What Mission Means
by DAVID SCHAAL
The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead. These closing words from Doctrine and Covenants 164 echo through the church, renewing our call to engage in mission. This is a call to your congregation!
But what is mission?
If we are truly to be Community of Christ, then our mission must be the mission of Christ. Jesus Christ announced his purpose in the synagogue of his hometown (Luke, chapter 4). Standing in the place where his family nurtured him in their spiritual traditions, Jesus used scripture from Isaiah to declare his own personal mission:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. —Luke 4:18–19
He began with a striking affirmation: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me… In this simple but profound statement, Jesus made clear that his ministry was not a new program that he had read about or dreamed up. Rather, his mission flowed out of a life grounded in spiritual awareness and was responsive to the stirring of God’s Spirit. Likewise, pastors and leaders must give attention to spiritual disciplines and care for their relationships with God. Missional leadership has less to do with finding and running the right programs, and more to do with discerning the way forward together in response to Christ’s call.
Jesus went on to declare the particulars of his mission, identifying three primary things.
First, Jesus said the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to bring good news to the poor… In his 2011 address to the church, President Stephen M. Veazey reminded us that to bring good news to the poor, means “evangelism in the fullest sense of the term. It means gospel proclamation in word and action, including invitation and welcoming hospitality!” We share Christ with people because we love them. Do we love them enough to also invite them into our community of mutual support and purposeful living? In Community of Christ, mission involves inviting people to Christ, including the invitation to come to church, and often to be baptized and confirmed.
Second, Jesus’ life declared that his understanding of bringing good news to the poor and recovery of sight to the blind also means caring for people who are broken, lonely, grieving, hungry, and suffering. Consequently, in Community of Christ, mission includes compassionate ministry to people who are hurting. We join with Christ in his mission to abolish poverty and end suffering.
Third, Jesus stated that he had been sent to proclaim release to the captives…to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It was stated earlier that we invite people to Christ and to be baptized and confirmed because we love them. If we do, in fact, love them, then we will be deeply concerned about the quality of life in the communities where they live. For Community of Christ, we are concerned about the cultural, economic, and political systems that perpetuate unnecessary suffering. In Community of Christ, mission includes pursuing peace on earth by being engaged in efforts to mend the systems, structures, and norms of this world that hurt people.
Fourth, the above three aspects of Jesus’ mission are central, but not complete. Jesus prepared people for mission. Effective engagement in mission includes ministries of disciple and leadership formation where people are shaped by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, mission, in Community of Christ also includes developing disciples to serve. This important aspect of mission suggests that congregational priesthood need support and opportunities to deepen their servant ministry. (See “Priesthood Ministry: Developing Mutual Expectations” in this field guide.) It means that our Christian education programs should help people receive information and help them learn how to live the life of Christian disciple. (See “Disciple Formation [Christian Education] for Mission” in this field guide.)
Fifth, discipleship in Community of Christ is a personal matter, but it is not private. While individual disciples should be engaged in mission, it is important that the congregation organizes its energy and gifts for a collective missional impact on the community. In other words, there are things that a community of disciples can accomplish that are simply not possible for individuals to achieve by themselves. This means the congregation will intentionally consider the needs of its surrounding community when it plans its ministries and budgets. It also means the congregation will give attention to its worship life so its people will continue to be inspired, challenged, and healed. (See “Worship Planning” in this field guide.) This is why, in Community of Christ, mission includes experiencing congregations in mission.
So, what is mission? In Community of Christ, mission has five components called Mission Initiatives. These initiatives were at the core of Jesus’ ministry. They were at the heart of the early church’s purpose. In April 2011, President Veazey reaffirmed these five Mission Initiatives as defining the church’s mission:
Invite People to Christ
Christ’s mission of evangelism
Abolish Poverty, End Suffering
Christ’s mission of compassion
Pursue Peace on Earth
Christ’s mission of justice and peace
Develop Disciples to Serve
Equip individuals for Christ’s mission
Experience Congregations in Mission
Equip congregations for Christ’s mission
It might be tempting to only give attention to the mission initiative(s) we are personally most excited about. While people may have a stronger sense of call to one initiative more than to another, congregations as a whole should give attention to all five. This is because the mission of Christ is holistic. So, does this mean that congregations need to implement five sets of programs for each of the Mission Initiatives? No! The Mission Initiatives are not new programs! The Mission Initiatives are ways of intentionally relating to one another and to our world. For example:
- Christ’s mission of evangelism may not require any new programs. It may however, require improving the quality or relevancy of programs we already have in order for people to feel more confident about inviting their friends.
- Christ’s mission of compassion may not require new programs, although it may require us to care for one another and those in our community with a renewed intentionality.
- Christ’s mission of justice and peace may not call for new programs. It, of course, might call us to consider more prayerfully how we could improve the quality of life in the communities where we live, or how we might support one another in peace and justice efforts.
- Equipping individuals for Christ’s mission may not require new programs. It may require us though, to examine the content of what we do in our Sunday schools, priesthood gatherings, and leadership team meetings.
- Equipping congregations for Christ’s mission may not require new programs. It may motivate us though, to take a fresh look at how we plan worship, where we invest our congregational efforts, how we construct our budget, and for whom we plan social opportunities.
