5 problems with Mission/Vision Statements

A Wordle of the New Brunswick Presbytery Mission/Vision Statement

The Presbytery of New Brunswick introduced a new mission and vision statement for a first reading at last Tuesday’s meeting.  We will vote to replace or not replace our current statement at our next meeting in November.  I know the value of having a shared vision and mission and being able to articulate it in a way in which everyone “gets” it.  We’ve all heard the great mission statements and grand visions of companies like Twitter (“To instantly connect people everywhere to what’s most important to them.”) and Google (“To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”)

Writing a vision/mission statement, though, can be discouraging.  Here are some consistent problems I’ve experienced in writing statements in congregations and presbyteries over the years.

  1. We spend weeks/months arguing which is a mission statement and which is a vision statement.  It seems there are different terminologies out there.  One saying that the mission statement is the pithy bumper-sticker statement, and one saying the vision statement is.  The reality is that it doesn’t matter.  We need a short statement that we can hang things on, and we need a longer statement which gives some flesh to the short statement.  Personally, my definitions are more about the longevity of the statement.  The mission statement should have a much longer shelf life, in my opinion.  The vision statement is more about the niche and priorities God is calling us to at this time.
  2. We want the statements to be “inclusive” of all that we are and represent.  No.  That’s the hard part, isn’t it?  That we need to prioritize and focus our work?  So, yes, some very good things will be “left out” of the statement.  Not because we don’t think they’re good things, but because one of the most important uses of a vision/mission statement is to give us the chutzpah and reasoning to say “no” to very good ideas.  Because the timing isn’t right.  Because it’s not really what we need to be focussing our attention on.
  3. We word-smith incessantly.  Two years.  In more than one presbytery we spent two years word-smithing our statements.  That is, we would make grammatical changes, argue over the use of one word over another.  Getting the right words is important: better to use fewer words, better to use active verbs, better to use fresh words and simpler words.  I agree.  But wouldn’t it be better to discuss the content?  The meaning of the words we choose?  I think we wordsmith the power out of many statements, which leads to #4 …
  4. We aim for acceptability and comfort rather than transformation.  One elder boldly stated, “Our statement should make us suck air.”  He’s right the statement should be radical.  A good vision/mission statement should make us take a deep breath … it should be challenging, it should be bold enough to push us to our limits so we better rely on the power of the Spirit.  Instead, so many of our statements are sentences that no one can argue with.  But they are more about interpreting who we are, not giving us a vision for where we’re going.
  5. They’re just words.  Most of the change and transformation that needs to occur in our churches isn’t because we’ve stated the wrong vision.  It’s because we LIVE the wrong vision.  We don’t need to change the words on our letterhead, so much as we need to change the way we behave with each other, the way we gather, the priorities we make in our lives and the hard decisions we make in committees.  A new vision statement cannot bring trust to a community in which trust doesn’t exist.  Words cannot give hope for the future.  But relationship, connectivity, prayer, listening … the things we do with each other … these things can change the whole system.

So, all of this to say I’m excited about the new vision/mission statement of New Brunswick presbytery.  I’m even more excited by the interpretations we’ve offered and some of the ideas of how to get there.  My state of the presbytery presentation at the last meeting outlined what I saw as the the underlying and interwoven threads of our two years of grappling together.  Look for my next few posts to outline my presentation here.

Here’s the full text of New Brunswick Presbytery’s new statements:

Vision Statement

A bold community of congregations and other ministries engaging in the transforming work of Jesus Christ in a dynamic world.

Mission Statement

  • Nurture and equip leaders and congregations, challenging them to take Spirit-led risks as we faithfully and continually discern our call.
  • Identify and disciple emerging leaders & emerging communities of faith.
  • Become a spiritual community for each other as we connect all clergy and congregations in mission, witness, and prayer.
  • Encourage congregations, members, and their ministries to partner in the work and witness of the broader Church.
  • Live out ordination vows as we serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
  • Embrace the permission-giving spirit of our polity.
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