|Lovett H. Weems, Jr.|
“Mission” has been a mainstay of church language for a very long time, and it continues to carry power today. For example, when we ask clergy and laity the open-ended question — “Where is God most alive and working in your congregation today?” — the most common response by far is a variation on mission engagement.
Yet the way mission is carried forward within the body of Christ is changing. For many years, mission was more likely to be talked about as “missions” and was done somewhere by others and paid for by congregations. That is not the understanding of mission people are referencing when they describe where God’s power is most present in the churches today.
What has changed and how are churches responding?
A greater emphasis on local engagement. Churches once talked of “foreign missions” and “home missions” as ways of describing international efforts and national ones. Today, churches with strong mission outreach still have a significant global and national component, but the scope of local mission engagement is far more developed and vital.
More hands-on involvement. Churches today are more likely to have a personal connection to much of their mission. Churches that once prided themselves on the long list of causes to which they contributed each year now measure much of their fruitfulness in the number of mission projects to which members give both time and money. This change is true not only for local mission, but also for national and global projects. The popularity of mission trips and other forms of volunteer mission engagement is part of this trend.
An appreciation of mission as mutual and relational. Increasingly, mission is seen not as what you do for the community but what you do with the community. There is less and less “us” and “them” as churches come to see themselves as part of the community and often a reflection of the community for good and ill. There is mutuality of giving and receiving required for community service that has integrity. The goal of mission is an enhanced community where all have the chance to experience the abundant life God desires. And this goal is achieved when missional efforts emphasize the importance of building relationships, not just performing tasks or writing checks.
The importance of partnerships and networks. Beyond denominational mission involvement, churches in the past were likely to engage in projects by themselves. Today various networks often develop around a particular issue or place about which a group of churches has a shared passion. Many churches today are partnering not only with churches of other traditions but also with other organizations within the community to serve their neighbors better. Churches sometimes want more credit and control than is possible in genuine partnerships. But we are all learning new ways to behave together. There is not much room for triumphalism in our day.
More direct mission giving beyond denominational channels. One of the major changes in the past ten years is the percentage of congregational mission giving that goes directly to the mission itself. It may be channeled through a denominational agency for accountability, but this giving is beyond what the churches pay in support of the overall denominational mission program.
A missional perspective on the stewardship of church property. Many churches have come to see their buildings as a ministry asset and seek creative ways of using their space to serve their communities. Other churches are questioning the need for additional “bricks and mortar” investments in order to devote more resources to missional priorities. This is rarely a question of “mission” or “building,” for both are important, but rather an awareness of the missional implications of decisions regarding the acquisition and use of church property.
The intergenerational appeal of mission work. While most new people come into the life of a church through the portal of worship, there is growing evidence to suggest that younger adults are often first attracted to a church’s mission activities. In this and many other ways, vitality in mission can contribute to congregational growth. Mission brings people together across generational, denominational, racial, social, and political groups.
While the language of mission may sound like that of previous generations, the way it manifests itself within the body of Christ is changing. God is indeed doing a new thing!
Courtesy of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership www.churchleadership.com. The opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Florida Conference.