Let us pray.
Lord, you have promised to meet those who seek your face. Come now and reveal your presence to us as we make ourselves present to you. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Theme: “Making God’s Mission our Mission in reaching the Unreached”
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’*
The text which I have chosen as the backdrop for our reflection is one which is well-known by most Christians and should certainly be on the lips of every member of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew who takes his Christian faith and his membership in this organization seriously. It should also be equally on the lips of all Anglicans in this diocese who are serious about their commitment to Christ and his mission as these find direct expression in the Five Marks of Mission which are supposed to be guiding our Diocese as we seek to implement the strategic plan of our Diocese.
This text comes at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and occurs at a point at which the resurrected Christ is giving a commission to his disciples. But, according to the gospel narratives, this was not the first time that Jesus was sending his disciples out on a mission. He had been modeling for them the nature of the mission on which they were to embark, and had sent them out on different occasions, once two by two, and on another the sending out of the seventy. So it is not strange that one of the earliest recorded Fathers of the church, Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who lived as far back as 444 A.D. had something to say on the mission of the disciples, and the way in which Jesus, by his life and ministry had made plain to them what this mission was about by the model which he had provided, before we come to this final one in his resurrected state. Cyril did this by drawing on John’s account of the mission:
For if Christ thought it necessary to send out his intimate disciples in this fashion, just as the Father had sent him, then surely it was necessary that they whose mission was to be patterned on that of Jesus should see exactly why the Father had sent the Son. And so Christ interpreted the character of his mission to us in a variety of ways. Once he said: “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And then at another time he said: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
Accordingly, in affirming that they are sent by him just as he was sent by the Father, Christ sums up in a few words the approach they themselves should take to their ministry. From what he said they would gather that it was their vocation to call sinners to repentance, to heal those who were sick whether in body or spirit, to seek to, in all their dealings, never to do their own will but the will of him who sent them, and as far as possible, to save the world by their teaching.
The command of our resurrected Lord in today’s text to “Make disciples” is a command to mission. The call to mission includes the charge to baptize in the Trinitarian formula – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
While the directive “Teaching them to observe all the things that I have charged you” speaks to the importance of sharing the content of the gospel and the mission imperatives which derive from it. The promise of the abiding presence points to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church and the individual who has been baptized into Christ. The fact that this mission is to continue until the consummation of the age points to the reality that it is to be an ongoing activity year after year until the individual’s life is ended and until such time as the end of the age comes for our world with the return of our Lord.
But what does it mean to talk about mission in our age and time. A pastoral writer, Kenneth Callahan, writing on the subject of Mission, helps us lay down some fundamental principles for understanding what it means to engage in mission in our contemporary world by posing a question this way:
Who is our mission? That is, Who is God inviting us to serve in mission? God invites us to a theology of service, not a theology of survival. God invites us to a theology of mission not a theology of maintenance. God plants around us people with whom we can be constructively in mission.
What he is saying is that before we can engage in mission we must first look beyond ourselves and our preoccupation with the things that make only for the maintenance of the institutional structure of which we are part. We must look beyond mere maintenance of our buildings, making sure we raise enough money to meet our expenses, and just looking after the membership and the needs of the membership. It should be a source of concern, if not embarrassment to us, that much of our fundraising is currently targeting people who are not members of the church, or any church for that matter, even as we do not see the imperative that is ours to reach these persons with the gospel rather than seeking to empty their pockets. The lotto scam is highlighting the way in which we may be contaminating ourselves by accepting of the proceeds, rather than seeking to transform the lives of those involved in such immoral and criminal activities.
Having noted that the risen Christ calls us to make disciples, and that mission involves reaching the unreached, I want to explore some further foundations for understanding what mission is all about if the Brotherhood is serious about this aspect of its reason for existence. I want to do so by citing the understanding of the Mission of the Church as articulated by one who has been a most respected writer in the area of Missiology within the 20th century, David J. Bosch, whose major work is entitled Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.
Mission, he argues, has been understood traditionally as an expression of the very nature of God as defined in the doctrine of the Trinity – God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit. In more contemporary thinking there is an increasing appreciation of yet another “movement”: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.
In this light, mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God. Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. So as church, we do not exist as an end in ourselves, to simply sit and delight in the fact that we are saved. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is the fountain of sending love.
