In a change from my normal blog posts, I have been sharing a number of papers on ministry that I have written down the years for the Doctrinal Commission of the Church in Wales. This post was rather written as a blog post last year for the Diocese of Llandaff in the Church in Wales. It fits neatly in the series, though, so I hope you enjoy.
When I was director of vocations for the Diocese of Llandaff in the Church in Wales, I used to sit on a comfy seat in my living room chatting over coffee with candidates who felt God was calling them to ministry. There are far worse ways to spend an afternoon! I would chat about their spiritual life and they would tell me about their church worship and private prayer. And I’d then ask whether they had been involved in outreach and mission? At that point there was often a long silence. I can only imagine they were desperately struggling to think of a time they struck up a conversation with a stranger about the life-transforming power of Jesus.
When many of us hear the words “mission” and “evangelism”, we naturally think of people persuading others the truths of their belief. When I think of “mission” I remember the over-enthusiastic UBM people on Llandudno Beach who used to mesmerise us children with puppets and a song about Jesus wanting us to be sunbeams. And I think of the Salvation Army group in my favourite musical Guys and Dolls, persuading gangsters to repent and welcome God into their lives. And I think of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where my friends and I would visit to debate our faith with ardent atheists. And I think of films like The Mission and Scorsese’s Silence, about priests baptising new Christians in far away, exotic lands.
But, let me take you back to my living room with my vocations candidates. Sitting there, still struggling to think of examples of when they brought somebody to faith, I would then read to them the Anglican five marks of mission, which were identified with personal evangelism at the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984 and which summarise what “mission” entails. And, yes, the list does include (1) preaching the good news and (2) baptising new believers. But the list doesn’t stop there – it also reminds us that mission involves (3) responding to human need through love, (4) transforming unjust structures in society, challenging violence, and pursuing peace, and (5) caring for God’s creation. On hearing this list, my candidates would suddenly start to detail examples of when they had been working in food banks, or volunteering with the Samaritans, or protesting against climate change or war, or campaigning against inequality, or teaching in schools, or collecting for charities, or visiting the sick or elderly. It was so inspirational to hear that they had been doing mission, in all sorts of wonderful ways!
The Oxford Dictionary defines mission as “an important assignment given to a person or group of people”. By factoring in the origin of the word “mission”, which comes from the Latin missio, meaning ‘to send’, we start to discover Christian outreach is really about. In the gospels, Jesus sends out his disciples two by two (Luke 10-1-9). This was a “mission” – an important assignment given to this band of followers. And Jesus is giving that same mission to us today! But he’s not sending us out to do any old work.
Theologians talk about us being sent to carry out Missio Dei – God’s mission. Jurgen Moltmann writes that “it is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church”. In other words, each time we are doing God’s work, we are doing mission. When we look at what’s lacking in society and we do something about it, we are doing mission. When we look where our world is crying out for peace, compassion and hope and we do something about it, we are doing mission. When we work towards the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded his disciples as he sent them out, we are doing mission! As theologian David Bosch puts it: “To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love”.
When the New Testament refers to God’s mission (whether in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) or in Jesus’s first sermon in a synagogue (Luke 4:16–21)), it often does so by looking back at the wonderful vision of the liberation of God’s people in the Old Testament. Isaiah, for example, gives a picture of hope to the Israelites who are suffering far from home on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates in Babylon. They are feeling lost, abandoned, and hopeless, much like so many people feel today in our world. And Isaiah says to them: despite all you are going through, despite the pain and sadness and frustration you feel, remember that there is still great hope for the future – fresh springs of living water will flow where there was once arid desert, those who are oppressed and marginalised will be raised up and liberated, those who are sick or disabled will be revived and made whole, those who are fearful or frustrated will be lifted up in joy, those who are hungry will be satisfied and made full, and creation that is groaning through misuse and greed will be made new and fresh!
This is a picture of what God wants us to bring to this world. We are being sent, each and every one of us. We are being sent to bring God’s light and life to our friends and neighbours. We are being sent to bring reconciliation and healing to our struggling communities. We are being sent to be beacons of hope and joy to our broken world.