One key distinction sits at the heart of turning a parish into a culture of missionary discipleship, that between vision and strategy. Most parish leaders that I talk to neither properly articulate nor delineate these two concepts. When trying to change a parish culture though, it is crucial that the leaders have a clear sense of the vision that they want and a trustworthy strategy for getting there.
Vision is what you want your parish to look like. Whether we think we do or not, each leader has a vision for their parish. At some level, there is some ideal parish culture that we are trying to move our parish toward, the reaching of which being the desired fruitfulness of our ministry. Note: if we really do not have a vision, then we may have fallen into the trap of mediocrity and should pray for greater magnanimity in our role as leaders. Articulating and understanding what that vision is, and then holding that vision up against the perennial mission of the Church to form disciples, is a crucial and irreplaceable first step in building a culture of disciples at your parish.
For me, the early Church community in Acts of the Apostles is my vision for what a parish community should look like. Sure, they have their squabbles, and everyone is clearly still on a journey of uncovering what "Church" should actually look like, but there is an urgency and a dynamism behind the way they live the Christian life. There is an ardent desire for holiness and a compulsion to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ that they had encountered.
Strategy, on the other hand, is how you are going to actually achieve that vision. If a leader is all vision, and no strategy, they will be perpetually frustrated. The first in intention is the last in execution, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us. The last thing that will result in a causal chain of events is the desired end: the vision of a culture of missionary discipleship. From that vision, a leader has to work backwards to plot out, step-by-step, how that vision is actually going to be achieved. That is strategy, the steps needed to impact a parish culture for good.
If we start with strategy without first articulating a vision, we run the risk of becoming about activism because there is n If we develop a vision, but don't get serious about developing a strategy, we run the risk of burnout and frustration when it seems like our myriad efforts have been fruitless and aren't leading to real and lasting change.
For more information on how L'Alto Catholic Institute can help your parish or diocese articulate a vision and develop a Spirit-led strategy for achieving that vision, contact us HERE.