Churches Together England (CTE) has been convening working groups looking at the mission of the churches in the new era. T4CG is pleased to share some of the first fruits of their Post Covid Theology Project, particularly from the Missiology Group.
First, you will see below What do we mean by mission? Written by Jenny Sinclair (T4CG), Ben Aldous (CTE and Queens Foundation), Harvey Kwiyani (Global Connections) and Will Foulger (Cranmer Hall) outlining how we use the term mission in the scope of the project.
Below that, you will find some Missiology Questions, which came from conversations with the wider Missiology group. These are offered as starting points for any church wanting to refresh its sense of mission in the new era.
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY MISSION?
How does God engage with the world? What does God want of us?
The Missio Dei is the total vision for the transformation of the whole of reality… of mission as bringing back the whole universe into reconciled relationship with God. John Corrie
To achieve the transformation of reality, God needs everyone.
The Missio Dei starts not with the church but rather in God – in the life of God the Father, the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, who live together in relationship – always giving, loving and pouring themselves out for one another. God invites all His people into a community of communion: the relational life of the Godhead – in order to transform the world.
The Missio Dei reminds us that the church is called to join in with this mission of God. Therefore, the church must be subordinate, and exist for others: selfless, outpouring, outward-facing. Mission must be Christ-shaped. We know him as the one who did not hold on to his power, but gave himself up for the sake of the world. It is not the church that has a mission but the God of mission who has a church. The church is the sent one, not the sender. Too often, we get this the wrong way round.
Wherever we see the primacy of the self asserted over the primacy of God, whether in the missionary imperialism of the past, or when the church itself relegates God to a supporting role in ‘mission’, we see exclusion, violence and death: physical, social and spiritual. This tendency to assert that we know better than God was particularly evident in our colonial history:
Implicit in the philosophy of colonization and the Western missionary movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the assumption that other cultures were inferior to theirs. Esther Mombo
Missionary imperialism is a tendency that comes with hubris, and today’s forms, such as the dominance of money power or state power, or the ideologies of secular humanism, are again wreaking violence, dehumanising, dividing and degrading human life.
We also acknowledge that mission has been ‘inward’ rather than outward; that the church has not always fulfilled her calling to give herself away for the sake of the world but has instead sought to shore up her own influence and power. We agree with David Bosch that mission cannot be ‘a means of reconquering lost ecclesial influence.’
We acknowledge therefore, that ‘mission’ has difficult connotations, not only in terms of church history but also in its political associations. Some would prefer not to use it.
However, if we understand the Missio Dei then we have a way of reframing ‘mission’ that is true to God’s intentions and which is not overly burdened by the past.
God wants to transform the world.
The Missio Dei necessarily involves the whole people of God, requiring the church to engage across all cultural, racial, social, political and economic differences, indeed:
Crossing cultural boundaries has been the life blood of historic Christianity. It is also noteworthy that most of the energy for the frontier crossing has come from the periphery rather than from the centre. Andrew Walls
What we mean by mission therefore, is rooted in the radically inclusive relational life of the Godhead, the Missio Dei, which calls every human person – across all classes, cultures and ethnicities – into God’s great creative participation.
Indeed if some are missing, the mission is incomplete.
We therefore must adopt an attitude of listening to wherever God is at work, and ask Him always “Lord, keep us true to You, and lead us together in Your mission to transform the world.”
By Jenny Sinclair, founder director at T4CG / Ben Aldous, Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism at Churches Together in England / Will Foulger, Director of Mission and Evangelism at Cranmer Hall in Durham / Harvey Kwiyani, CEO of Global Connections, director of Missio Africanus and lecturer in African Christianity at CMS.
Download What do we mean by mission? as a pdf
STARTER MISSIOLOGY QUESTIONS
These questions may be useful for local and regional church leaders, local Churches Together groups or anyone looking for “a starter for 10” as we emerge from and adjust to the pandemic.
Mission and changing churches
During the pandemic it is obvious some churches are dying – what are we holding on to?
- What are the practices we can leave behind, what are we being called to?
- How can we be undertaker as well as midwife?
- What do we think about the relationship between mission online and embodied life?
- Does online church serve as an introduction to embodied life? Has the anonymous experience online served to begin a relationship that can be fulfilled later?
- The home church had become the main church during the pandemic. What positive lessons should be learned from that? Is there a new era of simplicity dawning? In light of that is our missiology shaping our ecclesiology?
- Is there going to be a new rise in ‘micro church’?
- More organic and less institutional?
- The pandemic has caused a ‘democratisation’ of discipleship – people can access materials and teachings from virtually anywhere on the planet – how will that impact our mission?
