A New Mission for the Church?
Wess's first topic of the day (after his introduction) was a redefinition of the word mission. I feel like it was an opportunity to reclaim the word, much like Carol Spencer inspired me to reclaim the word holiness last year. He started by asking us what associations we had with the word and these ranged all over, from the saving of souls to military campaigns. I personally think of the haunting movie with Jeremy Irons & Robert DeNiro, The Mission.
As I see it now, the word "mission" for a postmodern church or meeting means something combining the secular nonprofit organizational meaning of a purpose for being, as in a mission statement, and the Quaker meaning of a leading, or a God-directed purpose. It means the work that a particular church or meeting is called to do and be, and Divinely fitted to do, and needed to do. I think it could be related to Walter Wink's concept of the angel of an institution, but I don't really feel qualified to address that connection.
So then Wess proposed a very interesting idea, that the mission of the church, broadly speaking, is to be a midwife to the spiritual life, of an individual or a community. Here are some of the interesting points that were generated:
(some come from Wess and some from the audience, they built on each other)
- the midwife brings experience and training
- the midwife trusts the mother to be competent
- the midwife is not in charge or control of the labor
- the midwife is not the baby or the impregnator of the mother, nor the one doing the labor, nor the one who will keep the baby
- the midwife serves a particular area; she is mobile but not homeless
- the midwife doesn't show up where she's not wanted or just on game day
- the midwife is committed to the whole process, for better or worse, regardless of outcomes
The church trains and prepares and brings faith that a person or community can have, already has, a spiritual life. The church/minister has the role of accompanying the person who's developing their spiritual life - not in charge of creating it or saying where it will go, although they may have some experience of seeing how things often progress, and can be reassuring along the way. The church has to be flexible but not unmoored. A minister serves a community as a whole and people as individuals. The church has to be in it for the long haul.
I know I want to spend more time contemplating and discussing this image. Does it speak to you? Would your meeting or church be open to thinking about its purpose this way?
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