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For mission to become a reality. . .


Mission is one of those church buzz words of our time.  Multiple definitions of the concept exist but we all agree that it is a good thing and that as the church we should be about it, however we define it.

I find it interesting though that even as there is persistent cry for “mission,”  in many corners of the one holy catholic and apostolic church there lacks the most basic level of stability or health.  (Health is relative term, of course, no one/congregation is completely healthy.)  In parishes where there has been long term chronic conflict and anxiety it is nearly impossible to foster a sense of mission without some very intentional healing and reworking of the corporate identity.  When we are too busy taking care of our deepest felt needs we are unable to look beyond ourselves, to look out into the neighborhoods in which we live, or to be able to affect any sort of positivity beyond the four walls of the congregation.  I have wished many times that synod leaders and national church leaders would recognize this most basic reality and instead of pushing, urging, prodding, cajoling us to “do mission” they would instead focus on how to lay a solid groundwork for that to occur.

Abraham Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs in the human person but I think it also applies to the church (or any other human organization).  If we do not have our most basic needs met – food, shelter, water- then we cannot be concerned with the next level of existence which is learning, growing, thriving.  If we do not have love, comfort and security, we cannot be concerned with much outside of ourselves.  Just think of school children who come to school hungry; how is their brain functioning in the classroom?  If a child comes to school after witnessing a knock down drag out fight between his parents, how ready is he to get busy memorizing multiplication facts?  Likewise, if the local congregation is consumed with fussing and fighting over the issue-du-jour (which often has deeper emotional roots than what can be seen on the surface) then they cannot find their purpose, they cannot use their imaginations, they cannot see the needs that surround them- and even if they could they are helpless to do anything about it!  All of the building blocks of emotional/spiritual health and wellbeing need to be in place to reach anything close to what Maslow called, “Self-Actualization.”  In the parish we might call this our PURPOSE- that which God has called us to as a people of faith.

So then, in a church that is wracked by conflicts and agitations, to push congregations to “do mission” is like yelling encouragement into deaf ears.  We may have the best of intentions but the body of Christ is in survival mode.  When we are simply surviving, we are far from thriving.  It takes intentional listening on the part of church leadership to bring about a level of health that can lead to mission and ministry.  All grievances must be dealt with, or at the very least an open system needs to be fostered where all can be heard (and they have to feel like they’ve been heard).  Unless and until this happens the parish collectively runs on the treadmill of frustration, hurt, pain and anger.  We cannot be too quick to say, “I’m really tired of this conversation,” even if we are ready to move on.  If one person still has something to say about it and doesn’t feel heard or respected then the issue cannot be put behind the community as a whole.  Too many of these unresolved issues detracts from the life of the congregation.  For mission to become a reality. . . a baseline of health and wellbeing must exist.


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