Catholics might not know the expression “Church Growth”, but the phenomenon of what I call “professionalisation” in the the paradigms of the Church are not unknown. A good example is the rush for “mission statements”. Fr Richard John Neuhaus reports on a Latino archbishop addressing a conference in the USA called “Paradigmatic Changes in Hispanic Ministry” who offers a good antidote:
The archbishop of that fair city, Jose Gomez, said in his address to the council, “The Scriptures don’t talk much about paradigm change. Instead, the Bible talks about kairos—the time of decision. . . . . The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real paradigm that matters.
The bishop goes on to describe a Bible study for Latinos that the archdiocese is developing. The introduction asks, “Who is Jesus in my life?” and “Who is Jesus for us as a community of disciples?” Apparently the text is accompanied by pictures of Jesus as Anglo, black, Chinese, and a Native American medicine man. The bishop goes on to say:
I came to the conclusion that it’s hard to picture Jesus. Nobody knows what he looked like. Then I thought: Not one of these pictures even attempted to portray the Jesus we find described in the Gospels. The real Jesus. The Jesus who was a Jew….
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples: ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mt 16:15). Notice. That’s a very different question than, ‘Who is Jesus in my life and for my community?’ To ask who Jesus is in my life has the danger of turning the question inside out. Suddenly we’re not talking about Jesus anymore. We’re talking about ourselves. About our expectations, our grievances, our needs. When you ask the question that way, you end up with a Jesus who looks a lot like you. Or like the people in your community…
Our people are hungry for the word of God. La palabra de Dios. . . . Our people do not want or need a Jesus who looks like them. We need the true Jesus who calls each one of us to become like him. . . . The fashions of pastoral ministry come and go. But Jesus Christ remains the same—yesterday and today and forever. Let us make the Gospel our only paradigm. Let us make ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’ our only mission statement and our daily task.
Fr Neuhaus adds a reference:
I am reminded of James Burtchaell’s wry observation in The Dying of the Light, an invaluable study of how Christian colleges and universities abandon their religious identity. When Christian institutions start writing mission statements, said Burtchaell, it is almost always a sign that they’ve already lost their mission.
That’s a good point.