When thinking about the above, pastors and leaders need to be aware that each congregation already has all that it needs to engage in Christ’s mission—IF the congregation is willing to engage in mission according to its gifts. The five Mission Initiatives do not ask congregations to implement a common set of programs. Rather, congregational leaders are encouraged to prayerfully explore how the five Mission Initiatives above can be lived out according to the unique capacities and circumstances of your congregation. In fact you’re probably already engaged in one or more of the initiatives.
Good planning often starts with asking the right questions. In regard to your congregation’s mission, there are some key questions for pastors and congregational leaders to ask. The following three questions can be helpful.
The first question is: How can the pastor’s leadership team (or the congregation as a whole) best study, pray, and talk together about the five Mission Initiatives? Remember, each congregation will need to think through the Mission Initiatives within the context of their own gifts and circumstances. Trust God’s Spirit to lead. Don’t rush to program implementation. Instead, study, pray, discuss, and be open to simple possibilities that may arise.
The second question assumes there are ministries already happening in the congregation’s life that can be adjusted to more fully align the congregation with mission. The second question therefore, is: How can the congregation adjust what it is already doing to be more truly focused on the Mission Initiatives?
The third question recognizes that each congregation is different and will therefore express mission in different ways. The question is: How should this congregation’s unique set of gifts shape its ministries and mission?
These are important questions. Practical helps for exploring these questions can be found in the practices section of this field guide.
As stated earlier, God wants to bless you and your congregation in its ministry. Key to being faithful to God is aligning with Christ’s mission, as opposed to pursuing individual agendas—as noble and well-intended as they may be. Great adventures await the congregation that prayerfully pursues Christ’s mission in harmony with its gifts and in response to God’s call.
|Talking About Mission|
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To create a climate in which the pastor’s leadership team (or congregation as a whole) can thoughtfully, prayerfully explore the Mission Initiatives in relationship to their congregational context.
Keep it simple. Meet with the pastor’s leadership team (or congregation) in a casual, comfortable place where you can talk freely and share some simple refreshments.
- Use the instructions for lectio divina, found in this field guide in the article “Cultivating Individual and Group Spiritual Practices,” to facilitate a prayerful discussion of Luke 4:18–19. Make an evening out of discussing Luke 4 and your personal lives. Set a time to get together again in one to four weeks.
- Before ending the discussion, make a covenant with the pastor’s leadership team (or congregation) in which everyone agrees to spend time each day with Luke 4:18–19 until you meet again. In addition, distribute copies of this resource, “What Mission Means” for everyone to read.
- When you get back together (again in a comfortable, casual place) talk about any notable thoughts or insights that you experienced in relationship to Luke 4:18–19. Then, discuss the resource “What Mission Means.” Avoid the temptation to jump right into planning. Instead, pray about it together, talk about the congregation’s gifts and circumstances relative to the Mission Initiatives. Do any thoughts or ideas “bubble up” that seem to invoke a special degree of energy or attraction? If so, explore that idea a bit further. If no ideas come, or if none come that invoke energy and interest, don’t worry about it, and please do not “force” anything. Perhaps something will arise later—perhaps after the meeting.
|Aligning What We’re Already Doing|
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To help the pastor’s leadership team explore how to adjust what the congregation is already doing in order to be in greater alignment with the Mission Initiatives.
Post each of the five Mission Initiatives on five separate places on a wall. On another area of the wall, post the word “Other,” With the pastor’s leadership team, make a list of everything the congregation is currently doing (programs, meetings, activities, groups, etc.). Write each item on a separate 4" x 6" index cards or sticky notes. As a team, place each index card under the mission initiative that the item on the card directly relates to (don’t “stretch” to fabricate a relationship that’s really not there). If an item on a card does not have a direct relationship to one of the Mission Initiatives, place it under “Other.” Talk together about the following questions:
- Are there any items posted under “other” that we can stop doing to free up time and energy for mission?
- Are there any items posted under “other” that could be altered to relate more directly to mission?
- Look at all items posted. Do we know whether or not the people responsible for implementing these items feel “called” to these items, or are these activities just taking up the time and energy of people? How can we find out? (Don’t assume that you know unless people have talked with you about their sense of call and passion.)
- Are the items posted under the Mission Initiatives bearing their intended fruit? If so, great. If not, how could they be adjusted to align more fully with mission?
- Consider the people who currently give leadership to each item mentioned. Do their gifts align well with the item they are leading? Does this leadership task energize them or drain them?
Is there anything that is not bearing fruit that we could stop doing in order to free up energy and resources for mission?
|Mission and Congregational Gifts|
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To align the congregation’s gifts and resources with mission in order to increase effectiveness and raise energy levels.
Scripture does NOT say that all are called according to someone else’s gifts, or according to a template of gifts that every congregation should try to match. To the contrary, Doctrine and Covenants 119:8b states that: “All are called according to the gifts of God unto them.” Community of Christ is united in mission, but that mission will be lived out differently in each congregation, due to the simple fact that congregations have different circumstances and different constellations of gifts.
To help shape your congregation’s relationship with mission according to its gifts, give the pastor’s leadership team copies of the article in this field guide titled “Orienting Mission around the Gifts of All Ages.” Study this resource as a leadership team, and determine how it can be used in your congregation.