As we hurry to complete and submit our canonically-required Mission Strategy Reports, I wanted to share some thoughts about mission and mission strategy that I have learned from those blessed folks of the Eucharistic communities I have had the privilege of working with this year. Perhaps the most important part of mission is a realization that it reflects and responds to God and His creative activity. God is a God who sends: God sent His Spirit over the waters at creation; He sent His prophets, judges, and kings to the people of Israel; He sent a pillar of fire and cloud to guide the people of Israel; He sent His only Son to be born, serve, preach, and ultimately sacrifice Himself for His people; He sent the disciples out in twos to heal the sick and cast out demons in His Name; He sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and those gathered in the Upper Room after His Resurrection and Ascension; and He sends us out to preach the Gospel and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). God sends, and is sending us at this very moment. That is the heart and soul and core of mission. Mission is a response to God’s sending.
Mission and mission strategy is not about filling pews, or increasing plate revenue, or anything else associated with church maintenance and administration. In fact, it is far from it. Mission is about preaching the Gospel and making disciples. We no longer can throw open the red doors and suddenly we have an influx of able and willing bodies longing to be part of our Eucharistic communities. We can no longer just offer programming that will attract and bring in more bodies in the physical plant and beautiful worship spaces. That model just isn’t effective anymore. What the diocesan vision strives for is an incarnational model rather than the attraction model, meaning that now we must be the hands and feet of Jesus to folks wherever there may be disciples to be made. We have to leave the comfort and security of our beautiful worship spaces and towering spires, and learn to be present and in relationship with those whom we feel called to connect with and disciple. Mission means building trusting relationships with folks wherever and however they may be. When we build relationships, and serve one another, only then can catechesis and formation occur. ‘Missionary’ is no longer an old and tired word, but now takes on a new dimension rich with the power of the Holy Spirit and fueled by our conviction that we are being sent by God to proclaim the Gospel and to be Christ for the world, and in particular, those who are in our geographic parishes.
Another part of mission and mission strategy is the change in nomenclature in the diocese. It is difficult for us to no longer call ourselves ‘parishes’ and ‘missions’ but rather Eucharistic Communities and Communities-in-Formation. Under the diocesan vision, we are called to be one church, united in love, and reaching out to serve those organized under our new geographic parishes. Changing our language changes and creates our reality. The diocesan vision poises us each for mission work and creates a reality where mission IS the point of being church! We no longer have vestries; we now have Mission Leadership Teams! That’s right….MISSION leadership teams. Our new vision of church extends out farther and more courageously than we could previously imagine. The ground for mission is fertile in the counties of central and southern Illinois. The time for mission is now! God is sending each of us as the one church of the diocese of Springfield out to labor in His fertile and desperate fields of broken, hurting, and lost human beings and beloved children of His. God sends, and we are sent! Do you hear His call? Do you feel the Spirit? Do you feel His love? Then GO….for He sends you!