A number of years ago I had the privilege of conducting a workshop at a company in Oklahoma. The company dealt with used computers: purchasing, refurbishing and selling them. Their company mission statement was a lengthy paragraph (which included the phrase, “this company’s ultimate mission is to glorify God!”). Every new employee was required to spend the first day on the job memorizing the entire mission statement. That was their “work” for the day.
At 8:00 am every morning, all 70-80 employees would gather in the company dining room around tables that held 6-8 people. After standing and reciting the mission statement (from memory!) they would sit at the tables and talk about two things: 1.) Something I did yesterday that made me proud of myself and my work, and 2.) Something that someone else in this company did for me yesterday that I am grateful for. After eight minutes or so of this activity, the company president stood up and announced three numbers:
- How many used computers the company purchased yesterday (guaranteeing future work);
- How many the company refurbished; and
- How many the company sold.
Then it was off to work. There was an energy, enthusiasm and commitment in the air that was palpable. It appeared to me that people showed up excited about going to work.
I was reminded of this experience as I read a recent issue of the Outlook.
Cynthia Rigby’s article on the atonement (“The prodigal cross”), as seen through the lens of the parable of the prodigal son, was a masterpiece of nuanced interpretation, if not proclamation. Powerful.
A couple of pages later was an article by Brandon Gaide, reporting on the assessment of some young pastors in the Presbyterian Church and their recommended strategies and tactics for addressing some of the issues affecting the denomination.
The Oklahoma experience came to mind because it seems to “fit” in between the two articles by Rigby and Gaide. The employees’ understanding of the mission of their company and their commitment to it just might be what is missing in our daily lives as congregations of God’s people. To put it another way, the queries in Gaide’s article for a clearer understanding of “our basic purpose” and for overcoming our inability to “identify why their church exists” will not be answered by a lengthy (and beautiful!) exposition of The prodigal son OR by the six action items Gaide proposes (e.g., fringe experiments, staff soul care, empowering older members, etc.) as helpful or important as these may be.
I have lived long enough to see the difference that leadership can make. In our Presbyterian tradition, that essential group of leaders is called the session.
So, a modest proposal (based probably on canceling the business of the next session meeting and engaging in the following list of activities):
- Everyteachingandrulingelderisgivenapiece of paper on which they are instructed to finish the sentence “The gospel is ______” (in less than 50 words).
- In groups of 4-6 people, each person shares an ending to that sentence and then, through deep discussion, seeks to write an answer for the group and print it on a sheet of newsprint, posting it on the wall.
- The entire session then seeks to write a consensus statement, “The gospel is ______. Assuming consensus,
- In groups of three, each person reports on, “The differences this gospel has made in my life are ______.” If anyone cannot think of one or more answers in the past tense, they can focus on “The differences I hope this makes in my daily life in the future are ______.”
- The session as a whole might then focus on three questions:
- How effectively are our current efforts in this congregation communicating what we have defined as our understanding of the gospel?
- What can we do, as a session, to better equip our members to articulate their understanding and to explore the differences this Good News has made in their lives?
- How might we, as a congregation, do a better job of communicating this Good News to the community God has called us to witness to and serve?
If a profit-making business considers it essential that every employee has a deep understanding of the purpose of their daily work and an opportunity to profess that purpose every day at work, perhaps it is worth the time and effort of the leadership of a local congregation to go and do likewise.
MIKE MURRAY is a retired teaching elder and member of Mission Presbytery. He lives in Austin, Texas.