Evangelization: Bold Vision, Embodied Faith – Leisa Anslinger

Libby MahowaldBlog, Catechetical Leader, Featured

A year ago, I was invited to join a vision team for my parish. The team is one of three that will develop goals, objectives, and processes toward a deeper life of faith among parishioners in the next five years. The team includes our pastor, two staff members, and five parishioners who represent the parish pastoral council and already-existing ministry groups within the parish. Our conversations have been robust. We have at times grappled with the need to articulate what we hope to accomplish, and we have sometimes struggled to envision something that is different from our current reality. 

The experience of our vision team has been enriching for me and evidently for the other members of the group as well. Recently, the group decided that if we are going to model what living and growing discipleship “looks like” and mentor others to embrace a deeper relationship with the Lord, we will need to meet regularly, share faith, and come together as a small faith community. No one sitting at the table bailed out. In that moment, it became clear that the group had grown to trust each another and that we were committed to missionary discipleship together.

Why you need to define your vision for ministry

Here is what strikes me as I reflect on the experience of the vision team, and what I believe you might ponder as you strive to lead your community to deeper faith. 

First, having a clearly defined vision is essential if we hope to move from where we are to a different way of living in the future. If we do not know where we are going, we will not be able to get there! In the first few conversations among our team, it became apparent that we were not clear about our vision. We had to step back and ask ourselves why it was necessary to do things differently and what our intended outcomes were. With this clarity, we were able to articulate the vision and keep it front and center as we continued our discussions.

Second, we must be willing to think boldly and take risks. Developing programs and processes that look and feel familiar may initially seem preferable, as we know the likely response from our people. Yet in our hearts we know that doing things that are familiar will lead to familiar results. If we truly desire to lead more people to Christ or meet the needs of our people today and for tomorrow, we must be ready to risk trying something different, new, or deeper than our current practice.

Third, learning from the experience of others is helpful only to the extent that we remember that their experience is not ours, nor ours theirs. It is easy to read a book, take in a conference workshop, or speak with leaders in a different parish or diocese and think that if only we do what they did, all will be wonderfully well. This simply is not so, nor can it be. Every parish, every diocese, has its culture, history, and people. We hear and respond to the call of Christ differently as a result, and this is a good thing. Just as each of us embodies the presence of Christ through our gifts, talents, and charisms, so do our faith communities. 

Fourth, taking gradual steps toward the larger vision ensures that we do not become paralyzed by the enormity of what we hope to accomplish. Our team has identified focus areas for the coming three years, and we have been very careful to commit only to what we believe we can accomplish. We have also promised one another that we will adjust our plans as needed, based on the experience and evaluations of our early developments. As our discussions unfolded, we were tempted to consider widening the scope of our plans and had to remind ourselves frequently that attempting more than is reasonable would water down all we were trying to accomplish and wear us out in the process.

Finally, all of this, of course, must be grounded in prayer, reflection on sacred Scripture, and prayerful reading of church documents and pastoral letters. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire, guide, and strengthen us as we commit ourselves to this sacred ministry.

After a more than a year of prayer, reading, and discussing possibilities, our team now has a succinct vision statement, goals, and reasonable strategies for the coming three years. What has been your experience in visioning and planning faith formation opportunities for your people? Let us take steps together to lead our people toward our Lord Jesus Christ through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.