“The church exists by mission…”

2015-15.2

Matthew 28:18-19

TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 2015

Therefore go…

I’m not on commission… but even small towns, like in the story below, have Costa coffee shops and they are great relaxing and neutral places to meet. Good coffee, too!

Matthew 28:18-19
Then Jesus came to them and said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples…”

THIS is the verse traditionally used for ‘Mission Sunday’ occasions. It conjures up pictures of people wearing pith sun helmets and African women looking uncomfortable in English dress and carrying large Mother’s Union banners. And I have a beef about it because, back in the day, the big missionary societies stole the word ‘mission’ and have had the cheek to use it as if it were theirs alone.

I’m keen on overseas mission but the word mission is bigger. It is what the church exists for. Long before the word ‘missional’ was invented, the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner said: “The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.”

Brunner’s point was that mission is not to be seen as just ‘overseas mission’. It describes the forward connectional thrust of the Church. It’s what we do as a part of worship. Love God, love people, love the lost. We exist by being wired for mission.

This Bible passage, the beginning of the Great Commission, fits the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) like Lego. In it Jesus reads out His ordination as Head of the Church and says: “Therefore go…”

He might have told us to form a holy huddle, stick together and resist the world, the flesh and the devil. A church I was once involved with thought this was a good idea. It was, they said, an oasis of peace and good in an evil world. They had replaced all the windows with frosted glass ones.

The renowned theologian in 1931, and the much more renowned radical rabbi from Galilee, said go to where people are, and then encourage them to get to where you are. Great stone and galleried brick buildings created a presence for God’s people, but unfortunately God’s people rather liked them and decided to get comfortable in them. I have a friend who was brought up in the imposing (and beautiful) town centre Baptist church, which seats about 600. The parents, lovely people, have been there all their lives. The grandparents actually had their name on the end of their family pew. How attitudes have changed!

Where people gather now are the pubs (as much for eating as drinking these days) and coffee houses. This is home turf for them, and so it’s where we need to be. My friend who is a C of E vicar has a favourite pitch in his local Costa and it’s a busy place. The first time I met him there – I forget what the serious business was we were supposed to discuss – he introduced me to every single person and staff member in the shop. From that sort of relationship it’s not a big step to arrange a late opening for an exploring kind of Bible study or even an Alpha.

Another church used the setback of a major fire to remodel their building as a community centre and cafe, open every day. It doubles as a non-religious entrance to the worship area which is now upstairs. Is that truly going? One of the ways we “go” is by repositioning ourselves to meet a need or to be relevant in another way. It is going to where people are, and where they feel comfortable, and that may not involve much actual distance – just a different uniform and different offering.

We are learning to reclaim that ‘mission’ word from the specialists and make it, quite simply, what we do. It’s like loading the nets into the boat and then seeing that Jesus is already out on the water, pointing out a shoal.

CHECK IT OUT

  • What comes to mind for you with the word ‘mission’?
  • How much does your church exists for mission? How could it ‘go’ further?
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