For SCM: Vision and Mission
Student Christian Movement have begun a group blog, and are asking people to contribute their thoughts on the concept of “Mission” to get the ball rolling. I was wondering what to write, until my sister preached her first ever sermon, at which I’m both impressed and slightly envious. It was very interesting to hear her link Justice to Mission work, and Mission to Vision.
If a mission is a task or purpose, then surely every church should be on a mission, and every Christian too. Indeed, everyone should have purpose, no matter how humble or huge, no matter how decisive or instrumental or whatever else it might feel like. But it often feels like we’ve either run out of vision, could do quite nicely without one, quite happy with the here and now.
Or it might be that having a mission would make us into “those” scary people, you know, the really dynamic ones, the really motivated, the people who’s missions look like explosions in the sky, rather than a steady river running serenely but surely down a centuries-old course. How many times does a mission involve ‘going’ somewhere? How rarely is it something we stick around for?
Its perhaps telling that so many church leaders have rammed copies of “Purpose Drive Life” (PDL) into their church member’s hands, reading lists, cell materials, etc. Often the ones who want to lead seem to have all the vision, and everyone wants to sit back and either let them get on with it without them, or demand things slow to crawl.
I always like the allegory I see in Jesus walk with two disciples on the road to Emmaus; he’s on a journey with them, both physically, and in terms of what they understand. Perhaps its a mission just to allow Jesus to go with us through life’s twists and turns revealing himself.
But we can have many missions. Jesus might have commissioned his disciples to a mission of spreading the good news and finding new disciples, but the mission he accepted at the very start of his ministry in Capernaum was a very practical mission. His mission involved giving release to captives, and restoring sight to the blind. It was a mission both in physical and spiritual dimensions.
Indeed, the church in Britain could be more effective simply by refusing to be pushed into physical/spiritual divisions that are often based more on Hellenistic folk-lore seeping into our own than actual hard-and-fast theology. The whole point of the gospels is that God, in Christ and then in the Holy Spirit, is not confined to heaven, required to send angels back and forth just to get a message over the brink. The word holistic is as maligned by Evangelicals as much as Mission is maligned by Liberals; we fear it because of some certain connotations it has gained. But any view that isn’t holistic misses something from the gospels.
There is another word in the English language that I think might have more resonance than mission: Vision. I think there’s a bit less sense of “oh dear, bloody evangelists” when we hear it. I’ve seen churches with Vision and churches without. There is no direct correlation between theology and vision, between style of worship and vision. culture and vision. Indeed, I’ve seen churches with many different visions. But what I’ve never seen is a church without a vision that I truly felt drawn to.
Over a year ago I reflected on communities failing and breaking up because they lacked outward facing vision. Instead of breaking up, very often well established churches just grind to a crawl when they loose vision. And some churches have undergone spectacular re-visioning; often people have left, but most times they have been replaced 2 or 3 fold, sometimes more. But I’d take examples like 1960’s St Cuthbert’s here in York (now St Michael le Belfry) and Holy Trinity, Peckham.
Discovering a vision requires prayer and meditation, thoughtful consideration and often a fair bit of research. It doesn’t matter whether the mission is to China or a Council Estate, its worth hammering it out over time and in community before becoming set on it. Without it, we shall fail to have any impact at all. And a church with no impact is hardly capable of inspiring people with a faith different than any it might find repulsive.