The Member Mission Vision

By  The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab and The Rev. John S. LeSueur

[Trinity Church, Milford, MA —  March 26, 2006]

It is great to be here! You are catching the vision of “member mission.” There are four keys to member mission. They all grow out of Jesus’ mission to make the world more loving and just.

One: each member — each of us — has six daily mission fields.

Two: Jesus is already at work in each one of them and we join Jesus in what he is doing.

Three: Jesus shares his power to cope with evil, sin, and death with us — with his help, we do what we do. And

Four: our congregations support us in our daily missions — here’s where we find the guidance and power we need to live our daily missions.

Let me dwell on this a minute. It’s the why of member mission. The church and its leaders no longer have the influence they once had. They are not in the places where the decisions that shape our life are made — the board rooms of corporations and the media; in the Congress, the state legislatures and government offices; in the homes of people; on the school boards — they are not there. They are “sidelined.” But think again. The church is there because individual church members are in those places. The church and its leaders have been “sidelined.” But church members are not sidelined. As baptized members of the mission of Jesus Christ, we are in all of these places. Each of us in our daily places are the most effective agents of the church’s mission in today’s world. How each of us lives our lives Monday to Saturday makes the difference! That’s why we work on member mission! And why we work to help our congregations to support their members in their daily living as Christians. It’s a big vision!

So, listen again to today’s Gospel. This story of the feeding of the five thousand is member mission’s story. Those people were being called to share in Jesus’ mission. They needed to be fed  or it. We share in Jesus’ mission and he feeds us for it. The bread and the cup are the outward and visible signs that Jesus is with us — guiding us and feeding us for our daily missions. Our churches are the places we go for the guidance and the power to live our daily missions.

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Now, let’s look at the first of the four keys to member mission. The big surprise in member mission is that we have six — not one — but six daily mission fields — our homes, our work, our local community, the wider world, our leisure, and our church. Martin Luther saw four — home,  work, community, and church. Today’s shrinking distances call for the wider world and the machine and the computer ages have added leisure — we may feel busy but we do not have the long working days of the past! Here are the stories of two people with the daily missions of each one.

Mary is a married with a fourth grade son and she works a full week. Here are her six daily missions for this week.

At home, Mary prays and works each day to be patient and helpful with her husband as he gets
his new business under control. Her fourth grader, Tom, copes with seizures and ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. So she prays daily for his cure and to help him as best she can. That means helping him with the three medicines that are hard on his stomach. And helping him to finish tasks since ADHD tends to make it difficult for him to finish things.

Mary’s daily work is to coordinate the alumni relations for the electrical engineering school of a large university. This week’s she sees her mission there to be about her work with a difficult colleague. So Mary is praying and working to be both patient and helpful with her colleague on the projects they share. The day we talked it had gone well.

In her local community, she helps with Tom’s Cub Scouts. His den — for which she had been the assistant leader — just joined with another. So, for now, she is just available to fill in as needed. And she is on call for Tom’s school activities when needed. Her job gives her that flexibility.

In the wider world, she contributes to causes aiding hunger and children.

For her leisure and re-creation time, Mary likes religious music. She mixes hymns and contemporary songs. And reading scripture and prayer, uplifting books, magazines, and articles, helps her to “recharge her batteries” as she puts it. She attempts to exercise as much as she can, saying it both helps to keep her in shape, and makes her happy. Monthly lunches with a friend or two helps them stay connected, and feels like a real treat.

That leads into her spiritual growth. Along with reading scripture and prayer, she finds that her church responsibilities of visiting and teaching nurture her own growth.

Mary is the music chairman for her church. Mostly, that means finding people for the music program. That has its share of frustrations so keeping a good attitude and being cheerful is much of her mission there. She also visits four women every month to make sure they’re doing okay, and to share their spiritual journeys.

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Here are Pete’s six mission fields for the week I called him.

At home, Pete and his wife are working together on plans to refurbish the house. He is taking the time to work on it with her so it is a real team effort — something he has not done as well in the past.

At work, Pete has the very demanding job of running the section of a large law firm devoted to insurance. Three years ago, he defined his mission as building a climate where his coworkers can learn from their mistakes — rather than be rebuked for them. That is still his mission and he lives it every day. He puts it in a few words. “I let my associates know it is okay to learn from mistakes and to get better at what they do.

In his local community, Pete is just finishing up as umpire for his younger son’s Little League team. The toughest part is coping with parents over his calls as umpire!

In the wider world, Pete is working with two others to write an article on how states should deal with insurance companies that go bankrupt — a field that needs a lot of improvement as he sees it.

In his leisure, Pete makes sure that time is taken with his family rather than by himself. How many of us can learn from that!

For his spiritual growth, Pete found it reawakened at a father-son Bible camp. The men in his cabin taught him that like the cases he read every day, he needed to read, study and remember the Bible and its lessons. Now he tries to read the Bible every morning; first a bit of the Old Testament, then a bit of the New, with Proverbs or Psalms mixed in. As he works his way through it, he finds it’s got the best of everything: drama, adventure, politics, conflict, spiritual renewal and salvation.

In his church life, he is pressed for time. Beyond Sunday worship he takes part in occasional dramatic readings and supports his wife and two sons in their church activities — handbell choir for his wife, youth group for the older son, and confirmation for the younger son.

There they are — the seven daily missions of two people. We don’t put equal time into all seven. Home and work usually get the most time and effort. The other four are still there. And, yes, member mission offers ways to discover your daily missions and to keep open to their changes. And, member mission offers ways to find teammates to help you in your daily missions. And, since some of these teammates may be lapsed church members or non-church people, they are potential new members and member mission helps you to learn how to invite them into church life. The group that met yesterday had some practice with these resources and may well offer a pilot group using them to discover their own daily missions. Then such groups would be open to all of you. And small groups would begin to form so that you can support each other as you live out your daily missions day by day and week by week.

