«From Church-Shaped Mission to Mission-Shaped Church1 Christopher Duraisingh* Though the missional calling of the church is acknowledged by all, often ...»
From Church-Shaped Mission
to Mission-Shaped Church1
Though the missional calling of the church is acknowledged by all,
often mission remains just a function among many other more
pressing tasks in congregations. This paper tentatively explores the
ecclesiological and theological re-visioning necessary for a move
from “church-shaped” missions to a “mission-shaped” church. Af-
ter identifying some clues to missional thinking from the work of Asian theologians, the essay argues that the classical term concur- sus Dei is far more effective than the more recent missio Dei for such a transformation into missional congregations. Developing the notion of concursus Dei as the continuous accompaniment of God in creation or the “God-movement” in judgment and grace, it then briefly turns to a consideration of the marks of leadership for such a mission-shaped church that is keeping in step with God’s already up-and-running movement in creation.
“There is no participation in Christ without participation in His mission to the world.” —Wilhelm Richebacher 2 The Challenge The central affirmation that the very being of the church is * Christopher Duraisingh is Otis Charles Visiting Professor in Applied Theology and faculty emeritus at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He has served as General Secretary of the Council for World Mission (London); Di- rector of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (Geneva) and its Executive Secretary for Gospel and Cultures; and Editor of the International Review of Mission.
1 The title is influenced by recent discussions on the mission-shaped church in the Church of England. See the report of a working group of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context (London: Church House Pub- lishing, 2004).
2 From the closing statement of the meeting of the International Missionary Council, Willingen, 1952; cited from the official report in Wilhelm Richebacher, “Missio Dei: The Basis of Mission Theology or a Wrong Path?,” International Review of Mission 92, no. 367 (October 2003): 589.
7 8 Anglican Theological Review constituted in and through its participation in God’s mission in the world is at the heart of Christian faith. That the church is not an end in itself and mission is not an optional extra to its being was brought home to the Episcopal Church, in no uncertain terms, at its 76th Gen- eral Convention in July 2009. From the reports about the addresses of the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to conversations among the youth participants, it would appear that “mission was the center stage.” The following words from the opening address of the
Presiding Bishop at the very beginning of the convention are illustrative of that fact:
How do we keep the main thing the main thing? How will we insist... that God’s mission is our reason for existence... ? The structures of this church are resources for God’s mission, but they are not God’s mission in themselves.... Jesus’ passion was and is for God’s dream of a reconciled creation. We’re meant to be partners in building that reality, throughout all of creation.3
Or again from Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s sermon at the Opening Eucharist:
The heart of this church will slowly turn to stone if we think our primary mission work is to those already in the pews inside our beautiful churches, or to those at other altars. We are in cardiac crisis if we think we can close the doors, swing our incense and sing our hymns, and all will be right with the world. The heart of this body is mission.... Every time we gather, the Spirit offers a pacemaker jolt to tweak the rhythm of this heart. The challenge is whether or not... the muscle will respond with a strengthened beat, sending more life out into the world.... Can you hear the heartbeat? Mission, Mission, Mission....4 These words not only issue a clarion challenge, they also raise the question whether, in reality, the “heartbeat” of “Mission, Mission, Mission” is heard among the local worshiping communities of the church.
3 The entire text of the Opening Address at General Convention 2009, given July 7, 2009 by Katharine Jefferts Schori, may be found at www.episcopalchurch.org/ 78703_112035_ENG_HTM.htm.
4 The entire text of Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon at the Opening Eucharist, preached on July 8, 2009, may be found at www.episcopalchurch.org/78703_112074_ ENG_HTM.htm.
9 A Mission-Shaped Church For we have a nagging sense that there is indeed a “cardiac crisis” at the local level in many places. Continuing to use her metaphor, the question of how we can allow the Spirit, at every level of the church, Episcopal and others, to “offer a pacemaker jolt to tweak the rhythm of this heart” is as urgent as ever. What sort of leadership and resources would such a quickening process need? Or more disturbingly, to push the metaphor a little further, one even wonders whether mission is the heart of many a local congregation. As the Pastoral Letter from Lambeth 1988 puts it, “In many parts of the Church, Anglicans have emphasized the pastoral model of ministry at the expense of mission. We believe that the Holy Spirit is now leading us to become a movement for mission.”5 The Lambeth bishops, along with leaders of many other traditions and the ecumenical movement, have reiterated the need for a dynamic missional emphasis that propels the churches to go beyond serving only the felt needs for nurture and care.
The Church-Shaped Mission The pressures of keeping up with the inner needs of the church take almost the entire energy and time of the ministerial leadership.
But a congregation—primarily organized around developing and maintaining its own inner life—becoming a movement for mission is simply not possible unless there comes about a radical shift from the “cultures of membership to cultures of discipleship.”6 The culture of discipleship is fundamentally a way of being, a lifestyle. Correspondingly, a call to mission is primarily a call to a posture of being “turned inside out.” It is a call to a fundamental reorientation of the church to be a “church inside out.”7 It is not easy to break out of the “culture of membership” which consumes much of the energy and attention of its ministerial and lay leadership in meeting the needs of its members. The problem is not new; the church has been defined, over the centuries, primarily in terms of its inner life as the place where the Word is truly preached, the sacraments duly administered, and the people rightly governed.
