By A. Wayne Schwab
[The Living Church, December 21, 2003; READER’S VIEWPOINT]
We hear little about the Church’s members as missionaries, about how they are making life better at home, at work, in their community, in the wider world, and in their leisure. These daily mission fields are seldom touched by the outreach programs of congregations or by the agencies of regional and national church bodies. But it is in the daily mission fields where the action takes place. Here is where the key decisions of our society are made.
The churches may be on the sidelines, but their members are not. The real delivery points of mission in today’s world are the deeds and words of each of the baptized in their daily living.
Snapshots of Two Missionaries
At work, Margaret brings ideas for new contracts to her company that builds waste water treatment plants. She shares openly with her co-workers that she roots her work in prayer. At home, as a single mother, she talks with her ninth-grade son and twin sixth-grade girls as Christians about setting boundaries in dating and resisting drug and alcohol use. In her community, she has set up a shelter for he homeless and gives back in this way because her church helped her in her time of need. Margaret is a peacekeeper with an activist prayer group that she started at work. In her leisure, she writes about how each person, in his or her own way, searches for God. This recent senior warden’s church work now is helping her ninth grader to prepare for confirmation and, as a family, they memorize the Nicene Creed and discuss living the baptismal covenant.
Eddie leads the insurance section of a large law firm. He sees that his people learn from their mistakes rather than be rebuked for them. And, as they walk into court, he may ask his associate, “Have you said your prayers?” Asked, “For what?” he replies, “That justice be done.” At home, Eddie and his wife are refurbishing their home as a better team effort than in the past. After three years as scoutmaster and to hold up the wonder of God’s creation, Eddie helps to run high adventure events for high-school-age scouts — one of whom is his older son. Nationwide, Eddie teams with colleagues on a proposal to help states to deal more effectively with bankrupt insurance companies. He makes sure his leisure time is spent with his family, rather than by himself. At church, for now, he is limited to Sunday worship, supporting his wife and two sons in their church activities, and being available to the church for legal advice.
Do you sense that God’s love and justice guide Margaret’s and Eddie’s deeds and words? Do you sense he courage and commitment required to live as they do? Then dignify their deeds and words by calling. Although seldom touched by outreach programs or church body agencies, daily mission fields are where the action. takes place. Here is where the key decisions of our society are made. them “missions.” They know God is at work in the world (Mark 1:14-15) and God has called them to be part of that work.
Clergy and laity can work together to free the mission from the grip of the church. Congregations should make supporting the daily missions of their members their primary purpose.
This support is threefold: a vision that inspires the members to be on mission wherever they are all the time; a parish purpose and structure that supports them; and a way for members to discern their missions in each of their daily mission fields. Here are some first steps to take:
- To grasp the vision, meet with the vestry and other key leaders for an hour. Ask each person to note what he or she is doing to make life more loving or more just. Suggest that they note their simplest of actions. Then, in pairs, have them explain their responses. Ask the participants if they have any sense of God being at work in them to help them to live this way. They will probably be surprised to discover they are already part of God’s mission. They just did not know it.
- Later, the vestry itself wrestles with the congregation’s purpose. They consider as a purpose helping the members to be on mission wherever they are all the time. They recognize that such a purpose cannot be “voted in” but must be “lived in.” If they are ready, they can then commit themselves to work with the congregation so that this purpose gradually pervades all of church life.
- Prepare for baptism and confirmation (or reaffirmation) as preparing to join or recommit oneself to the mission of Jesus Christ. Help each person to discover his or her present missions. Find ways to do the same with newcomers so that they see living as missionaries as the congregation’s reason for being.
- Next, start discerning daily missions in the various congregational groups. For example, center Lenten observance around member mission discernment
As the vestry and other leaders support the members in their daily living as Christians, the congregation will move from clergy-centered mission to the mission and ministry of all the baptized, all the members.