The Institute originally published this post on April 23, 2014, on our previous website. Here, we are honored to welcome guest blogger Dr. Jaco Hamman, Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University, to address the critical topic of discerning congregational vision and mission in the months and years that follow after collective loss.
When a traumatic event occurs in the life in a congregation, the impact of the event also touches the community’s vision and mission statements. Whether a leader leaves under a cloud of conflict, whether a natural disaster hits the church, whether a beloved member unexpectedly dies, or whether a congregation struggles to survive financially—all possible traumatic events—the end result is often that existing statements are discarded and new ones are drafted.
A mission statement usually identifies a congregation’s primary purpose and the objectives guiding especially the leadership (“This is what we’re all about” or “This is why we are here”). In turn, a vision statement typically describes the guiding values of a congregation or the human value that is within the mission statement (“This is who we want to become” or “This is how we want to be the Body of Christ.”). For some congregations the terms vision and mission statement are used interchangeably and refers to one statement, naming both the purpose and the values of the community. Mission statements hold accountability and often ties one to the Triune God’s call on a community of believers, whereas vision statements encourage hopeful living into the future and often shows ways the reign of God manifests in a community.
Mission and vision statements, one can argue, offer different views on a congregations’ identity. It is this very relationship to identity that helps us understand why mission and vision statements often change after traumatic events. Trauma implies loss and mourning, human experiences that change a community’s identity. In When Steeples Cry: Leading Congregations Through Loss and Change (The Pilgrim Press, 2005), I argued that mourning is the intentional process of letting go of relationships, dreams, and visions as your congregation lives into a new identity after the experience of loss and change. Mourning implies living through grief; to live with loss and change. As a congregation engages the work of mourning after a traumatic even, they discover a new identity. This new identity, in part, shows the inadequate nature of existing mission and vision statements and fuels the drafting of new ones. If your congregation has experienced a trauma, keep the following in mind:
· A community cannot be the same community after trauma. All congregational (and personal) trauma implies loss, which implies a loss of identity.
· Loss is best understood in a variety of ways, each requiring its own work of mourning: loss of material belongings/buildings/money, loss of lives and relationships, loss of dreams and visions, loss of roles and functions, the loss of no longer being part of a wider society.
· Loss can only be grieved and mourned. Philosopher Jacques Derrida reminds us in his The Work of Mourning that to mourn is “to reckon, to recount, relate, or narrate, to consider, judge, or evaluate, even to estimate, enumerate, and calculate [the loss that occurred].” When we resist mourning, we remain stuck “in grief.”
· Conflict and nostalgia are often unwanted responses to trauma, so too the desire for a quick fix.
· The work of personal and communal mourning lead to the formation of a new identity.
· A congregation’s new identity will seek new vision and mission statements. Sometimes the new identity seeks new leadership.
· Drafting a new vision and mission statement requires much conversation by the whole community. Also, converse with God in prayer, meditation and in worship, and through studying Scripture together.
· Drafting a vision or mission statement without clearly naming the shifts in identity that occurred through the traumatic event will lead to new statements with little or no transformative and guiding power.
May the God of Grace be with you as you engage your congregation’s work of mourning.