Good and loving God, you have called us all to your purpose; to live as your disciples. Help us to see that church is not ‘our’ church, but is YOUR church. That church is not about what we want to see happen, but about what you are doing in our lives and in the lives of others. Teach us to be servants rather than people being served. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What is “mission”?
You’ve probably heard of the word in all sorts of different ways. The military talks about “Going on a mission” which is perhaps going into battle, perhaps rescuing someone, perhaps taking food and relief supplies into an area. But it was originally a word that belonged to the church.
Near where I live, there are several “Missions.” To get started understanding the history of “mission” in the church, read about the history of these places.
http://www.nps.gov/saan/historyculture/history3.htm (read “The Church”, “The Native People”, and “The Franciscans” especially.)
Notice how the purpose of the missions was really more about changing the people than it was teaching them about God. The purpose of teaching them about Christianity was so they could be colonized and be part of the Spanish empire, and the spanish could take over the lands.
Now watch this video:
While the Spanish way of doing mission, where the purpose is to change people and make them “civilized” may seem strange to us, a lot of the time the way the church talks to and brings in new people is not a whole lot different (even though we don’t try to mak them move into compounds or anything that extreme). We want them to be like us. And so the only ones who stick around are people who are like us.
That is changing.
One of the ways we talk about that older model of church is “consumer church”. It is the church the video described that is one that puts on programs, good teachers, exciting things, big facilities with all sorts of activities, all hoping to get new people to come. One of the reasons I got frustrated with that sort of church was because when people talked about “getting new people to come” it really was in the end about getting them to come do the work of church: teaching Sunday School, mowing the lawn, running the youth programs, and in the end giving money so we could pay the bills (churches cost a lot to keep going). We weren’t changing lives; we were trying to get new customers the way a store gets new customers to keep in business. I finally started saying “Why? Why get them to come? What would they want to come for?”
People today don’t want to join things. There used to be a lot of clubs; the Elks, the Lions, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, different men’s groups like Masons and such, that all existed mostly to be community groups where people had a good time. There were elements of service but most of all they were a place to belong. Most of them are, like a lot of churches, full of older people. Not many young people are joining them. The exceptions are the ones that REALLY make a difference in the world. People today want to be part of something where they are SERVING others, not just going to feel good. Churches have to make this shift.
Every church has, or should have, a “Mission statement”. It is a way of telling its purpose; what it is about. Every church is mostly the same, (worship, teaching, caring for others) but how that is done is different everywhere. Lets look at some mission statements:
A church I grew up going to when we visited my “grandfather” (who was really my great uncle but was like that to us) who was a pastor, was a great place. Full of people, nice people. Lots happening. It was started years before in an area of Dallas that was growing fast with people who were just starting families. But the neighborhood changed. Most people either moved, or their kids certainly didn’t live there. And the church; it stayed the same. And it should have. After all, they had a mission statement. It is:
The Mission of Our Savior Lutheran Church is to serve everyone in our Congregation, (young and old),
in our community and the world, spreading the Gospel of Christ by reaching, teaching, and preaching.
This mission statement is very much a consumer church statement. It is the statement of a church that is first and mostly about insiders. And it is a church that is dying. While we were there one day a lady said to me “Your uncle Elton is the best. He takes such good care of us. I love it here, and as long as he is here I will be too.”
My great uncle died a little more than 20 years ago and since then the church has shrunk. I think there are about 12 people there each week. They still do everything the same; sing old German hymns to a pipe organ, have bible study and such. But it is a neighborhood that is very different. When it used to be fairly wealthy, it is now mostly poorer people. When it used to be mostly anglo english speakers, now it is mostly hispanic and lots of people speak spanish. There were a whole lot of big churches around, all started at the same time. I drove through the area a while ago and all of them had spanish names either entirely spanish or the signs were in both spanish and english. Those churches had shifted to be more like the people around them. But Our Saviors still had the same things; I met a man there cleaning up the grounds and he showed me around. It was exactly like it had been when Uncle Elton died. Only fewer people. I think it was because the church was so busy caring about itself and its own people that it never noticed the people around.
The missional church is about noticing the neighbor; it is about seeing what God is doing in the world outside and finding out how we (God’s people) are called to be a part of it.
Here is a mission statement from a church that is trying to make this shift: First we have a motto that we use to make a memorable reminder of who we are:
We Welcome; We Worship;
We Love; We Serve:
Go therefore and make disciples… (Matthew 28:19-20)
Our mission statement says:
God works through us to welcome all into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ
through Spirit-led worship, through loving our neighbors,
and through serving our community with a Spirit of Joy.
The first thing to notice is that it isn’t about us… it isn’t even about Spirit of Joy. It is about what GOD does. Sure, we are part of that and we are the hands that God uses; but most of all, being a new kind of church is, for us anyway, about being part of what GOD is doing.
Down below, put the mission statement of your church and then write about what it means to you.
Watch this video of a pastor explaining “Missional Church”
And finally, this one that is a lighthearted look at how the church can expect people to be ‘like us’ and know so much church language just to be part of us.
Dear God, help us to understand that when we are part of the church, it is about more than what we want, it is about what you need to have happen in the world around us; that it is about the people who do not know you yet and the ones that you care about and want to have know you better. Amen.