Models of the Church

The Models of the Church by Avery Cardinal Dulles was first published in 1976, revised in 1987 and again in 2002. This book is a considered a classic on ecclesiology (study of church) that describes the traditional local community Christian church mission. In his book, Cardinal Dulles puts forth six dimensions of active parish life.

  • Catholic (Institution)
  • Community (Mystical Communion)
  • Sacrament
  • Engage/Evangelize (Herald)
  • Servant
  • Disciples of Jesus (Community of Disciples)

Most parishes include the one or more of the models in their mission statement in one form or another. The Mission Statement at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio includes all six models. The statement follows and it is parsed below to indicate how the models are included. The Mission Statement is then expanded into a Value Statement that delineates the models as values. A ten-week course known as Foundations was developed by ParishVision to catechize parishioners into the full meaning of the parish mission.

IHM Mission Statement

We are a welcoming Catholic community centered in the Eucharist striving to live and share the Good News and grow in discipleship with the Lord.

Mission Statement Value / Model
We are a Catholic Catholic
community, Community
centered in the Eucharist, Sacrament
striving to live the Good News Servant / Disciples of Jesus
and grow in the Lord. Engage / Evangelize

IHM Value Statement

  • Catholic – We find our identity in rich tradition of the sacraments and in full communion with the universal Roman Catholic Church and its timeless tradition.
  • Community – We are part of the Body of Christ and help each other to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a parish community to become God’s presence in this world.
  • Sacraments – We celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments initiated by Jesus Christ and receive God’s grace to live in God’s love.
  • Engage/Evangelize – We proclaim God’s love by actively inviting and welcoming everyone to grow spiritually by living a life grounded in God’s sacred Word.
  • Servant – We share Jesus’ love with those who suffer and are in need expecting nothing in return but to become one with them.
  • Disciples of Jesus – We seek to live as Jesus’ disciples in a contrast society by not accepting the false claims of the media consumer culture.

A fuller explanation of each of the Dulles Models and IHM Values follows:

Catholic – The tradition and truths of the Catholic faith are carried forth by the hierarchy of the institutional church. The church hierarchy defines how we worship in Catholic liturgies and what we believe in the catechism. By being a truly international body and perhaps the very first “global” organization, the Catholic institution model defines the doctrines of faith that make the universal Catholic Church possible.

Community – Dulles named this model/value as “Mystical Communion.” The parish community brings the individual “in-union” with others and with God. Communion is the same Greek root word as community. Being “mystical” describes the local church in union with God, the parishioners in union with each other and all Christians present, past and future. The local parish has the intimacy of a community as opposed to the written rules and authority of a society. The parish mediates a horizontal union with fellow humans and at the same time a vertical union with God. It bridges the internal individual spirituality with the external sacramental and community spirituality. The Catholic institutional model includes some measurability that is expressed in the beliefs of the catechism and canon law. The spiritual based community model is in many ways not measurable. It is the linkage of the eternal God into historic time, the immaterial Word incarnated into the material world, our spiritual with our physical presence. This is “the Body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:12) since Christ formed this mystical communion to be His Risen Body. The community value also includes the Communion of Saints. The local parish community becomes the Body of Christ acting in unison with the Communion of Saints.

Sacrament - The sacraments are the source of the grace that flows from God through the church to the faithful. The sacraments are outward signs of the grace bestowed by God but all sacraments come to us through a community and six of the seven sacraments are through the local parish. The only one that is not administered at the parish level is Holy Orders. Sacraments are administered to the physical body although their impact is on the soul. The most frequently received sacrament is the Eucharist. The Mass that includes the Eucharist is probably the biggest difference between Catholic and most other Christian communities. The Eucharist is not an isolated part of being Catholic community; it is an essential part of the community. Just as God’s love for us sends Christ into the world, sacraments are a sign of our becoming Christ to the world and loving our neighbors in all the ways that we are able. Eucharist and sacraments without the action of actively being God’s love to the world is hollow of the full meaning of sacrament.

Engage/Evangelize – Community and sacrament are models for those who already believe in Christ but without evangelization how does the church grow? For Evangelical and many other Christian denominations “The mission of the church is the proclamation of the Word of God to the whole world. … All else is secondary.” (Models of the Church/Dulles) Evangelical Christians describe evangelizing as the “Great Commission” based on the last words of Jesus to His disciples, “Go and make disciples…”(Matthew 28:14) Fr. Robert Baron from the Chicago Archdiocese evangelization office asks, “Does the Church have a mission or does the mission have Church?” and answers, “The mission has a Church.” Catholic parishes may not rely on transfers and births for growth but actively evangelize the unchurched and underchurched. This occurs not only through the RCIA program and but also by encouraging parishioners to live their faith and inviting their neighbors to parish activities. There is a Theology of Evangelization, a Process for Evangelization, and Three Goals of Evangelization that are described by following the links.

Servant – In the first four values the church acts on the world by delivering tradition, communion, grace and a message to follow Jesus. In the fourth value, the church serves the world and asks for nothing in return. The church foregoes claims to power to take up the towel and basin of Jesus the foot-washer (John 13:15). Its scriptural basis is in Christ who came into the world to serve and not to be served. Without the servant model the vital energy of the world is dissipated. While the rich waste their energy pursuing the power and pleasure of the world that will continue to deny them, the poor’s energy is dissipated into suffering void of redemption (Teilhard de Chardin). The servant value describes how God’s love is channeled through the parish community to redeem all humans whether rich or poor.

Disciples of Jesus – While on Earth, Jesus set in place a plan to be carried out after His death. He gathered a small band, a community of disciples and trained them through His teachings and sending them out on training missions. He did not write anything down (the Gospels were not written until 50-100 years later) and He did not form a church in His lifetime. He lived a lifestyle and instructed his disciples to live a life that was contrary to societal norms. The Christian lifestyle was first persecuted by the Roman society in the age of martyrs until Christianity became the religion of the realm under Emperor Constantine in the in the fourth century. In some ways living as a contrast society become even harder after the church was recognized and accepted by government authority. To be a disciple of Christ calls for:

  • Self abnegation of desires, possessions, worldliness
  • Humble service
  • Identification with the needy, the most vulnerable
  • Patience in adversity

Faithful adherence to these norms runs counter to the media saturated, consumer culture now prevalent in the world.

All the Values/Models are Complementary

There is not one model of church nor is there one dimension to the church. The multiple models of church function to make the spiritual life of humans complete in varied and complementary ways. No value is superior to another although all the individual values may in some ways incorporate the other values. A summary of the Models shows that all Models build on each other:

  • Institution – conveys the tradition that interprets God’s message to the world
  • Community - unites one person with many and the eternal God through the Body of Christ
  • Sacrament – brings God’s grace into the world through the church
  • Engage/Evangelize – conveys the Word to the world of unbelievers and converts the world
  • Servant – serves the poor and marginalized of the world asking nothing in return
  • Disciples of Jesus – rejects the false promise of the world through a contrast society

Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Cincinnati, Ohio has 98 ministries at last count and each ministry exists to fulfill the parish mission. Some ministries deliver only one value and others more than one value. Probably no ministry fulfills all models. All parish ministries should consider how the mission of the church is fulfilled through each ministry? The parish mission is only complete through parishioners living out their faith through being active in some aspect of ministry.