workshops and a small presentation was made at the assembly. The Assembly approved both the mission statement and the key initiative. The Synod Council understood that approval of these elements was only the beginning of our work, not the end.
Now, one year later, the Council is working again at every meeting (and sometimes through special meetings dedicated just to this visioning work) to flesh out ways in which we can work toward this new vision ourselves.
As members of the Let’s Talk editorial council, we were asked to serve as co-issue editors for a short issue of this journal to help bring to our readers some of the thoughts and process behind what was presented at the assembly. The Synod and the Synod Council are working to do this same thing and already have some plans and proposals in place which they will be bringing to the congregations. But to add another layer of communication to this process, we give you three articles by the key players in this Synodical visioning process.
First, Bishop Olsen was interviewed to give us his thoughts on this process and on its impact on the Synod. Then the Vice President of our Synod Council, Gretchen McDowell, shares her thoughts and her enthusiasm. She really has been an energetic, relentless force in moving this process forward and making it happen. Thirdly, Bob Gleason, another member of the Synod Council, shares some information and insights about the process to date and what is expected for the future. Bob is a professional in the field of organizational training and leadership development and has been an invaluable resource for the council and for the entire Synod.
Bob Gleason has provided some fresh air for the process of visioning by bringing corporate organizational models and definitions into church-talk. Simply by offering some fresh definitions to words like “vision” and “mission” Bob has been able to move us into new thinking. For example, his definition of “vision” is simply, “a desirable future state.” When we heard that definition, what has sometimes seemed like a fluffy word or an empty concept suddenly had new possibilities. For example, our question to Bishop Olsen about his vision of a healthy Lutheran congregation in fifty years is a way of painting a concrete picture of what the future can look like.
We add an article by Bob Cross, a Roman Catholic priest. He shares his theological and pastoral reflections on what a congregational mission statement should say about the human condition.
We hope these articles give you some insight into this on-going process, and ways in which congregations may want to evaluate their own work of planning and visioning. Congregations will be hearing soon about opportunities to come together to engage in these important conversations. So, let’s talk now about vision and mission!