Missionaries One and All

Is not God most concerned about how we live from Monday to Saturday? Are not Sunday and all of church life intended to provide guidance and power for our Monday to Saturday living? Therefore, congregations appropriately make their basic purpose that of supporting the members in their daily living as Christians.

The vestry does not legislate this purpose by a resolution. Rather, vestry and clergy together lead the congregation into living it. It takes time. It looks difficult but as congregational life moves towards this goal, vestry members feel the weight of leadership decrease. Their yoke becomes easier and their burden becomes lighter.

Unexpected missionaries:

The change begins with the vestry. They look at what they are doing to make life better—more loving, more fair—in each area of their daily lives. Next, they discover that what they work to accomplish God is working to accomplish with them. They are missionaries—agents of God’s mission—and did not know it!

Their homes, their work, their local communities, the wider world, and their recreation, as well as the church are their “mission fields.” These six areas are the places—the “mission fields”—where they work with God to make life better.

They had thought they would run the “business side” of the church, help the clergy get “jobs” done, and recruit members to help them. They find, instead, that their real task is to help the members discover their daily missions and live them well. And the vestry’s work is far more rewarding as the members rejoice over being met where they are—in their daily living.

Reflection is key:

How does this new kind of leadership occur? In hour-long sessions with small groups of six to eight, vestry teams lead members in Reflecting on one of the six daily mission fields.*

  • What is God doing in this part of my life now?
  • What inhibits God’s love and justice there?
  • What change is needed?
  • Knowing my own gifts, what will I do there to make life better?
  • How will I get others to help me?
  • How will I talk of God and being “fed”— empowered—at Jesus’ table while we work together?

As members begin to see that God is working with them in one of their mission fields, they want to explore the other five as well. They enjoy discovering that they, too, are missionaries. And the vestry members enjoy deeper bonding with the people than they have ever known.

This works because God is on mission in the world everywhere, every moment to overcome whatever blocks love and justice— the public face of love. God’s mission has a church. The church does not have a mission.

The church is the visible instrument of God’s mission. We join God’s mission in baptism as we commit ourselves to make Jesus Christ known in deed and word; to love neighbor as self; and to strive for peace and justice—all with God’s help.

Some examples of changes this new leadership brings:

Newcomers and people seeking baptism or deeper commitment discover their own daily missions and find that the congregation is there to support them in their missions. They soon discover they are not on the edge of God’s mission, but at its center.

Sunday worship affirms the daily missions of the members.

The Prayers of the People are reworded to invite specific petitions and thanksgivings in silence or aloud. The intercessor waits until silence suggests all have had their chance. Vestry members offer prayers about their own work, the local community, the wider world, and their leisure. In time, the rest offer their own prayers and this time becomes more truly the prayers of the people.

In a mission-centered church school, the teachers meet the children and youth as peers.

All are baptized agents of the mission of Jesus Christ. Classes begin with the Gospel, move to how it calls us to live, and end with what to ask God for to live this way. Teachers are easier to recruit because they see their knowledge of life, not church matters, is what counts.

Conflicts are easier to resolve when the congregation’s purpose is supporting the members in their daily living. “Big” conflicts assume their proper proportions and compromises, while never pain-free, are easier to reach. Differences on worship, teaching, and program are settled on the basis of what best supports the members in their daily living.

Staffing those onerous tasks few want to assume is easier when leaders can relate them to enabling the daily missions of the members. The mission field of church has its nitty-gritty jobs just like the other mission fields—from doing the dishes to improving communication.

Knowing stewardship is more than meeting a budget, one congregation will start their fall canvass in the spring. Every household will be asked by phone to give two concrete ways the church can serve them better in “their personal mission fields of home, neighborhood, workplace, and wider world.” The results, then, shape next year’s program.

For evangelism, discerning daily missions by vestry and parishioners includes how each draws others into their mission, and how each will talk of God’s mission with the new teammates and invite them along to Jesus’ table. All have looked into the heart of the best of evangelism—bringing good news in deed and word into every arena of daily life.

*For specific methods, see Appendices A and C of the book noted below.

[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee for the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, Speaker.and Workshop Leader.]

This article is part of the September 2003 Vestry Papers issue on Vestry Responsibilities