At a conference a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Shawn Lovejoy, a pastor who now serves as a consultant and coach for other pastors. Even as we come from quite different church backgrounds, or perhaps because of that fact, I found Shawn's personality and acute sense of purpose compelling. It may also have been the catchy title of his book: Be Mean About the Vision.
Like any good marketer, the title is meant to catch your eye and make you read rather than inspire cruel behavior around the vision of your ministry. Instead, Shawn draws on a more ancient meaning of the word mean, namely, intent. Be intentional about the vision. Mean what you say, and defend it. Be clear about what vision God has placed on your community and don't allow distractions to detract from that purpose.
At Christ Lutheran Church, our mission is to be a fellowship living and sharing the love of God through worship, service, wellness, and hospitality. We discerned this vision together over a year ago, doing the hard work of drafting and editing, of discerning and developing, until we finally felt God lead us to this place of mission. We voted unanimously to accept. We had it!
Then, we let it sit untouched for almost a year. Oops.
That's not entirely true. We began to organize our committee reports around that mission. As a council, we made decisions about new activities based in whether they fit that mission. Yet, we didn't focus upon it. Shawn's teaching, and now his book, have convinced me that needs to change.
I want to be mean, to be intentional and clear, about the vision because God gifted us with a passion to be together as an intentional fellowship, a passion to not just live God's love, but to share it with others through our gifts of worship, service, wellness, and hospitality. For us, this means that we're taking a few steps to make this vision more prominent in our life together as a congregation.
+ First, I've begun a preaching series on the core aspects so that it receives the pride of place from the pulpit.
+ Along with that, we've begun saying the mission statement together during worship so that we internalize it.
+ We're also putting it more prominently in our materials, including websites, bulletins, letterheads, and business cards so that it becomes clear to others that this is the core of our ministry.
+ We're doubling down on this as a plumb line for ministry, so that all that we do together as a congregation expresses this core identity. This means that we intentionally let go of all other things, even good things, because God doesn't call us to everything, but to certain thing at certain times for certain people.
Now, not everyone needs to focus on their mission in these particular ways, but I'm increasingly aware of the power of this defined core of who God calls us to be. For instance, many of my colleagues find resistance to preaching and teaching inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, but because service and hospitality stand clear as part of God's mission in this place, we're blessed with a number of LGBTQ+ members and friends. Others find race to be a difficult topic in their context, and while there isn't universal agreement among us about how to address issues of race, privilege, and power, we're able to talk about them openly because of a deep commitment to be a true fellowship and to have fellowship with people not like us, who bring different gifts and share different parts of God's image with us. This clarity of vision doesn't necessarily make these things easy, but it allows us to have these conversations in meaningful ways that promote active change in our lives as well.
For instance, the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA has been hosting viewings of the movie Selma across the state. These events, led by African American people, introduce conversation and holy listening into congregations that opens up honesty and authenticity around issues of race. We at Christ Lutheran, as a part of our commitment to service and wellness, have developed a Faith and Film event that shows popular films (recent titles include Big Hero 6 and Mr. Holmes) and connects their themes to our beliefs and practices as people of faith. Our desire is to use the Faith and Film platform to coordinate an event, similar to those hosted by the South Carolina Synod, that includes a viewing of Selma and conversation led by our African American ministry partners here in Radford. Our hope to do this comes from a growing sense that our mission doesn't just allow us to seek active opportunities for reconciliation, but requires us to do so.
This is already happening here because we've got a small sense that this mission is meaningful to our lives here as God's people at Christ Lutheran Church. As we continue to focus on and grow in this mission, we see a chance for these opportunities for meaningful, inclusive ministries to multiply. Shawn reminded me of what was already happening in my own congregation: when the vision catches hold, it bears wonderful fruit. Being mean about the vision can help our congregation to grow not just in knowledge of our mission, but in truly activating that Gospel-centered identity within our entire community.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.