Support the Café

Search our Site

What we talk about when we talk about mission

What we talk about when we talk about mission

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.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

the five Marks of Mission … To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers, To respond to human need by loving service, To seek to transform unjust structures of society, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

A helpful reminder/summation, Ben.

Personally, I would ONLY do the first in the context of the last three (and then, ala St Francis, “Using words only when necessary”). I suspect that’s the predominant Episcopal way of evangelism. OCICBW.

JC Fisher

Ben Shambaugh

We need to remember that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention (as well as the Anglican Communion) has defined the five Marks of Mission as our strategic and budgetary goals. These are To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, To teach, baptise and nurture new believers, To respond to human need by loving service, To seek to transform unjust structures of society, To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Note that the first two have to do with sharing good news and nurturing members. This is mission (and ties in with the Episcopal Church’s mission to restore all people to relationship with God and one another in Jesus Christ). The last one has to do with the environment and the second to last one has to do with justice. Only on of the five marks is that soup kitchen or pantry (things I honor and have worked hard to create and sustain for my whole ministry). These, however, are not all that “mission” is. They, like the MDGs are a result of us following our mission, not our mission itself, which has to do with Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.

John Bassett

“But do you want to start them there? I don’t think so.”

Actually, I think mission can be a great point of entry to the church, especially for younger people.

Many people are turned off by formal worship and by creeds and confessions. So we can say to them, “OK, you don’t believe in the Nicene Creed. We understand that. But do you believe in feeding the poor? Yes? Well, come join our soup kitchen.”

Jesus set out teaching and healing and he called disciples to “Follow me.” There was no confession of faith required. That came later for Peter, much later for the others.

Our willingness to serve the world can be a powerful form of evangelism. Incorporating people who otherwise feel alienated from the church into these ministries can be a powerful form of discipleship training.


Just thinking out loud here—

When I think about mission, I think about “taking action.”

And when I think about taking action, I think about something in the news (or possibly first-person) which has prompted me to (usually) outrage.

In 2011, this usually means organizing via the internet (I’m on several large action-network lists which contact me about this and that actions: from signing a petition, to contacting a politician, to meeting for a demonstration, to a service project of some sort).

I’m very much in control of my activism, however. I decide which issue to act on, and how.

Contrast this w/ the church. While I expect to be challenged re my overall worldview and priorities, I do not expect to have my activism directed (and I’m usually not, thankfully).

These are two very different worlds for me. The first, outward (and generally secular). The other inwards, and spiritual.

Should these two worlds come closer together? For me?

They probably should. That said, I don’t want my inward, spiritual worship time drained, back into that outer activist world.

Neither would I expect my activist lists to tell me “the Meaning of It All” (what faith-community to join, if ANY).

It’s a disconnect (and conundrum).

I look forward to reading others ideas on this subject.

JC Fisher

Ann Fontaine

I define it as being a point of God’s presence in your daily life – EfM says your ministry/mission is where God has placed you.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café