A few years ago our seminary adopted the following mission statement: “To develop Christ-minded leaders who make a difference in the world.”
What is the function of a statement like that?
One possibility is that it is there to remind the employees of the institution — the faculty, staff and administration — of their purpose in working at the institution.
But seriously, are the employees going to forget that? Do they need to be reminded? I’m quite aware that I teach at a Christian seminary. I don’t need to be reminded of the fact through a mission statement.
Another possibility is that the mission statement is for the constituency: supporters, students and others sympathetic to the institution. But here again I am puzzled. Surely these people also know what the school is here for. They don’t need to be reminded. Indeed, it is that awareness which led them to support the school (through donations, tuition dollars or whatever) in the first place.
Perhaps it is for the wider Christian public who does not yet support the school but may do so some day. But alas, here too there is a problem. To begin with, it is a problem because the statement describes pretty much every Christian seminary in history. After all, which Christian seminary would deny that it is aiming to develop Christ-minded leaders who make a difference in the world? Most Christians know enough about what a seminary is to know that they aim to fulfill this minimal function.
Finally, it could be for the general population, people who are generally unchurched and know nothing of seminaries.
“We are a seminary, and as such we aim to develop Christ-minded leaders who make a difference in the world.”
“That’s what seminaries do? Interesting. I didn’t know that.”
Perhaps that is possible, but somehow I doubt that the mission statement was formulated to provide a succinct definition of what the institution does for people completely unfamiliar with the institution.
This conundrum led me to ask what other forms of advertising might provide some informative insight into the nature of the Christian seminary today. And that in turn drove me into my food pantry and refrigerator which are well stocked with promising phrases. Could I draw further inspiration from that food for my own institution? That was my thought anyway.
I started with high hopes. But the results were mixed at best.
The box of Premium Crackers that I found promised “Unsalted tops”. Unfortunately that wasn’t of much use since Christians are supposed to be salt in the world. And in processed food salt is the kind of commodity that everybody loves but nobody needs, a mixed message at best.
Next, I turned to products that labelled themselves as “fire-roasted” or “oven-baked” but set against the doctrine of perdition that probably was not the best way to market a seminary.
Terms like “Real!” and “Blended” were intriguing, but alas, they seemed to lack substantial content.
“Italian dark roast” was promising except that there are no Italians on faculty.
“100 Percent Natural” and “No additives!” both had potential to communicate to an evangelical audience concerned over the accretions of tradition. But the former sounded too much like a granola cruncher (not your typical evangelical) and the latter begged questions: “no added what?”
“Artisan” was contentful even as it lacked any objective standard. (In virtue of what is an individual considered an “artisan”? Is a PhD required? Or just fire-roasted Italian ancestry?)
And then there was the promise of “Smoked applewood”. Definitely tempting when applied to cheese. Rather less so when applied to a seminary education.
My fridge and pantry exhausted, I had at last run out of ideas.
And with that failure came a new humility. It was still true that “Developing Christ-minded leaders who make a difference in the world” may be nothing more than a trivial restatement of what a seminary does. But it was certainly better than any of the alternatives provided by my fridge and pantry.