I saw a billboard along the highway today - "You Must Be Born Again - Jesus Christ". My instant reaction was that the Gospel doesn't fare too well when put on billboards. I was also asked a few days ago to summarize our faith community's essence in a succinct phrase, one that would fit on a t-shirt. I was stumped. Ask me to take an hour and talk, but not 10 seconds. Do I talk about God's dramatic and gracious rescue of us as miserable sinners? Do I talk about how our day-to-day emphasis is to seek the transformation that God does in changing us into the image of Christ? Do I mention that our identity is in a communal relationship with the Triune God rather than assent to any doctrinal formulations? What do I say about what God is doing, how we seek His leading, and our emphasis on "roaming about the Kingdom"? The possibilities are many and varied.
Now I know that having a mission statement or slogan is considered essential to having an identity, but all the ones I've heard are virtually the same even though the churches that create them are radically different. It seems to me that the slogans, then, are not very representative. No church says "we are here to make you feel good" or "it's all about appearances". No, the churches for whom those statements are true are going to say something like everyone else - "where we love God and people so they grow to love Jesus and their neighbors in doing good." Or maybe it's "We Worship a Worthy God who Works by His Spirit to Win the World." That is a church that likes w's.
I think the problem is reductionism - both with the billboards and the mission statements. If you want to know what the community is about, live with us for a while. Let me talk to you. But I can't give you that picture in any meaningful way in 15 words or less. My family doesn't have a mission statement, and don't ask me to summarize my relationship with my wife and children on a t-shirt. My relationship with God and my spiritual brothers and sisters doesn't fit on one either.
I do believe that despite what any mission statement says, if you live with a group for even a short time, you will discover what they are about.
And the Gospel . . . it's much more than "you must be born again."