No 5 Quoted in Robert Warren, Building Missionary Congregations (London:
Church House Publishing, 1995), 3.
6 Fred Hiltz, “Go to the World! Go Struggle, Bless, and Pray: Bishops, Theological Schools, and Mission,” Anglican Theological Review 90, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 307.
Italics mine for emphasis.
7 Title of a book by Johannes Hoekendijk (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster, 1966).
10 Anglican Theological Review wonder that mission is seen as just “one more thing to do” among others and therefore is often conveniently left to be carried out in proxy by a few enthusiasts in the congregation or to some diocesan or denominational body. Unless the inward-looking definition is challenged, the ecclesiology behind it is reframed, and the equipping processes of its leadership are revisioned, a “mission-shaped” church whose very being is constituted in and for mission is simply unthinkable. It is this concern, I understand, that lies behind the Winter 2010 issue of the Anglican Theological Review.
Perhaps a matter of greater concern is that even in churches which seem to be very active in several local or global “missions” or projects, mission appears to be an optional “extra” carried through by a few, with little or no impact upon the being of the whole congregation and its worship, nurture, or fellowship. Three aspects of mission that is defined and shaped by a few enthusiasts may be observed, each of which needs to be subverted if our churches are to be transformed into missional communities. These observations also provide the rationale for moving from church-shaped mission to being a missionshaped church.
First, in many congregations, mission is understood primarily in “functional” terms, that is, in terms of a number of activities or “missions” to be carried out (note the use of the word in the plural). It is not very different from the use of the term in various “mission statements” by all sorts of agencies and corporations. But such an understanding does not reflect the fundamental missionary nature and being of the church; for, as Emil Brunner stated, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning” (note the word by and not for, since the latter reduces mission to only a function). How important it is to be reminded that mission cannot be reduced purely to strategies and activities for the success of an institution. How pertinent too it is to recover the import of the provocative expression of the early sixties that mission is not a function of the church, but rather, the church is a function in the already up-and-running mission of God in the world.
My observation is that some interpretations of Matthew 28:19, known as the Great Commission, have led to a distortion of the church’s understanding of “sent-ness,” from characterizing the very essence and the constitutive dynamic of the church, to being a series of activities which the church defines, shapes, and carries out, often “out there” somewhere. Further, the effect of the Great Commission in sustaining an urge to colonize other countries and “civilizing” other peoples 11 A Mission-Shaped Church and conquering other religions in the name of mission cannot be minimized either. As a corrective, it is important to recover the understanding of mission seen in Acts 1:8, in which the risen Jesus promises his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come” upon them, so that they may be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” Here mission is primarily a fulfillment of a promise, a gift of grace, and a spontaneous outcome of receiving the Spirit. When the Spirit comes upon us, we cannot but follow, stepping behind the Spirit who always goes ahead. Intentionally opting for Acts 1:8 as the foundation of the understanding of the missionary calling of Christians is critical at this time.8 It highlights that the church’s mission is only a response, and primarily a witness shaped by first discerning the Spirit who is already at work. Further, mission of the church is a way of being in the Spirit; it is first and foremost a posture of being, a style of life, before it is expressed in specific and contextual responses.
Concrete missional actions arise out of our being in mission, being in a permanent openness to God and in God to the other, and to the world. Therefore, all that the church is and does has a missionary dimension to it. An unmissionary church is not the church. The body not broken for the life of the world is not the body of Christ.
In a missional response shaped by an attentive following of the Spirit who goes ahead of us, there is always room for surprises. Mission takes place in unheard of places and through the agencies of unexpected people. As the Spirit moves afresh in changing contexts, there is little room for fixed order and set strategies; things are turned upside down. Philip, the evangelist who was preaching successfully to a large crowd in the midst of a city, is suddenly led away along a desert road to meet a lonely individual (Acts 8). A reluctant Peter is sent to a God-fearing gentile. Peter learns, to his surprise, that the Spirit acts in totally unheard of ways for which Peter and the Jewish Christians were in no way prepared. Without a radical insistence upon the priority of attuned discerning of God’s already up-and-running presence and work in the world, there can be no transformation from a churchshaped mission to a mission-shaped church.
Secondly, as Craig Van Gelder argues, that vast majority of the congregation exhibit “at the core of their genetic code... an organizational self-understanding, where the church’s primary identity is
8 My extended comments on this shift may be found in “CWM’s First Decade and
Beyond,” International Review of Mission 76 (October 1987): 477–479.
12 Anglican Theological Review related to being responsible to accomplish something.”9 One of the signs of such a captivity of the church to the “corporate mindset” is the deep sense of “agenda-anxiety” that characterizes many mission committees of larger parishes that have an acute sense of obligation to do something, somewhere, to someone. It is worth noting that even the definitions of the five “Marks of Mission” of the Anglican Communion are formulated as a list of “to-do” things.10 Despite the rich sacramental life of the church, there is no reference to mission as a habitus, a way of being, conformed by the Spirit to Christ’s way. The greater the number of programs that a congregation runs in its neighborhood or elsewhere, the more successful it considers itself to be.
Not that programs are irrelevant, but the problem is that these projects shaped by a few enthusiasts have little or no impact upon the core of being of the church, or all that goes on in the church, including its worship or Christian nurture, for example.