There is, as we have noted earlier, a hot conversation taking place in various gatherings within our church about “mission” and whether we are doing enough of it. Like all right thinking people, I am in favor of mission. But I have three concerns about the way the topic is currently being discussed in our church, other than the ones I mentioned in previous posts. They are:
1. People don’t typically come to church looking for a mission. They come because they feel a hunger, or because something large has shifted in their lives (a birth, a marriage, the loss of a job, a death), or because they are looking for an answer they are guessing they might find in a church. At this moment of vulnerability, they probably aren’t looking for something else to do. So talk of mission, no matter how broadly the word is defined, may well put them off. Do you want to move them toward mission? Sure. But do you want to start them there? I don’t think so.
2. Mission is being defined (unwittingly perhaps) as “good work done under the direction of clergy.” The work you do all day long—holding down a job, raising your children, etc.—that isn’t mission. The stuff your parish or diocese does: that’s mission. So congregations full of teachers and librarians and social workers and community organizers show up on Sunday morning to hear that because their church doesn’t have a soup kitchen or a shoe drive or something, that they aren’t involved in mission. Lay people should respectfully request that this definition be broadened.
3. Mission can be done at any level in the church. Maintaining a national office is, by definition, best done at the national level. Using the budget that General Convention passes to fund the administrative, financial, governmental and organizational work of the church as a barometer of the church’s commitment to mission is not sensible. Further, it suggests that all of the mission work that is actually being done in the church doesn’t count for very much.