Basic Tools 5: Congregational Missions and Member Missions

Thus far, our basic tools have been focused on member mission – what the members do in each of their daily mission fields from Monday to Saturday.  Missions are also carried on by our members working together – a food shelf, community dinners for low-income people, a thrift shop and the like.  We call these missions “congregational missions.”  They are very real.  They are very important.  The people we serve depend on us for them.

 So why, then, do we want to emphasize what the individual members do?

Why emphasize member missions?

  • Congregational missions go many places, but seldom go where the key decisions are made.
  • Member missions go into our homes, corporate board rooms, union halls, government, television studios, etc. If church members go there, member mission goes there.
  • The potential impact of each member on mission is enormous!

One often hears that the age of Christianity is over.  The church and its leaders no longer have the influence they once had to determine the ways of culture, education, or government.  The church and its leaders are no longer able to influence what comes across the media; cannot direct the values couples follow in marriage and raising their children; cannot determine foreign policy; and are not in the legislatures and the halls of government determining how taxes are spent and how health care is funded.  In many ways, the church seems to be “sidelined.”

But church members are not sidelined.  As baptized members of the mission of Jesus Christ, we are in all of these places.  And Jesus Christ is there in all of these places with us.  Byron Rushing, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, is often asked how he can bear to work in a place often viewed as “self-serving, corrupt, and ruthless.”  He answers that his colleagues are not much different from the workers in most other institutions and workplaces.  He concludes, “I am in the legislature because Jesus Christ is there and I am called to follow Jesus.”

Now, more than ever, what we do as a church is very important.  No one would advocate that the church abandon its role in serving people in need or in speaking out on social, economic, and cultural issues.  However, what we can do as the church is limited.  How different the world would be if there were more Christians like Byron Rushing in government; in health care; in education; in corporate boardrooms; in labor unions; and so on!  Don’t those of us with loved ones in a hospital pray that everyone who treats them be caring and skilled?  These are some of the many places that congregational missions cannot go, but where the work of the Lord still needs to be done.

So, where congregational missions leave off, member missions pick up.  It is the work done or not done by committed Christians everywhere that will help to determine what kind of world we will all live in.  Their impact cannot be overestimated because church people go everywhere in the world and our missions often intersect.  As I carry on my mission, I may well be enabling you to carry on  yours which will, then, enable others to carry on theirs.  Or I may just ask for your help as I do my mission.  If you decide to accept, now two people are joining in this part of God’s mission instead of just one!

So why do we need member mission?  Because we want to be part of God’s work to make the world a better place – a more loving and more just place – wherever we are.

This diagram tells why we need our members on mission.  At the top are the places where the decisions that shape our lives are made.

In the lower left circle are the areas of church life as we know them.  All of these areas except service and evangelism are focused almost exclusively within the walls of the church.  Service and evangelism move outside the church to serve individuals in need.  What they learn about the world shapes the prayers, study, and conversation of church life so the arrow points both ways.  But note the limits of this outreach.  The arrow stops at the edge of the world where the decisions that shape life are made.  These congregational missions are “inside” the decision making in government, business and industry, the media, farming, and the home.  While they can relieve suffering and emptiness out in the world today, they cannot prevent suffering and emptiness from recurring tomorrow.  They do not influence the decision makers who can alleviate pain long term.

The lower right circle is the key to effective mission—the daily missions of each member.  The arrow from member missions reaches directly into places of decision-making.  The members do get into these places!  Christians are there where the world makes its decisions—all the way from the nursery and the schoolroom to the Oval Office and the UN; from the local union and the local grocery store to General Electric and the Red Cross.  And the arrow goes both ways because the members are learning what is needed and prepare to offer it.

Where do Christians get the guidance and the power they need to live out their missions?  The horizontal arrow says where they get it—from their life in the congregation through its sacraments, teaching, and ongoing group support!  The daily missions of the members shape the prayers, study, and conversation of church life.  This arrow goes both ways, too.

Do you see now just how limited our reliance on congregational missions alone really is?  As the church, we never get “inside” the decision-making.  As members on mission we do.  Now we have a working system for mission.  This just may be the best way for a congregation to share most fully in God’s work!  We gather on Sunday for the guidance and the power to resume our missions on Monday.