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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Inviting and Equipping

Is your church’s mission statement working for you? If so, great. A good mission statement can be a powerful tool for ministry.

But if it isn’t working – if people can’t remember it, or they don’t know what it means, or it doesn’t affect the way you make decisions – it may be because it’s not focused on the right things.

Your church’s mission statement should describe its purpose – the reason the church exists. The root meaning of the word “mission” is “send.” “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Your mission is the work that Jesus sends you to do – a continuation of the work that God sent Jesus to do.
St. Paul gives expression to this same idea through his image of the church as the Body of Christ. Christ isn’t physically present in the world, but he is present through his Body – his people who are his hands, feet and heart.

What many mission statements actually do is describe the results or outcomes of the mission rather than the mission itself.

There are two common types of mission statements that illustrate this problem. 

One could be described as the “caring community” type. For example: “Our mission is to be an open, inclusive, compassionate community, welcoming all people.”

Another is the “change the world” variety – as in “Our mission is to serve those in need and seek justice for all.”

Now, let me be clear. Churches absolutely should aspire to be both caring communities and places of service to the needy. But these qualities and actions are the results of a church faithfully living out its mission. The mission itself, though, is somewhat different.

I believe that the mission of every church has two aspects. First, to invite people to faith in Jesus; and second, to equip people to follow Jesus in their daily lives. Each church will find its own way of living out this two-fold mission, but invitation and equipping are the basic elements of every church’s purpose.

We are all called to love God and neighbour. And we are all called to live with compassion, humility, forgiveness, justice and love. In a post-Christian world, we’re discovering more and more that the primary impact of these actions and attitudes ought not to be within the church, but in the places where people live and work.

The purpose of the church is to help people get to know Jesus, so that they can learn how to follow Jesus day by day.
There are several ways in which churches would benefit from focusing their mission on inviting and equipping.

First, clarity. Many churches have a “branding” problem. People, including people in the church, don’t know what they’re for – except to benefit their own members and perhaps provide community meeting space. Some argue that the church needs to downplay Jesus if it wants to be more relevant. I disagree. Proclaiming the counter-cultural message of Jesus and equipping people to follow him clearly defines the purpose of the church and distinguishes it from other service organizations.

Second, practicality. A mission focused on inviting and equipping is doable. Many mission statements have the effect of making churches feel like failures because they set an impossibly high ideal. Needs are endless. They can overwhelm us and paralyze us. Churches that define themselves primarily in terms of compassion and service can be defeated by their human fallibility.

We can’t be a community of perfect love, and we can’t change the world. But we can invite people to faith in Jesus, and we can equip people to follow Jesus in their daily lives.

Third, it’s inspiring. A mission centred on inviting and equipping is true to the reason the church has always existed. It is able to touch people’s lives personally and to awaken a sense of personal mission. And it addresses the aching needs of the world that God created and loves.

If you feel like your mission statement isn’t working, have another go at it with these two ideas in mind: The church exists to invite people into the vision of God, the world and humanity proclaimed by and embodied in Jesus; and the church exists to equip people to live out of this vision in practical ways in their everyday lives.