Mission is King

Mission is King

Recently I have been reading Matthew Kelly’s latest book, “The Culture Solution.”  It is his first secular book in many years and is written primarily for those working in corporations who desire to create a positive work culture.  However, I have been thinking about the principles set forth in the book from the perspective of our Stewardship initiative and the emphasis placed in the Foundational pillar of having a mission and vision statement and a pastoral plan for the parish. 

 Some parishioners have had the courage to honestly share with me that they have seen mission statements come and go over the years; that “we spend a lot of time developing them and then nothing is ever done with them.”  I whole-heartedly agree.  Many times, efforts are made to develop mission and vision statements, develop plans that are never used and soon forgotten, both inside the church and outside it.

However, it does not immediately follow that we should throw the whole idea out.  I am reminded of Chesterton’s often repeated quote,

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” 

I think the same argument can be made for strategic planning, from which typically flow mission statements, visions and plans complete with goals.  It’s not that they are inherently without value, it is that using them well is difficult and so very often they are “left untried”.

Instead of abandoning the idea of developing a mission, vision and pastoral plan completely, I would suggest we look at the challenges inherent in using them and work to remedy those challenges.  Why?  In Matthew Kelly’s words, “mission is king.” 

“Every organization needs an unchanging point of reference.  This becomes the organization’s North Star, building confidence on nights when the skies are clear, and pointing the way on stormy nights even if only with glimpses.” 

When speaking of corporations and non-profits, there might be a need to find this “north star”, but in the Church we already have our “North Star”:  it is Jesus Himself.  He is the reason for all that we do. 

Even so, we fall into many pitfalls when we leave our “North Star” that vague, when we don’t take the time to prayerfully discern what aspect of Jesus’ mission He is calling us to participate in in this time and in this place.  One such pitfall becomes clear to me in light of the Gospel story in Matthew chapter 16:13-23.  Just after Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus begins to share with them that he was going to suffer, die and be raised.  “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”  Jesus then strongly scolds him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

In my own life, I have many times been Peter.  I come to an understanding of some aspect of who Jesus is and what He desires from us and I take this truth and run with it.  Oftentimes, I am so busy on this “mission” that I fail to notice I have run right past Jesus, whom I am supposedly following.  Like Peter, I am in need of a rebuke – a reminder that I need to “get behind me.” 

The reality is, whenever we vow to follow Jesus, we rarely have a sense of the whole plan from his perspective.  As Henri Nouwen says,

“He gives us enough light for the next step and the rest is faith.” 

The only way we can be sure that we will continue to make the next right step, is if we are constantly begging the Lord for direction.  The human tendency is to begin a work for the Lord and then very quickly let it become “our” work, “our” ministry.  We take ownership, we get comfortable, we know best, we want to continue doing what we have always done and we often get off track.  We no longer have our eyes on the North Star (Jesus); we are doing our own navigation. 

If we truly want His Mission to be King and to remain King, then we need to prayerfully develop a mission, vision and pastoral plan for our parish that is rooted in prayer and discernment.  Then we need to avoid the pitfalls of not following through on the direction this plan is leading us by setting up systems which promote, reward and encourage the fulfillment of the plan.  Most importantly, our systems and structures need to root our churches in prayer and give us a concrete, planned way to return regularly to the True Navigator and beg for direction for the next step. 

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Putting Jesus at the Center

This week I am in Jamaica with St. Thomas More’s Mission Team.  We have come to work with Mustard Seed Communities, an organization founded in 1978 by Msgr. Gregory Ramkisson.  Mustard Seed’s mission is:

“Inspired by the healing and caring Ministry of Jesus Christ, we aim through the positive interaction of caring, sharing and training, to uplift the most vulnerable members of society, especially disabled and abandoned children, and marginalized communities. We are committed to the fostering of homes and communities, which will lead us all to loving service and mutual respect and which will bring us joy, hope and dignity.”

 They are an international nonprofit dedicated to caring for the most vulnerable populations throughout the developing world.  Mustard Seed began with one home for a handful of children with disabilities who had been abandoned to the streets of Jamaica and has grown to serve more than 600 adults and children in five countries. To learn more visit:  www.mustardseed.com.

During our time here, we have worked at two Mustard Seed Communities, Blessed Assurance and Jacob’s Ladder and we visited two others: My Father’s House and Jerusalem.  One of the things that has struck me is that in every Mustard Seed community, the church is at the center of all the buildings and cottages for the residents.  The Mustard Seed Communities have the Eucharist at the center of all they do, and they reflect and remind themselves of this by intentionally structuring their communities so that Jesus is literally in the center. 

This picture shows the sanctuary at Blessed Assurance with the tabernacle in the center and the words, “Thank you Lord” to the right and “He is here” on the left.  These words are present on the sanctuary walls of every Church run by Mustard Seed; it reminds me of the words ‘I thirst’ which are painted next to the crucifix in all of the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity.  For both St. Mother Teresa and for the staff of the Mustard Seed these statements are interwoven into everything that is done within the community.  I saw the Community’s 2017 theme posted throughout the different communities we visited as well:  “Let everything that breathes praise God!” 

Thinking about Stewardship alongside my experiences here in Jamaica has led me to ponder:  do we have our parish mission statements posted and do we refer to them often?  Do they guide our work and center us on Jesus like these statements do for the caretakers and residents in the Mustard Seed Communities?

For more pictures of our time here, please visit the STM Mission Jamaica Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/STMMissionTrip/

Fr. Mark’s Musings

Find Your Why

Last week our diocese gathered for our annual Pastoral Ministry Days at Terra Sancta. This year’s theme focused on the third lens of our stewardship initiative “Dedicated Discipleship: love God, love neighbor with an intentional heart”. Our speakers were Fr. Michael White and Tom Cochran who wrote the book Rebuilt: Awaking the Faithful, Reaching the Lost Making Church Matter.

At the opening conference, Tom spoke of how important it is for us to ask the why question. “Why am I here?” He said we do not ask the why question enough. “When we lose our why, we lose our purpose and when we lose our purpose we lose our way.” As I heard that quote it made me think of “RIM” Relationship — Identity — Mission. 

The heart of the why question begins with our personal relationship with Christ, who helps us to understand our true identity as being beloved sons and daughters of the Father, who through the power of the Holy Spirit, sends us out on mission. Jesus gives us our why in Matthew’s gospel: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The reason that we lose our way at times is because we begin to focus on the mission first rather than beginning with our relationship with Jesus in prayer first.  Living a “Life on the RIM”, begins with the inside out, our relationship with Jesus first; rather than outside in, focusing first on the mission then secondly on our relationship with Jesus.

It is much easier to plow ahead with our own perceived mission first without ever really sitting down in prayer first, asking and sitting with Jesus like that of Mary. In the story, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)  In reality, every effective Martha is first a Mary, who sits at the feet of Jesus and receives from him, the mission he has planned for her.

As we enter into Holy Week, let us begin inside out, putting Jesus first in everything we say and do.

Fr. Mark’s Musings