Christ for the World Today


Gospel of John 1:1-12; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 12-18, 27 …. Annual Meeting of the Congregation …. I’ve always admired the mission statement of this congregation. I’m able to say that without pride because I had nothing to do with writing it. It’s a product of the session’s planning efforts several years before I arrived.

This year, the mission statement will be twenty years old. We use it as an affirmation of faith, like we do today, and most of us see it and recite it in this context. The mission statement guided the formation of our ministry plan in 2005, which resulted in several new emphases in our programming, and a new staff design to facilitate that programming.

Earlier this month, I completed a graduate course in strategic planning at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, during which I realized just how favorably our mission statement compares to ones used by other organizations.  It has all the essential elements that experts say should be in the mission statement of a nonprofit organization. Even better, it’s a mission statement grounded in an elegant and simple Christian theology.

Our mission statement begins, “First Presbyterian Church believes that it is to be Christ for the world today.”  There’s much more that could be said about First Presbyterian Church. It’s composed of many different people. It has a building at a certain address. A lot of activity goes on in its name. But in this opening clause, our church makes clear that its primary purpose for existence is to embody Jesus Christ.

If you hear echoes of today’s scripture readings in this passage, then you are making the same sort of biblical and theological connections that the pastor and elders did twenty years ago. Most Christians grow up with Jesus and the Bible somewhere near the center of their consciousness. But when you’re faced with life’s difficult challenges, when you’re charged with responsibility of leading God’s people, sometimes you wonder “Where is God?” “How do we know God’s character and purpose?”

In the early years of the Church, John expressed his answer to such questions in a magnificent synthesis of Hebrew and Greco-Roman thought. John said that the abstract reason woven into the fabric of the universe, the “logos” or “Word,” was made intelligible to humans in a tangible person who could be observed and touched. Jesus was the “incarnation” of the divine in a human body, the best expression of God from which we can derive God’s intentions for our own character and purpose in life.

The Apostle Paul answered such questions based upon his perspective as the founding apostle of many congregations.  Jesus Christ had transformed the world, but, of course, the tangible expression of the divine in human form had been relatively brief. In texts like our second reading from the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul made clear his belief that the continuing presence of Christ in the world was accomplished through his spirit-inspired followers. As they trusted God, and worked together to express his character and fulfill his purposes, they were “the body of Christ.” In the opening clause of our mission statement, Edwardsville Presbyterians express their solidarity of purpose with God in Jesus Christ, recommitting ourselves to be the voice, hands, and feet of Christ for the world today.

Many good mission statements contain not only a memorable opening clause like ours, but also a bit more. If “to be Christ for the world today” is a statement of ends, then what follows is statement of means.  I wonder whether you’ve ever noticed the four-part structure of the means in our mission statement, the four ways in which we say we will accomplish our purpose.  Each part describes a continuing commitment.

  • “Praising God and proclaiming God’s amazing grace” correlates to what the ancient Church described as leitourgia, ministries of worship, music, preaching, and the sacraments.
  • “Growing in the knowledge of God and God’s ways” correlates to what the ancient Church called catechesis, transmitting ways to believe and behave, originally in an oral tradition, later a written tradition, and now a visual, even digital, tradition.
  • “Demonstrating love for God and one another” correlates to what the ancient Church called koinonia, a fellowship of people in which love is actualized and made tangible in concrete expressions of caring.
  • “Reaching out to others with healing and service” correlates to a couple ancient words that often compete for priority in a church like ours. On the one hand, reaching out to others correlates with the ancient concept of euangelion, sharing the good news of Christ in words evangelism. On the other hand, reaching out to others also correlates with diakonia, sharing the good news of Christ in deeds of service. In the very name of our presbytery, you can associate euangelion with the evangelistic ministry of Salmon Giddings, co-founder of this congregation, and diakonia with Elijah Parish Lovejoy, abolitionist and first martyr for freedom of the press.

Our mission statement has one more important element.  After the statement of ends or purpose, after the statement of means or program, there is the statement of vision.  Whereas the early parts describe what we are doing, this latter part describes what the world will look like when our mission is fulfilled.  We say it this way: “…so that our community and the whole world may be drawn to Christ and increase in peace and justice through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.” It’s the vision that that the mission is drawn toward, that inspires the mission, gives it its power. It’s the dream of a community and world in which people are drawn more to Christ, are more healthy and whole, in which a sense of greater peace takes hold and greater justice prevails.  Particular programs may rise and fall, pastors may come and go.  But the vision of a community characterized by peace and justice continues to inspire.

The power of our mission statement is something I appreciate more after listening to Simon Sinek, who is a professor at Columbia University.[1] “People don’t buy what you do,” he says. “They buy why you do it.” Sinek says there’s a pattern that can be observed in organizations that distinguish themselves from their competition, even when the competition has access to superior resources. Most organizations, he says, know WHAT they do. Some can describe well HOW they do it.  But only a few can tell you WHY they do it.  For example, many computer companies create a marketing strategy starting with what they do.  “We make great computers (that’s the WHAT). They’re beautifully designed and user friendly (that’s the HOW they’re different). Want to buy one?” But here’s how Apple communicates: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently (that’s the WHY). The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed and user friendly (that’s the HOW). We just happen to make great computers (that’s the WHAT). Want to buy one?”  In starting with mission, in articulating the answer to “WHY?”, there is power.

Just one more example, this one directly related to the work of the Church, and the life of one of our great religious leaders.  On August 28,1963, 250,000 people showed up on the mall in Washington D.C. Simon Sinek notes some of the disadvantages with which they worked: no invitations, no website, no social media, relatively warm weather, and buses traveling long routes without air-conditioning. Dr. King wasn’t the only intelligent, well-educated, African-American minister to suffer from racial discrimination. But he had a gift that rose directly from the prophetic tradition of the Bible. He didn’t spend a lot of time publicly telling people what to do, but rather talked to them about what he believed.  People took that cause, and made it their own. They created structures to involve others in the vast project of social change. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pretty good at planning. But at the heart of his ministry wasn’t just a program, or a piece of legislation. He didn’t say, “I have a great plan.” Rather, he said, “I have a dream.”[2]

Well, I have a dream, too. Because of the faithful work of Presbyterians before us, we all can articulate the dream at the heart of our mission. In embracing mission, in articulating the answer to “WHY?” there is power. Christ is our power, the Word made flesh. And we believe that our mission is to be Christ for the world today.

[1] My summary of Sinek’s work in the following two paragraphs is based upon viewing his TED Talk “How great leaders inspire action,” filmed September 2009,, accessed January 25, 2017.

[2] Michael Allison & Jude Kaye, “Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations.” Third Edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015, p. 84.



~ by JohnH1962 on January 29, 2017.