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Next, did you hear the work — the struggle — to bring love and justice to each daily mission field. Take Mary’s home life. She struggles with so much to be loving and fair. Take Pete’s work life. It would have been so easy to copy the company pattern of rebuking mistakes. He had to overcome a lot suspicion from the senior partners while he taught a new way. And even in leisure — Mary and Pete both resist leisure time’s seductions to self-indulgence.

That’s what I like about “mission” as the name for what we do. A “mission” is a struggle to overcome something. There’s a lot in our daily lives to overcome. Our daily places are, indeed, daily mission fields. Yes, there’s ministry there but ministry seems to be more about meeting needs than about correcting what blocks love and justice. And mission implies being able to talk of God in each daily place. Here’s a way Pete does it. Last week, as Pete met his associate at court, he asked, “Have you said your prayers?” “What prayers?” his associate asked. “For divine inspiration that justice be done,” was Pete’s quick reply.

And did you sense Jesus’ presence in both Mary and Pete in all six of their daily missions? Mary needs and gets Jesus’ help at home. Even in what looks mundane, we need Jesus’ help. Jesus is there already and so present to help us. Pete needs and gets Jesus’ help to endure parents’ displeasure as an umpire. Jesus is there already to help him to make the calls that preserve good sportsmanship.

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Now, let’s hear from John who centers on the role of congregations to support their members in their daily missions. And note that he will talk about two churches in the midst of a clergy search and a third in the early year’s of a new priest’s leadership.

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Now I am going to tell you about three churches which are using Member Mission.

I first experienced Member Mission when my wife was doing her seminary field work in 1995 at  at. Nicholas in Tahuya, Washington. Although it was called by baptismal ministry I now recognize their emphasis was on Member Mission. St Nicholas was a small family-sized parish literally at the end of the road, the pavement ended in front of St. Nicholas, which was struggling to survive.

On Palm Sunday, a few years before the summer we spent at St. Nicholas, their priest announced she was leaving and would not be at St. Nicholas for Easter Sunday. Not able to find any supply priest on such short notice St. Nicholas was faced with closing their doors. The congregation met and decided, no, they would not close their doors. They in fact held morning prayer that Easter Sunday. But more importantly at this congregational meeting, the members of St. Nicholas recognized that they were all ministers and that they all had mission.

After that painful Easter, St. Nicholas had a new approach to their life as a congregation. They called their Vicar a resource priest, a priest with training to be a coach or mentor. The congregation led the way in looking for mission they were to do. Let me give you several examples. One member recognized the need for housing for the homeless. This individual organized a Habitat for Humanity mission trip, but St. Nicholas was too small to do it all. They opened up the project to the diocese and sponsored the trip, 30 people went to Nogales and built a house. My wife’s project for her summer field work was to organize a community vacation bible camp. Every member of St. Nicholas helped using their specific gifts. But more importantly, while conducting the Vacation Bible camp, some of the ladies recognized that some of the children who came had never had a book read to them. Their individual ministry became to open their homes in the afternoon for these children to come and have books read to them. This expanded into helping these children be prepared to enter school as if they had been to a preschool which they could not afford. These are just a few of the many examples I could give from St. Nicholas which led me to explore seriously Baptismal Ministry or Member Mission.

Another church, Christ Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire was also led to member mission by a crisis. I was privileged to be able to work with a covenant group from Christ Church to expand their understanding of Member Mission while they were developing the profile for a new Vicar. For over a year this covenant group met weekly for bible study, discussing how God was  acting in their lives in the world and in their congregation, and prayer. Once a month we came together for discerning how God was calling the congregation to accomplish God’s mission. We started by determining the core values of Christ Church and what traditional ministries were strong and which were weak. The covenant group looked at the community around the church, where it was strong and what the community needed. Then we entered the discernment phase, what mission was God calling the Christ Church parishioners to do. This covenant group through this process discerned the need for individual member mission. They ultimately wrote this into their profile and called a Vicar whom they now use as a resource, one who supports and empowers their ministry. What they recognized was that the Church community was the support they need to go out every day and do the mission that God was calling each of them to do. Today, Christ Church has a healthy spirituality about it and is well on the road to recovery from their crisis.

Since I have told you about two congregations which were led to Member Mission by a crisis, I now want to tell you about a third congregation. Church of the Transfiguration, in Derry, New Hampshire, is a church with some traditional members and some members who have recognized their call to do ministry in one or more of the mission fields. The leadership of Transfiguration, much like your leadership here at Trinity, called a priest who believes in the role of baptismal ministry. They called my wife Susan four years ago. Transfiguration has been working toward member mission ever since. At Transfiguration’s last Stewardship day, they recognized when individual members of the congregation are doing their mission in one of the six mission fields, that the church is doing outreach in that field. Their pastoral care team views themselves as the first response to a pastoral care need and work closely with their priest to insure that the pastoral needs of members are met.

These are just three examples of churches I have worked with on Member Mission. All are constantly trying to discern where God is calling each member as well as the congregation as a whole. In each case worship at Church and the congregation’s basic purpose is to support the members in their daily lives. The Church is the place where Christians come to get the skills, power and support for their work Monday through Saturday. The worship at church provides individual members with energy and purpose to go into each of the mission fields to work for love and justice in those mission fields.

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(The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab) That’s the member mission vision. And that’s why, in today’s world, of all the things a congregation does, the most important is supporting each member of any age in his or her daily living as one of Jesus’ missionaries. That’s how God’s work can be done in today’s world!