What's Stronger Than a Mission Statement? Shared Imagination

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There is a difference between a church gathered around a single mission statement (even if written collegially by a group of leaders), and what I’d like to call a “shared imagination.” The first way to gather – via a mission/values/vision statement – is cognitive. It crafts words via a framework that has become so common […]

There is a difference between a church gathered around a single mission statement (even if written collegially by a group of leaders), and what I’d like to call a “shared imagination.”

The first way to gather – via a mission/values/vision statement – is cognitive. It crafts words via a framework that has become so common in the business world. It then, I would suggest, imposes this architecture via an organization onto the lives of its subjects. There’s a program involved. We the visitor are being sold this program. If we buy in, we become a member, and enter into its machine.

The second way to gather – via a shared imagination – is holistic. It is the product of a shared process among a people who gather in a “place.” Yes we use words, but it must be so much more than that. We are discovering together, through leadership, what it means to commit our whole lives into what God is doing in this place where we live. People are grafted in as they become familiar with what God is doing. If a person becomes a member, they are becoming a participant in what God is doing. There is a submission here, but it is one of mutual submission to the giftedness of the whole body including its more visible leaders. Most churches are a mixture of Mission Statement/Shared Imagination forms of gathering. Large mega churches tend to migrate to the first. Missional communities, for obvious reason, migrate to the latter. I strongly urge the latter.

The more I visit churches and missional communities, the more I am convinced that the work/ministry of art is essential to this second way to gather. Ironically, dare I say, you cannot communicate and gather people into God’s mission via a Mission Statement. It must be jointly participated in and it must capture our whole imagination for the entire way we live. Otherwise, Mission becomes an add-on program to how we already live.  “Shared Imagination” takes art, artwork that captures our whole imagination, helps us see differently and enables us to say about God’s mission in this place (which is another way to say “church”), “This is us!”

The book cover I have highlighted in this post is a pictorial of the short history of a church I love in Sarnia, Ontario. I think I’ve known the leaders here and watched it grow since its beginnings. One of the things they do well is capture who they are, what God is doing, who God has called them into in total-imagination-capturing ways via art. For instance, they commissioned an artist to do three paintings – Rooted, Tabled and Risked. These beautiful paintings hang in the place where they meet in the center of Sarnia. Prints were given to each member of the church body. These paintings expressed their outworking of God’s calling in this place, and to what each person was committing themselves to in this place. These paintings opened up an imagination for all to share and participate in. More than an organization, this church called “theStory” is a culture of the Kingdom at work in Sarnia.

You can see these paintings in this wonderful pictorial put together by one of the leaders, Joe Manafo, entitled …And We Will Become A Happy Ending. You can see a whole lot more. The book (kinda like one of those pictoral artsy coffee table books) walks you through the history of what God has been doing in this place. I highly recommend it.

Tell me what you think about these two ways of gathering? How has your church engaged these processes? What nuances have I missed? Blessings on the work of God stoking our imaginations for what He is doing in context and place.  

David Fitch David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.

More from David Fitch or visit David at http://reclaimingthemission.com

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