The primary purpose of the mission engagement of the church can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls so that we may grow our numbers; rather, it has to be service to the mission of God, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the Jesus Christ before the eyes of the world. In its mission the church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness.
Since God’s concern is for the entire world, this should also be the scope of the mission of the church. It affects all people in all aspects of their existence. God’s own mission is larger than the mission of the church. The mission of God is God’s activity, which embraces both the church and the world, and in which the church may be privileged to participate. As John 3:16 reminds us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” We may dare to modify that to say that “God so loved the world that he sent his church into the world …” The catechism expresses this inclusive love of God this way, “the mission of the Church is to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ”.
As members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew which has as its major focus and reason for being, evangelism and mission, and having chosen a theme which speaks of mission, it is important for us to pause and make some clarification of these terms as they are often used as if they are interchangeable. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 which is our text is often used as the foundation and justification for such thinking. Bosch provides a very helpful enumeration of some distinctives which I believe help to clarify things somewhat.
Evangelism is that dimension and activity of the church’s mission which, by word and deed, and in the light of particular conditions and a particular context, offers every person and community, everywhere, a valid opportunity to be directly challenged to a radical reorientation of their lives, a reorientation which involves such things as deliverance from slavery to the world and its powers; embracing Christ as Saviour and Lord; becoming a living member of his community, the church; being enlisted into his service of reconciliation, peace, justice on earth; and being committed to God’s purpose of placing all things under the rule of Christ.
Evangelism is therefore an aspect or dimension of Mission. Evangelism will only become effective as we see ourselves as a community with a Mission which is manifest in our very life and witness.
Let me cite two examples of this broader definition of mission versus evangelism:
1. Evangelism is only possible when the community that evangelizes – the church- is a radiant manifestation of the Christian faith and exhibits an attractive lifestyle. “The medium is the message”. If the church is to impart to the world a message of hope and love, of faith, justice and peace, something of this should become visible, audible, and tangible in the church itself (cf Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). The witness of life of the believing community prepares the way for the gospel. Thus the call to conversion should begin with the repentance of those who do the calling, who issue the invitation. The very being of the church has an evangelistic significance, whether positively or negatively.
2. Evangelism cannot be divorced from the preaching and practicing of justice. Evangelism cannot be divorced from the larger mission of the church. Evangelism is a call to service. As another writer expresses it, “an evangelistic invitation oriented toward discipleship will include a call to join the living lord in the work of his kingdom. It will direct attention to the aspirations of ordinary men and women in society, their dreams of justice, security, full stomachs, human dignity, and opportunities for their children. It will forthrightly name the “principalities and powers” opposed to the Kingdom. Evangelism is calling people to mission”.
Recalling the fact that the theme of this year’s convention is Making God’s Mission our Mission in reaching the Unreached, we must then address the question of how will the assemblies, and the branches within the various congregations go about fulfilling the mission of God?
The challenge then is for engagement in what is referred to as Mission Discernment. What is mission discernment? It is a process for helping a denomination, congregation or organization within the church to discover its particular call to mission. It involves a number of activities:
1. Renewing of our relationship with God in Christ. This is basic to everything in our life as Christians. Too much of what we do in the Church is about begging and pleading with people, pleading and begging people to come to Bible Study, to attend the Mid-Week Service, Prayer Meeting, to help with the Sunday School or join the Choir, to join one of the organizations in the Church, to help those planning the next congregational activity, or to honour their pledge for the financial upkeep of the Church. The truth is my brothers, that our participation in the life of the church must spring from the members’ celebration of their relationship with God in Christ. Within the tradition of Christian Spirituality we often speak of a spirituality or a life of Christian commitment which springs from a celebration of the providential care of God. In other words, I love and serve God and participate in the life of His Church, and am an active member of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, not because I am being pressured by someone but, because it is my experience and testimony that God is a God of love and care who orders the affairs of the world in the interest of His people, and it is my experience and testimony that God has so ordered my life. Everything that I do must therefore spring not from anybody’s begging and pleading but my grateful response to this loving God, an appreciation of God’s grace and mercy.
Any serious re-examination and re-focusing of one’s relationship with God in Jesus Christ must begin with the practice of spiritual discipline, including serious study of Scripture, prayer, participation in the sacramental life of the church, and a time of waiting and listening to hear what God may be saying to us. This is true for the individual Christian as it is true for the community of faith and the organization. So if there is to be any serious re-focusing on Mission, it must begin with a process of preparation.
