A Missional Church
Words have associations. When I hear the word mission, I think, in no particular order, of the following possible meanings: mission can suggest Christian workers going overseas, a soup kitchen, a military endeavor, an institutional statement of purpose. The word mission connotes many different things to each of us. At its heart, though, mission is a theological word, and it primarily refers to the work and ministry of the church as an instrument of God’s work.
The word mission came into English from the Latin word missus which denotes an act of sending. In a sense, God is the primary missionary, having both created the world and sent Jesus into it with the task of reconciling the world and God. In his life and work, Jesus sent his companions and followers out empowered to teach, heal, and bless on his behalf. After the resurrection and Pentecost, the church understood itself as a missional body, gathered by God and sent into the world as a sign of God’s love and as a community called to embody Jesus’s mission of reconciliation in its ongoing life.
So the church is a missional community. Our Prayer Book’s Catechism [p. 855] declares that the mission of the church “is to restore all people unity with God and each other in Christ.” The church pursues its mission “as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.” Most importantly, the church “carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.” The church is not a building or a nonprofit organization. The church is a living community, sent by God into the world to help the world resemble God’s hopes for it.
A priest I know says that the “big story” of the Bible can be summarized this way: God made us, we got lost, God came to find us. That précis can be expanded to suggest God’s overarching purpose. God created the world and human beings in love; because of human sin and aggression we became separated from God; in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, God has re-established the connection. The church exists not as a museum of the experience but as a living instrument of moving God’s reconciling purpose forward.
The important thing we need to get when we think about mission is that it is the defining principle of the church. Culturally, we tend to think of churches as institutions, as ends in themselves. Theologically, however, the church exists only so far as it serves to forward God’s work. The task of the church is to worship, to proclaim, and to act. We care for the sick, the poor, the dying, and the outcast because our primary call is to help draw all people toward God.
As 2011-2012 progresses, the clergy staff and I will be drawing our attention more and more back to this fundamental premise, the missional understanding of the church as an instrument of God’s reconciling, redeeming work in the world. What should Christ Church Cranbrook be doing for its adult members, its children, its community, the metropolitan area, the world? Many people have many opinions on these matters, but the closer we stay to missional imperatives the more faithful we will be. The more clear we are together about how we understand God’s mission and what it asks of us, the more specific we can be, together, about the priorities that claim our time, resources, and attention. That’s true for us as individuals, and it’s true for us as a church community.