- How do we follow up and disciple people who have accessed worship online? For some lockdown has been a revelation – how do we help people see where God is at work?
- How can we as the church be better at listening?
Mission and our vulnerable churches
- Which churches nearby can I partner with? (One church many congregations)
- How do we move from protecting our institutions to sharing resources sacrificially? How do we make a move from grasping to open-handedness?
- Do we know our neighbours?
- Can we ask for help locally?
- Is it that we as the church must learn to become neighbour rather than host?
- Do we as the church need to rethink our understanding of hospitality?
- Is mission only to be carried out by the ordained?
Mission and children and young people
- How can the church offer instruction to children when they have been absent for such a long period of time?
- 70% of our churches don’t have children – how do we change that?
- There was a sense across the denominations that young people would quickly take to online church because they represent the digital native generation. However there has been a massive drop off in connection. Young people need a far more embodied experience than we had perhaps realised? How will the church respond to this? Intergenerational church?
- So, are we a relational church? Do we offer easy ways for young people to get involved in ways that don’t feel too “religious”?
Mission, death, pain and lament
- How can the church work more closely with NHS staff and offer them assistance (listening to them, support them, guide them)?
- More and more people have developed psychological problems during the lockdown. How can the churches deal with it?
- The church offered ministry in the past to all those people who were sick; even to lepers. During the pandemic the church(es) offered limited ministry to those suffering of coronavirus, for various reasons. How can we interpret that and what can we do about it? Will history judge us as having been too risk adverse? On the other hand our decision to close churches and adhere to strict protocols could be also judged as saving lives. There is a tension in these different responses.
- How are our churches helping people to process their grief?
- How can we draw on the Jewish traditions of lament?
- How can we help people understand what death is about?
- Lament is a missional tool – providing language for people. Sit in the pain without trying to fix things. This is important because of the huge death rate from Covid but also because of the burn out rate amongst clergy and other professionals. How will the church work through this?
Missio Dei and the pandemic
- Our churches were ‘empty’. What is the power of the “empty”? We may also refer to the empty tomb of Christ.
- We witnessed a dramatic shift in the ‘speed’ of life during the pandemic. What impact did it have on people, families, schools, business, etc? Can we learn follow the Three Mile an Hour God in mission and ministry?
- Our relationship to ‘place’ has been re-assessed or re-considered. Embodied presence in a particular location at a specific time has to be re-negotiated to some extent. How will the church respond to a future that is both virtual and embodied?
- How do we help people connect with outside spaces? How do we help people foster a sense of wonder over creation? We need to move towards an embodied mission of the environment that is much more integrated that at present.
Mission and the marginalised
- The poor have been overlooked – perhaps the church needs to reassess how we become a church of the poor?
- Are we really engaging with working people and the things that matter to them?
- Are we a genuinely relational church and rooted in the place where we are located?
- Are our churches a welcoming place for people of all classes?
- How do we engage with migrant churches and the migrant communities among whom they are working? (African, Asian, Polish, Latin Americans, Irish)
- Do our churches have a middle-class problem?
- How can the church shift from relationships with the community that are not contractual but covenantal?
The above questions were developed by the following church leaders, theologians and practitioners in the Missiology Group, convened by Ben Aldous (CTE):
Abamfo Atiemo (Presbyterian Church of Ghana in England), David Evans (CEO SA), Steven Fowler (CTE Trustee), Elizabeth Joy (CTE Trustee), Dionne Gravesande (New Testament Assembly – Christian Aid), Jan Nowotnik (CBCEW – Director of Mission), Costakis Evangelou (Ixthus Church Council), Joanne Thorns (CEO North East Region), Jonathan Smithurst (East Midlands representative), Philip Brooks (URC), Harvey Kwiyani (Global Connections CEO-CMS), Jenny Sinclair (T4CG), Will Foulger (Director of Mission and Evangelism Cranmer Hall Anglican), Heather Major (Highlands Theological Seminary/ Women in Mission/Church of Scotland), Martin Robinson (Journal of Missional Practice and Engage West Midlands), Gary Gibbs (Elim), Anastasios Salapatas (Greek Orthodox).
This work comes out of the ongoing Post-Covid Theology Project led by Churches Together England. The Missiology Group is one strand of this project and has also produced the following:
- Three real life reflections on mission and covid (pdf) by Dionne Gravesande (Christian Aid), Joanne Thorns (North East Churches Acting Together) and Philip Brooks (URC).
- Mission and lament (pdf) – A short essay by Heather Major (Highland Theological College and Women in missiology).
For more information on the Missiology Group, contact Ben Aldous, CTE’s Principal Officer for Mission and Evangelism.
The above is published with the kind permission of Churches Together England.