The church is a group of people, called by God, to join in with God’s ongoing mission in the world; to announce the kingship of Jesus, and to be witnesses of his infinite love. We do not exist, simply to claim ‘souls’ for a disembodied future existence in heaven, but we exist to be physical bringers of the redemption, restoration, and renewal of creation, working towards that time when God’s kingdom will fully come and heaven and earth will one day be perfectly reconciled. It is a big task, and a vital one too, and importantly, each one of us has a role to play.
It is a bit of a mind shift for some of us, who have been members of church for many years, to think about our role in the mission of God. It is far easier to see church in two erroneous ways. Firstly, we incorrectly engage with church as something that we primarily benefit from; something to meet our own physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual needs and preferences. Secondly, we incorrectly engage with church as something which we serve, and we do this by taking on roles within the church — often sacrificially giving hours or even years of our lives. But, what if the correct way of engaging with church is to work out our role in the church’s God-given mission in the world? What would that look like?
If I am honest, as a church leader, trying to orient our church around the mission of God is like trying to steer a large ship. The inherited model of the church has often centred around Sunday worship, the maintenance of buildings, or the finances (by keeping the donors happy). We can have the best music, the sharpest sermons, the pointiest steeples, and the biggest bank balance, but if we are not engaging in the mission of God and making a tangible, positive difference, then we have missed the mark.
Therefore, part of my job is to do two things. The first is to try and have an ear to God, to discern, with the help of others, where God is leading us and to what ‘good deeds’ he is calling us; to have a vision and develop a strategy to fulfil that vision; and to communicate that vision as best I can. The second part of my job is to mobilise the congregation, to help them discern their gifts and talents — not to tie them up serving the church — but to help them find expression serving God together and to support them in their calling. Our buildings, resources, worship, time, and effort should all be oriented around, and used, to support the mission of God in the world.
Discerning the role of a church is not easy, especially with the pressures of all the aforementioned things ringing loudly in one’s ears – growth, attendance, Sundays, finances, repairs, and so on — important, as they are. Mission can feel like just one thing on a long list, if it even features at all — let alone be our raison d’etre. Here, at St.Mark’s, I am continuously trying to discern our calling, but I have a hunch it has to do with reaching out to the marginalised — especially those that are struggling with mental health issues — to provide for them love, support, and a spiritual home. Our strapline is, “Not just a church, but a family.” And, across Bermuda, each and every church will, similarly, have a mission and purpose to which God is calling them. Some churches will be called to address environmental issues, others to feed the hungry, others to visit the sick, still others to have a prison ministry, and so on.
So that brings me back to me, and to you, and our own role in our mission-shaped churches. Before I go on, however, I must emphasise that everyone has a part to play. You are never too old, unwell, infirm, busy, poor, broken, sinful, messed-up, needy, or frail, for God to use you mightily for his purposes and to represent God to the world. There is this bit in the Bible, found in the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in a town called Corinth, where he explains that the church is the body of Christ, and the body is made up of many parts — all being essential. In it he says this:
“…the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”
Indispensable. Honoured. Respected.
Hear those words and let them sink in. If you are a member of Christ’s church then he is talking about you. But there is more. God does not leave us unprepared or unequipped. He promises to give each and every one of us gifts — passions, skills, and talents — to be used for his mission and purpose. These gifts that are to be used to bless others and the world around us.
This week, if you are able, perhaps spend some time thinking about your role in the ongoing mission of God in the world. How has God gifted you, and how can you use your unique passions, skills, and talents to help fulfil that role? But above all, as you do this, remember that you are an indispensable member of Christ’s church, someone to be honoured and respected.