2. The recognition of a world in need outside of ourselves. Every time we meet for corporate worship as Anglicans we pray for the poor and those who are in need. There is a response from the Morning Office: “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten: Nor the hope of the poor be taken away”. And every form of Intercession has a petition that speaks about the poor, the hungry and the needy. But what does that mean after we have said our prayers? There is a quotation from the Anglican Consultative Council which I found some time ago and which speaks to this matter in very relevant tones and which may have relevance to all Christian bodies:
“Today there is no shortage of pious words, affirmations of faith, discussions about hunger or expressions of spirituality. But the world is still waiting for the demonstration, in costly and practical terms, of what we proclaim with our lips. I was hungry and you formed a committee to investigate my hunger….I was sick, and you held a seminar on the situation of the underprivileged…You have investigated all aspects of my plight, yet I am still hungry, homeless and sick”.
Could that possibly represent a cry coming from the many communities now living in close proximity to many of our congregations, and after the convention is over will business go on like these seminars referred to in this quotation?
At one of our clergy conferences a few years ago, I listened to Dr. Hubert Gayle speaking about the influence of the Dons on the boys in the inner city of Kingston and the strong bonds of loyalty which they are able to develop with these boys. It was amazing to hear of the absence of male figures from their lives and how they filled that void with the attention which the Dons offered them. And was it not just a week ago that at the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry we heard once more of how the young man known as “Doggie” from Montego Bay was able to talk about “Dudus” as his father, and came all the way to fight for him during those days of upheaval.
There is a great hue and cry about the marginalization of males in the society, especially young men and boys. The men of the church need to find ways in which to respond in more dynamic ways to the boys and young men who are growing up angry and on the margins of society. In Jamaica today the most vicious criminal is the young male anywhere from 13-35. How can the brotherhood exercise a greater impact and influence than these purveyors of evil who seek to endear themselves to these boys growing up without love and seek to transform more of the young male lives in our communities?
The point is that we need to have a deep consciousness of the world outside of the boundaries of our currently constituted constituency which has needs and which must be a source of concern for the people of God, recognizing that these needs may be peculiar to the setting in which each assembly and branch finds itself. At the same time, while acknowledging that various chapters have been involved in different projects, it is necessary to evaluate what you have been doing for those who are deemed poor and needy, if anything, and must ask if what you have been doing is worth continuing in the way you have been doing it. You need to ask also if there are needs which you have neglected or which are new needs to which you ought to be responding. This brings me to the third activity:
3. Analysing and assessing community needs. What really are the needs of the people in the local community in which the branches and assemblies sit? We often are prone to respond in economic terms. Yet the changing needs of communities are not just about economics. Let me give you some examples. The data indicate that the people in our Caribbean Region are living longer, so we are getting more elderly people in our communities and in our congregations. Many of those who have been employed outside of the home now find themselves retired from work but still active.
There is a tendency for the excuse to be offered that the membership is made up of a lot of old and ageing men and therefore is limited in what it can do. You know, the other day a few of us from this Diocese were sitting in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale and paying attention to the age of many of those who work in the airport. They are not young people, and they are doing physical and demanding work because they cannot afford to stop working and retire. Thankfully, some of the most active members of some of our congregations today are returning residents who have borne those bitter winters, discrimination, and the rigours of life in the countries of the North, but are still giving of themselves in active ways. Let us be careful that we are not selling ourselves short by claiming limitations of health and strength when we should be giving thanks to God for the strength and health we currently enjoy.
In short, while the Brotherhood of St. Andrew needs young men, it must celebrate in a positive way the elderly who are willing to dedicate themselves to the mission of God.
One measure of the effectiveness of the Church in responding to the current mission challenges has to do with an examination of the way in which the church and her members are responding to opportunities for new initiatives in emerging communities and in the strengthening of existing ones. In this regard we acknowledge the contribution of members of the Brotherhood in St. Ann who have been assisting in the Mission in Discovery Bay. But we have some unexplored opportunities across the island. There are countless squatter communities, politely referred to as “Informal Communities” across the island in which you will find no Anglican witness. We have identified as a new diocesan project Longville Park in Clarendon, and must acknowledge the contribution of the members of the Brotherhood of this church for their contribution to this initiative, but we need to have more involvement across the Diocese that looks beyond the local congregation to which we belong.
