Three Major Learnings of Member Mission

By The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab

[Situation: the theme for the Lenten series with visiting preachers was mission at work.  This sermon was planned to end the series with a focus on living the mission everywhere.  A flyer which announced the series was mailed as Lent began and carried an insert about the “Sunday with Member Mission,” which would conclude it.   It described the member mission vision and included a worksheet.  The worksheet called for listing what one was doing in each daily mission field to make life there more loving and more just.  The worksheets were turned in by March 4 and mailed to Rev. A Wayne Schwab for use in preparing the sermon and an adult class.  The text of the “blue sheet” referenced in the sermon is an addendum.]

That’s a violent parable.  Jesus’ teaching is unmistakable.  Be a faithful tenant.  Accept the one God sends.  In our baptism, we have accepted Jesus Christ.  We are called to remain faithful members of his mission.  We are to be his agents of love and justice everywhere all the time.

Everyone knows that church life should center on connecting faith and daily life.  But no one seems to know how to do it.  Here’s a way to do it.  “Member mission” we call it – all the members on mission and their church knowing its primary purpose is to support them in their daily missions.  In today’s world, the church as an institution is sidelined.  But the members are not.  We, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, are wherever the decisions that shape life are made.  So, we look beyond the workplace to all the places of daily life.  We are called to live as Jesus’ agents in each one of them.  And we see each church called to make its primary purpose to support them in their daily living as Christians – if not its primary purpose, at least, one of its primary purposes.  I keep looking for another approach that goes this far.  Until I find it, here are member mission’s three major learnings.

Pull out the blue sheet in your bulletin.

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At the top, see that list of daily mission fields – where we live.  This is the first major learning.  Martin Luther started this list.  Today, it’s our homes, our daily work, our local community, the wider world, our leisure, our spiritual health, and our church life and outreach.  Here are two people – Mark and Anne – who have learned to live in all of them.

Here are “snapshots” of the way Mark’s missions come up during a single day.

  •  For his spiritual health: it’s morning and Mark, his wife, and their nine-year-old son have just begun their five minutes of Bible reading and prayer.
  •  For home: at breakfast, he and his wife and son plan that Tuesday and Thursday nights he will be  home in time for dinner.
  •  For his local community: on the way to work,  he listens to a CD on community development.  He has his second meeting on Saturday with the planning board.
  •  At work: in his law office, he opens the weekly meeting with his legal team saying, “It’s time for a change – time to stop criticizing anyone who loses a case.  Instead, we’ll review the lost case together to see what we can learn from our mistakes.”  The rest of the team heave a sigh of relief.
  •  For leisure: during his lunch break, he takes his usual 20-minute walk to relax.  And looks ahead to his hour of weekend reading.
  •  In the wider world: on the way home, he listens to the news about the state legislature’s debate on health care for poor children.  In his head, he starts to compose his monthly letter to the local paper about it.
  •  In his church life: once home, he remembers that on Sunday he will meet with the committee that keeps the food shelf stocked.

Mark’s glad to do all these things.  They do cost in time and energy.  He begins to see why his church calls them by that grand name of “missions.”  They are costly.

Here are “snapshots” of Anne’s daily missions – her present daily missions.  When she completes one, she’ll look for the next one in that mission field.  For now . . .

  •  At work: her company works in water resource management; she is planning a TV program about a new form of pollution.
  •  In her local community: she is part of a group working for a farmers’ market in the center of town.
  •  At home: she’s helping her second husband to connect with her three sons.
  •  In the wider world: she works with her congressman to fund nationwide water protection.
  •  For leisure: she runs to “clears my head.”
  •  At church: she helps with the Sunday forum after the 10:00 o’clock service.
  •  For spiritual health: she makes sure she gets at least an hour a week for devotional reading.

Now, I hope that you see that you have the same daily mission fields they do.  You and I live are called to live out the baptismal covenant in each of these places.

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For the second basic learning of member mission, look at the first five questions on the blue sheet.  They begin with what God is doing – you sense what God is saying to you – in a specific mission field.  That leads to your vision or goal.  You work through what you are doing and what you need to do to get to #5 – to what you will do now, specifically, to join what God is already doing.  Be specific.  Be specific and you will be effective – not just a person who means well, but accomplishes little for Jesus’ mission.

Here’s how two others, Luke and Jeanne, answered these five questions.

Here’s Luke’s present mission in the wider world:

  •  The message he got was about our being so polarized on the issues of today that we can’t talk to each other.  Jesus is working to stop it and wants Luke to help.
  •  How?  Well, Luke heard of some buttons he could wear to open up chances for dialog about today’s issues.  One button says, “Native.”  When someone asks about it, he can open a dialog about immigration.  Another button says “Equal.”  When someone asks about it, he can open a dialog about everyone having an equal chance.
  •  His specific action in #5 on the blue sheet is to wear a different button every day.

It’s novel.  And it works!

