Have we made mission too hard?
There’s been a lot written over the past 15 years about becoming more missional. Books and seminars and conference speakers urge individuals to go and make disciples. That means engaging the surrounding culture, binding up wounds, forming relationships, sharing faith, proclaiming the gospel, forming converts in Christian spirituality and then bringing them along to church. In calling Christians to think like missionaries, we may fall into thinking that mission is the action of the individual among the masses – especially when we think about mission in our place of work or learning.
Yet for all of our challenging individuals to mission and disciple-making, we’re not, broadly speaking, seeing a whole lot of results.
I’m wondering if, by expecting too much of the individual, we’re placing mission beyond the grasp of the average believer. Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 argues for a corporate, interdependent approach to ministry, without making distinction between ministry to those within the Christian community and those outside. The whole mission of Christ is the occupation of the whole body of Christ.
Mission is something in which we can all participate, regardless of gifting or temperament. But instead of every individual taking it upon themselves to fulfil the whole mission of Christ in microcosm, perhaps each of us could simply find our place to use our gifts and pull our weight in community. In so doing, we might just accomplish with more effectiveness the great undertaking with which Jesus has commissioned us.
Using the pathways model to think about mission can be helpful.
Who are the unchurched people here? Do I know them? No? Well, that means I’m in a ‘potential contact’ context. What is the mission task in this context? Make friends. That’s it. Walk over, introduce myself, practice the art of conversation with a stranger, listen a lot and see where it goes. Congratulations, I’m ‘on mission’.
So now what? I have a new unchurched friend. That turns the context into an ‘in touch; setting. Mission here means two things. Firstly deepen the friendship by sharing and my life and resources with them (eg tell stories and shout a round of drinks) – including my spiritual life as appropriate. And, introduce my new friend to my Christian friends.
This might all happen in one day (for example, at a party) or it might take a few meetings (eg catching up for coffee or pursuing a common interest together). Either way, I’m still ‘on mission’, even if it just feels like being friendly and caring.
My next mission task is to help my now well-established friend to feel like a part of my circle of Christian friends (many of whom will be Christian). Now that means ‘doing life’ together –possibly in a structured program like a playgroup or sports team, and in less structured contexts like dinner, camping trips – whatever we do to enjoy each other’s company as a group of friends.
I’m also sharing more of my life with my friend -my hopes, my hobbies, my struggles and my faith. My faith is no more private than my interest in playing guitars or fixing up old cars.
In this context, our diversity in community really kicks in. My unchurched friend gets to experience my gifts (I’m a mentor-coach kind of person, full of questions and stories), and observe my faith (which is kind of ascetic – big on spiritual disciplines). At the same time they enjoy everyone else’s gifts too. Someone else might be really pastoral, or big on hospitality. Other people may express their faith more through service, or celebration.
Not too hard? In the meantime, I’m praying for my friend. Some people think this is weird and manipulative. I don’t understand this way of thinking. They’re my friend. I pray for all my friends, my family and my clients. I thought all Christians did this.
By now my friend will be hearing about Christ at work in my life and the lives of a number of my friends. They’re probably curious. The next step in mission is to introduce my friend to the gospel. I can do this (prayerfully) in several ways. I could invite them to join me in an Alpha course or a similar process-evangelism course. I might simply invite them to read the scripture with me. I could invite them to a church service with an intentional gospel message. I might just open the bible up in response to their questions.
Or one of my other friend s may invite my unchurched pal to consider the gospel, because they too are friends. If one of my other friends is an evangelist, they’ll almost certainly beat me to the invitation.
This is another juncture where people protest that I’m being manipulative. And it’s another opportunity for me to scratch my head and ask questions. Isn’t the gospel Good News? Isn’t salvation the best thing that ever happened to me? Isn’t Jesus the most important relationship in my life? Surely I will hope and pray that my friends could enjoy the same, simply because I care about them.
Mission is relational. When I engage in mission I develop more friendships and my life becomes richer for it. Some of the friends I make by being involved in mission will become believers and fellow missionaries with me. Some will simply be my friends and have no interest in my faith.
This is not the only approach to mission. But it is one so simple that we can all be a part of it.