Some time ago I came upon a story about the lost watch which I believe sums up pretty well where we find ourselves as a Diocese in terms of the exercise of the mission to the wider community and the challenge which faces us if we are going to be creative in our approach to mission.
It was night. Two men under a street lamp were searching for a watch one of them had lost. Down on their hands and knees, they searched the pavement all around the light pole.
“Are you sure you dropped it here?” the helping friend asks.
“Well, not exactly here,” the watch loser replies.
“What do you mean,” his friend retorts, “where’d you drop it?”
The man points out into the darkness, “About twenty yards over there.”
Incredulously the friend exclaims, “You lost your watch out there! Then why on earth have we been looking here?”
To which the man replies, “Because the light’s better over here.”
We must resist the temptation to engage life where it seems easiest.
4. Identifying the gifts of members and the resources of the community. Every member of the Church and your organization has some gift, but each person must be committed to the exploration and discovery of the same and the use of this in the service of God. As members of the church we have a responsibility to help persons discover their gifts and affirm them in the utilization of the same. The collective gifts of the members, as well as its financial resources, constitute the resources available to the organization.
There is a tendency for us in the church to minimize the resources which we have available to us. Beyond the gifts of members and their financial resources we have physical resources which constitute an important asset. The use of the buildings which we possess for a few hours per week is not good stewardship of the resources which God has placed in our hands. We must find more creative ways to put to use these underutilized resources of the church.
In a recent meeting with the outgoing President I pointed out the need for the Council and the Assemblies to work more closely with the Diocesan administration to identify projects which we may undertake as part of the mission thrust of the organization and the Diocese.
5. Equip members and then make specific plans for mission. Too often the Church asks persons to undertake tasks without providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out the task. Earlier we sought to clarify the relationship between Mission and Evangelism, as we often assume that we know what we mean when we use these terms. In my recent meeting with your outgoing President, I also raised the question about what training is given to the membership at different levels of the organization to understand these things and how to engage in them because, without that kind of understanding we will only play around the surface with what is supposed to be at the heart of the life of this organization. Sometimes we have the training resources in our own organization or within the diocese and do not recognize them. This aspect of mission is ongoing and must be responsive to change and in orienting new members to the mission.
It is when we are so empowered that we can then get down to what specific things we want to undertake as members of the brotherhood and our local congregation. Across the diocese we have congregations that are doing pretty well in terms of the composition of its membership, its ability to meet its financial obligations, and in its ministry to members. At the same time, there are those struggling ones which could do with some input and support from the members of the congregation of the larger more vibrant congregations. So, for example, I believe that four to six members of one such congregation should be able to say to their Rector that they are aware of congregation X which could do with some help with their Sunday services and that they are willing to commit themselves to one Sunday per month to help in this regard. Yes, the cry still goes out as in days of old, “come over to Macedonia and help us”.
6. Evaluating the effectiveness of the Mission effort. At the end of our Psalms we say the Gloria patri, “Glory to the Father ….”. We Anglicans seem to forget at times that the Gloria patri is speaking of the qualities of God and not the way things are supposed to be in the Church. It is therefore imperative that whatever a congregation or organization does by way of Mission should be evaluated from time to time. The reality is that, not because we have done something for thirty years, and in this particular way, that it should continue or continue in this particular form. There is the story of the young persons who sat the same examination four times and failed it. In consternation he said, “I don’t understand how I keep failing the examination, because every time I do the exam I put down the right answer”. His friend to whom he had gone for some support said in response to him, “I suppose that if you put down the wrong answers next time, then you are likely to pass”. Every mission undertaking should have some mechanism in place for evaluating the effectiveness and status of the same.
Let me remind you that the theme which you have chosen for your convention is Making God’s Mission our Mission in reaching the Unreached . What I have sought to do is to point out that to do this we must first understand what the Mission of God is all about, we must become persons who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit of God as a starting point for engagement in the Mission, and we must plan for Mission, if we are to achieve the objective of reaching the unreached for God in Christ.
So today you meet under the theme “Making God’s Mission our Mission in reaching the Unreached”. As long as you take this theme seriously and the People of God in the congregations and your organization continue to hold fast to the truth of the gospel, to witness and to share, to welcome and to care, its mission challenge will always be a task in the making of reaching the unreached, a task that is never complete.