Here is Jeanne’s present mission in her local community:

  •  She says, God is asking me to volunteer in my two children’s classrooms as much as I can.”
  •  Her vision is to bring joy to the classroom, help each child, and lighten the load of both teachers.
  •  Specifically – being specific is always the key to being effective – she will offer to help each teacher half a day each week – in some classroom activity, in copying, anything.  She says, “I’ll show up on time, professional, and ready to go.”

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The third basic learning of member mission is about having one or more teammates.  Jesus sent the twelve out two by two and he wants us to go out the same way.  So we find and recruit a teammate as in questions 6 through 8 on that blue sheet.  And we look for the time we can talk about God and God’s people, the church, with our teammate.

Luke does it this way.

  •  He went to his friend – not a church member.  They talk often about the day’s big issues.  They don’t always agree but they love the exchange.  So, Luke says, “I’ve got an idea of how to help folks talk about loaded issues.  Want to try it with me?”
  •  And Luke thinks through how sometime he might say: “Can I share with you why I’m doing this?  (If an okay comes) We are all God’s people.  God must want all of us to be friends even though we differ.”
  •  And Luke is even ready to say sometime: “Real dialog isn’t easy.  Church helps me.  It might help you.  If you want to try it with me sometime, let me know.”

And here is Jeanne’s way.

  •  She teams with the two teachers saying: “I’ll be here to help you; will you please give me clues on how to connect with the kids?”
  •  As you can guess, she needs to watch church talk in school.  So she’s ready to talk like this sometime, “I believe in public schools and want to do my part to make them succeed.”  “Believe” is her word to point to God.  And the teachers get it.
  •  And, when she finds one of the teachers under stress, she figures she’ll say something like, “I get stressed, too.  A sense of call helps me and church keeps me connected to it.  I’d lose it without it.  What works for you?” If either one shows interest in church, she’ll talk about it – and about being part of a church – maybe, even invite her to come with her one day.  She has to watch being any more direct than that

Luke and Jeanne both know their witness is incomplete without some form of invitation.  The word needs to accompany the deed.  And, they know it should come in a context – a setting where love or justice is present.  If you have trouble inviting people to church, work at doing something caring or fair with them.  In that setting, talk church and invite them.  This puts evangelism inside of mission.  That’s where evangelism belongs.  Evangelism is calling people to join Jesus’ mission, not just to join the church. We are called to grow the mission, not the church.  The church helps us to grow the mission.  There we get the guidance and power we need.  Still, the goal is to grow the mission.

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So, those are member mission’s learnings about how to live the mission wherever you are.

  •  Live it in all areas of your life.
  •  Discern what God is doing in each area and join what God is doing there in specific deeds.
  •  Work with teammates and be ready talk about God and God’s people with them.

Can there be any better way to be faithful to Jesus!

And there are stories of four of the baptized living as Jesus’ coworkers.  Oh, yes, ordinary, commonplace – and the kind of living that makes life work!

Want a deeper spirituality?  Can any spirituality be deeper than living each day as one of Jesus’ coworkers;

  •  discerning where Jesus is at work;
  •  joining him in what he is doing;
  •  talking about him with another;
  •  and doing it all with Jesus’ help every step of the way!

You and I are called to be part of Jesus’ mission to make the world a better place 24/7/365 – all day, every day, everywhere!

We face an uncertain future – a future full of crises – wars, global warming, pollution, energy; and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  Members on mission wherever we are can get us through these crises!

So be a faithful tenant – a faithful missionary!  Grow the mission; the church will happen.  Just, grow the mission!

[The text of the “blue sheet” follows.]

To discern your present mission in each of your daily mission fields:

your home and close friendships

your work – includes home management, school, and volunteer work

your local community – my neighborhood, town, or city

the wider world – all from culture to government to the environment

your leisure

your spiritual health

your church life and outreach

1.  What has God been doing in (this mission field)?  What message am I getting about it?  Try a response beginning with: “I believe God is . . .”

2. As I think about God’s message, what is my vision or goal for how I want life to be (in this mission field)?

3.  What am I doing right now to make this goal or vision a reality?

4.  What do I still need to do?  As a good starting point, think of where you need to bring or to increase caring or love, fairness or justice.  Take into account your gifts, limitations, and convictions.

5.  What, specifically, will I do or continue to do to make my vision or goal a reality?  Limit yourself to just one positive change.  This is or will be your mission (in this mission field).

6.  Whom do I need to work with me to achieve this change; and how will I talk about the change I want to make?  Think of this task as a team effort.  For the best results, you will probably need to work with another person or with several other people to achieve this change.  Consider how you’d appeal to a potential teammate.  Answer with the person’s name and words you might actually use.

7. As I recruit and work with my teammate and when the time is right, what could I say about how I see that what we are doing is or can be part of God’s mission?  Answer with words you might actually use.

8.  As we work together for this needed change and when the time is right, how could I encourage my teammate to seek help in church life?  Answer with words you might actually use.

[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Chair Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee of the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, and Speaker; St.  James Church, Danbury, CT; Luke 20:9-19; Lent 5, March 25, 2007.]