14.2.15

Mission - Really?

Mission – Really?
I went through a phase a few years ago of finding myself humming a particular theme-tune: the one to "Mission Impossible" and I started to think about why at certain times such a tune was popping into my head. It began to become evident that it was at the times when I felt my evangelistic zeal most frustrated by the situation I found myself in.
Becoming more conscious of this tune coming into my head, it began to draw my smiles, a joke I was having with myself and I felt solace - the mission of the Church was never supposed to be easy. Graham Hunter makes some very interesting observations on his blog (republished also on Fulcrum) distinguishing between Mission and Community Ministry. He wants us to understand that, naturally, he is a supporter of Community Ministry in all its various hues but there is a difference between the church hall being used to facilitate secular outreach to a variety of people and Mission, which it would be were those who were providing that outreach baptised members of the Christian community. He says:
I’m all for community ministry - there’s all kinds of valuable projects which serve and meet the needs of various communities. If an organisation which ran, for example, art classes for adults with learning difficulties, approached me and asked if they could use space in the church for their project, I would almost certainly do whatever I could to support them. We might offer a charitable rate for the venue hire, we might clear some cupboard space for them. It would be a valuable class and a valuable service to its particular constituency. However, in my mind it would still be very much community ministry rather than mission. This is where things can become slightly contentious - for some of my Anglican colleagues would count this amongst their mission projects, and if they were counting up the number of people they encounter in mission projects every year, they might include the number of people attending the classes. But I wouldn’t count this among the church’s mission projects.
He advocates that Community Ministry becomes Missional when the volunteers are 'seeking to bear witness in their lives, their words and their actions to the hospitable love of Christ.... clear that the ultimate need of every person there is to receive the grace of Christ, to come to a knowledge of his saving love, and to appropriate this gift by themselves by repentance and faith.'
Graham Hunter goes on to describe how:
The real and tangible need being addressed in the project is not elevated above the ultimate need to bring people into contact with Christ through relationship with his body - the church.None of this motivation is necessarily present in community ministry - indeed, at worst, certain forms of community ministry are self-serving - in that they fulfil my need to be useful and valuable to others. They may contribute to the development of a sense of self-righteousness in me as I meet others’ needs. They may create a dependency culture if we subconsciously ‘need to be needed’.
In essence what Graham seems to be saying is that the church must continue to act in obedience to Christ's call in Matthew 28 to make disciples for Him. This must be our primary motivator. You could say that Community Ministry is the third of the five marks of mission and if we are only about the third, we are missing the first two:
The Five Marks of Mission
to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God
to teach, baptize and nurture new believers
to respond to human need by loving service
to seek to transform unjust structures of society, and
to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth


In William Easum's 'Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers,'(Abingdon Press, 2011) "permission-giving leadership" is thought fundamental to a congregation's missional enterprise. Tendencies to control and restrain are among the sacred cows that must be sacrificed for people to rise to the challenge that is the evangelisation of their community. Easum would corroborate a view like Graham Hunter's that ministries must be underpinned by the disciple making mandate of Matthew 28.
Graham Hunter realises, no doubt, that his blog-post will cause a lot of discussion regarding that old nutshell that continues to crunch in the nut-crunchers of the Anglican Communion: what exactly do we mean by mission? An entire Global Indaba Listening Experiment was conducted in an attempt to find an answer to that question from 2011 to 2012.
One way forward for congregations, unsure about taking their cows to the burger splicer, would be study of the Mission Matrix. This is an idea put forward by Richard Bliese (president and associate professor of missions) in 'Word & World Volume 26, Number 3, Summer 2006,' who says:
Mission … characterized … by its relationship to church (missional), confession (confessional), gospel (evangelical), and vocation (vocational), functioning together as a circular framework ... help[s] define the mission that subsequently should drive a congregation's understanding of its identity, ministry, and organizational structure.
There are four distinctives then to Mission as Bliese sees it:

