Before he ascended, Jesus gave us his vision for the church: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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’ (Matthew 28:19–20). This ‘Great Commission’ was given to a group of people who had no influence in the business, religious or political circles of the time, and who were feeling demoralised and uncertain about their future. It was an inauspicious beginning.
The American investor Warren Buffet once famously said that ‘Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.’ As parishes, we are working extremely hard to meet the ever-increasing needs of our congregations. We can be so busy maintaining the garden that we never quite get around to planting trees.
Modern businesses often have a ‘BHAG’—a ‘big hairy audacious goal’—a clear, compelling, ‘unifying focal point of effort’ for engaging and energising people (see Jim Collins, ‘BHAG—Big, hairy, audacious goal’). Jesus’ commission to go to the ends of the earth was perhaps the biggest BHAG in history. Maybe we can name Jesus’ BHAG (the ‘Great Commission’) ‘JHAG’: ‘Jesus’ holy audacious goal’. Since every parish is called to ‘go and make disciples’, our vision is JHAG—to reach every man, woman and child with the saving life and love of Jesus. Each parish will articulate this vision in its own way, but our end point, the thing we are planning towards, is JHAG.
The big, red London bus is a useful analogy for our parishes. The bus is at the kerb and is full of people who are sitting inside chatting, enjoying the comfortable seats and the view from the window. The bus driver entertains them by speaking about the wonderful places buses can go. The passengers appreciate the excellent service the driver provides as he listens and cares for them and distributes food and drink.
One day, the bus driver goes to the front of the bus, puts up a sign showing the destination of the bus and then gets in the driver’s seat, starts the engine and leaves the kerb! The passengers are horrified. They didn’t expect the bus to actually move anywhere; they are not sure they want to go to the signed destination, and besides, they were perfectly happy sitting at the kerb. Why should things change?
The passengers loudly protest the driver’s actions. There are demands that he stop the bus so that people can get off, and also that he take the bus back to the kerb so things can go back to ‘normal’.
The thing is, buses are designed to go places, and so are our parishes. We have a great vision—JHAG is the greatest vision on earth. So what stops our parishes from having a concerted tilt at JHAG? Why don’t we get out Google Maps, choose a route and get the bus moving? Dale Sellers, in ‘5 reasons churches avoid developing a strategy’, looks at the reasons why parishes view planning and strategy with suspicion:
Getting going towards JHAG means getting the bus moving. Here are a few first steps:
On that mountain over two thousand years ago, Jesus gave us a holy and audacious destination—the whole world—and he sent us, insignificant and unprepared though we might be. At Pentecost, we received the Holy Spirit, the fuel we need for the journey. The Holy Spirit sent the apostles—and us—outwards. Let’s go, therefore, and make disciples. May we be, in this place and in this time, Jesus’ holy and audacious people.
Millennials, in particular, are attracted to communities with an engaging vision and a strong plan for realising it.
The Archdiocesan Animation Team is available to discuss strategies with you and/or your team and to facilitate sessions (remotely) on many topics and issues. Just ask! Contact Lorraine on 0402 217 123 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fiona Basile30 November 2022
Fiona Basile30 November 2022