Vision, mission, and covenant come to life in the midst of people gathered in religious community. In fact, the genius—and the risk—of liberal religion is that each new generation must discover its own understanding of vision, mission, and covenant. Without the valuable work in discovering and creating vision, mission, and covenant, the reasons why our congregations gather can be lost. Because we choose to allow (and to insist upon) individual determination of belief, we cannot fall back onto historical statements as the reasons why we exist. Rather, the members of each gathered community must determine for themselves the reasons why they continue to exist and why that matters.
Some congregations have historical covenant statements—statements recited or posted by their congregations from centuries past—but these historic covenants serve a different purpose than newly created and renewed statements. Historic statements bind today’s people to those who came before, reminding them that the congregation is never really theirs; instead, the congregation is “borrowed” for the time being from those who came before. Historic covenants do not necessarily set out who and what the congregation is now or wants to be as it moves forward.
To stay relevant, these statements need to be revisited at least every five years. With people entering and exiting our congregations, the way to keep these documents alive and vital is to make sure the gathered people have ownership of them. This ownership is best created through inviting the people into the process rather than just telling them the results. If this process is to be vital and the work productive, it cannot just be done and put on a shelf; instead, the vision, mission, and covenant must be living documents used in the everyday life of the congregation.
In this way, vision, mission, and covenant are resources for congregational development and health. Congregations without a compelling and shared vision may too easily lose track of what they should be doing and struggle to determine how to allocate their human and financial resources. Without a centralizing agreed-upon focus, battles can rage over competing interests and equally good projects. However, when vision and mission are in place, all discussion circles back to these articulated statements for a double check and grounding. In congregational decision making, the “winning” decision should reflect the vision and mission of the congregation. If it doesn’t, then something needs to change. Sometimes it’s the decision that needs to change, and sometimes it is time to revisit the vision or revise the mission of the congregation.
Congregations that have living vision, mission, and covenant statements are the ones that are growing—not only in numbers but also in the depth of membership commitment. This growth shows in the depth of commitment members have to the world around them and to living more fulfilled lives. Vision and mission work is done without the subsequent steps to make the results come alive remain words on paper. When this happens, resistance and resentment build up; people who helped craft the visions, missions, and covenants feel as if their time, thought, and emotion were not honored.
When a congregation’s leadership uses the mission to create objectives and to make major decisions, the commitment of the members is strengthened. Congregations with vital, living vision and mission that are reinforced in worship grow.The process of vision, mission, and covenant is ongoing; its richness grows as it is applied.
Some times the creation of vision, mission, and covenant statements reflects a shift in paradigm—a change in the way things are done and in the way in which people interact with one another. Sometimes the creation causes such a shift. Such a shift in people’s understanding of who they are can create tension. Yet this tension can help bring into place creative and deeper relationships among people of the congregation.
Vision, mission, and covenant work is not easy. Developing and following a good process that involves most of the people in the congregation is hard work and takes time. And the outcome can be well worth it.