In the weekly e-mail from the Alban Institute, Peter Steinke has this to say:
Limping along without a focus is called mission drift. It is what happens when people come together to support an objective but forget what the objective is. People lose their reason for being, even though they go through the motions. Many things contribute to the sidetracking, such as compromising ideals in succumbing to a pressure group, searching for instant viability or solutions, grasping for saviors, fooling themselves that they are vital or viable simply because they endure, preoccupying themselves with nonessentials, exchanging their core beliefs for more marketable ideas, or failing to attend to what God is calling them to do in their little corner of the world.
If mission is so essential to the congregation’s life and well-being, what exactly does mission mean? There is a movement called “the missional church.” People assign marks or attribute certain actions to a missional church, but I find the term confusing. It is similar to saying “the ruling government” or the “athleticism of the athlete.” Either a church is missional or it is not the church. Mission is the nature and purpose of the church, not some list of qualifiers.
Steinke’s point is well taken, and it jibes with some of Diana Butler Bass’s findings about church growth. That said, I have a question about mission, and one I hope our conversation won’t reduce to semantics. When I hear the word mission, I hear the word work, or job. I work all week long. I get spiritually depleted. I go to church to be fed so I can resume that work. If instead of food, what I get is another set of assignments, I get tired. I suspect that I am not alone in this. I am all for mission. I spend a great deal of my time encouraging people to take one on. But the church’s emphasis on mission in some ways makes me feel that it is just another task master. I certainly don’t want to belong to a do nothing church, but there has to be some room in which we can own up to our own needs, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I wonder if our church’s emphasis on mission makes this difficult.