Sentness
Bliese describes how 'the church's 'very posture of sentness creates a missionary dymaic in the world,' and explores this activity of the Triune God: 'God sent the Son into the world with a mission; the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son with a mission; and now the church, baptized in the name of this Triune God, is being sent on a mission in the world under the direction of the Holy Spirit.'
Confessional
Bliese encourages the church in its 'uncompromising … public witness,' to God's promissory "yes" in Jesus Christ, in the face of that 'true martyria' which can lead to 'persecution and death.rue 'True confession rests on Christ alone, faith alone, and word alone.'
Evangelical
The Good News of our confession points to the promissory character of God's presence in the world. Mission embraces all of God's activities in the world; and these activities are centred on God's promises in Christ.
Graham Hunter is pushing towards this boldness of witness which will turn Community Ministries into Missionary ventures and yet Bliese's Mission Matrix helps us to appreciate that the church's generous welcome to hall group users has a part to play too in God's unfolding plan to make disciples of himself. The reason why I think Graham's post ends with such humility, open like Philip under the fig tree to being called to 'Come and see' is because God is at work even when our proclaimed confession of the Good News is weak. This is made obvious by the distinction that Bliese explores under his designation: Vocational
Vocational
'Vocation spans every kind of worldly relationship and transforms them into missionary agencies for how God loves the world. These relationships include the civil, familial, churchly, and occupational... and includes the entire scope of God's activity in the world.'
Graham Hunter is open finally to being surprised by God's initiative through those community ministries which might not at first seem quite missional enough!
Diagramatically the Mission Matrix is centred on the context out of which any church operates. It is essential that this is analysed as a part of the unfolding journey of discovery that is a church's regarding its identity and purpose.
What is helpful about Bliese's writing is that he provides a way by which churches might centre on WHO they are in Christ in a way that is fundamental:
A church's organizational structure should be based upon its understanding of its identity. Form follows function. But function and form should both follow identity. When they work together, they thrive together. Or, as many congregations experience, when identity, performance, and architecture don't function in sync, they don't function well at all.
Bliese draws up a chart so that the sense of integration and interdependence between different aspects of church can be understood and the church's functioning can be analysed:

1st Order Analysis
2nd Order Analysis
3rd Order Analysis
Identity
Narrative/Bible
Theology/Bible
Spirituality/Bible
Performance
Context
Systems
Ministries/Vocation
Architecture
Local Wisdom and Culture
Organisational Theory
Leadership


A church's identity in mission (top line) begins with the community telling its story in narratives. These communal narratives must be informed by the biblical narrative. We are not able to construct our own story, we must look to the Scriptures and grasp what it is God is saying about who we are as a people. This is vital to understand. Theology emerges from a community's story as it journeys into its identity in Christ. Finally, a community's spirituality, or its faith life, will flow out of its theology. The way a church journeys into such an identity will look different for each congregation. Worship styles, liturgical preferences and the giftings peculiar to that community will shape a shared spirituality. There will be a sense of journey for a people who by their very biblical nature, should always be on the move (Moses through the desert, the Apostles across the globe). If identity and spirituality are becoming more secure, changes in wisdom and culture, in organisational theory and leadership will be embraced rather than rejected. Because Architecture is frequently impacted by change, we read the matrix from left to right.
This is why it is absolutely incumbent on us to pose the kinds of questions Graham Hunter is asking of our churches; to constantly ask who do you think you are (in God?). This must be the starting place. Church leaders need to help people unfold their God-given identity from the Scriptures. In this way changing the Architecture should not result in the whole enterprise tumbling down: William Easum describes how committees and governing structures in churches need to seek again our missional God:
Life in Christ comes to us on its way to someone else, congregations should focus outward instead of inward, congregations exist for those who are not part of them, life is meant to be given away not kept, God does not honour congregations that seek merely to raise money and survive. (Sacred Cows, p7, Abingdon)
A prophetic challenge is issued to churches then from explorers like Richard Bliese and Graham Hunter to step more fully into becoming the sent and therefore missional people winning disciples for God. We need to uphold all the Marks of Mission and not to rest only in Mission Mark Three when there are at least four others to which it is essential to attend if we are going to be 'CHURCH' at all.
The final helpful idea Bliese offers us to complement his Mission Matrix draws upon the image of a tree for those of us more visual and less captured by the diagramatic.
The first order roots must be healthy for the tree to thrive. Attention, energy and prayer is essential here for the trunk and leaves to receive a necessary vitality.
The trunk of the tree, in this analogy, represents the systematic elements of a congregation's life, that is, its theology, its systems, and its organizational structure. This trunk will rise secure and strong from healthy first order distinctives.
The branches are the most visible and commented upon parts of the tree, changing in different seasons. A congregation's spirituality, ministry and leadership will change and are the results of the roots and the trunk.
Graham Hunter and Richard Bliese challenge leaders everywhere to contend for healthy roots and those first order identity-suring principles so that amongst the leaves the tree bears there mighty Missional bumper crop!

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