In the beauty of the liturgy, there is a moment of confession:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 360)
For many, including myself, recalling the sins I have done doesn’t need much reflection. Educing “what we have left undone,” however, requires more intentional thought and often calls up anxiety. What have I not done? Who have I not forgiven? Who have I not loved? For whom did I not act when I had the power to?
This confession teaches us that sin is expressed not only in acts of commission, but in acts of omission–failing to act when possessing the ability, power, and privilege to do so is indicative of spiritual malaise.
This spiritual uneasiness is not isolated to individualistic piety. We have to admit that corporately, as a Christian institution, we are challenged not by what we have done, as much as by what we have left undone. For many parishes, attendance decline is not traced to a dysfunctional clergy person or vestry, something we might label an act of commission. Instead, more often than not, a drop off in membership stems from a lack of strategy for reaching the next generation, whether that’s evangelizing their neighborhoods or serving new digital audiences with the loving, liberating and life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. This absence of a plan for the future is an act of omission.
The beauty of strategic planning is that it offers us an opportunity to take stock, not only of what have been areas of growth and decline, but as importantly, of what terrains of the harvest we have yet to explore. Strategic planning allows us to consider the possibilities and potentialities that would inspire every person to grow deeper with Christ: Which communities need strategic investment to propel them into revitalization? Who is serving at the communion table on Sunday mornings–and what races, generations, gender expressions are missing that we need to reach? How can we engage them using digital media and inspired in-person content?*
There is a proverb of the Akan people in Ghana, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translated means: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” I pray we have the courage to go back, remember, and embrace the possibilities.
*For more reading and some answers to some of these questions that were raised, I commend The Great Opportunity Report.
Rev. Daryl Lobban
Missioner for Communications