Vision and Communication Practices

September 5, 2017

by Rev. George Ragsdale, First UMC Belmont

Etienne Wenger tells the story of two stonecutters. Each was asked what they were doing. One responds, “I’m cutting this stone into a perfect square.” The other says, “I am building a cathedral.” Wenger’s story illustrates the importance of communicating, over-communicating and reinforcing mission and values in pastoral leadership. It is easy for us to forget the larger “why” behind our life together as God’s people, as well as the particular behaviors and attitudes that align us to God’s mission in the world.

When our congregation adopted a new strategic vision, clarifying our mission and identifying our core values, we launched an extensive campaign to share it with the congregation. It’s not particularly revolutionary. Our church says we exist “to be more like Jesus Christ for our community and beyond.” Two years later, I still talk this mission, and our core values (joy, generosity, focus on relationships, care and compassion, and active, curious faith) at every opportunity. It’s been one of the easiest and hardest lessons of my leadership here: easy because I love and believe in the mission of our congregation, hard because it often feels repetitive and uninteresting to talk about the same things again and again. But consistent—even constant—communication and reinforcement of our mission and values has proven very important in our formation together. Too often in the church we confuse knowledge and information with embodied practice. We assume the connections between what we know and believe and then do (or don’t do) together are clear. But often they’re not. We have tools for evaluating, assessing and aligning our ministries, but one of the most effective ways I’ve found to help our congregation is by looking for ways to “connect the dots,” highlighting and celebrating the ways in which we are living our mission and values whenever I can.

Recently after a funeral I walked into our kitchen to thank the members of our bereavement team for their service. I said, “I want to thank you for being here today. Our mission at FUMC is to be more like Jesus, and you’ve been Jesus today for this family.” Many in the room, who no doubt knew the value of their ministry, paused, looked at me quizzically, then smiled and said, “Yes. You’re right!” Like I said, they knew the value of their ministry. Many of them have been doing it for decades. But I sensed something valuable in connecting their ministry to the larger mission and values of our church.

It’s important to name the connections and celebrate them when we see them. It’s a bit like the “I Spy” games my children love to play. Whenever I’m here, I’m looking for examples and opportunities to point out our mission and values in action, and challenging others to do the same. Where do you see joy, generosity, a focus on relationships, care and compassion, or active, curious faith? I keep a running list from our staff meetings, and regularly try to incorporate them into my preaching.

I love it when our lay people lead us in prayer. Often in their prayers they will ask God to help us “be more like Christ,” or mention one of our core values. Two years in and I don’t think they are stopping to include them. It just feels natural now. By God’s grace, it’s who we are becoming together.
Leadership Development