For some in the churches, mission means evangelism. Full-throttle efforts to convert the unconverted. Evangelism is the preoccupation of Evangelicals. “Don’t laugh,” an Evangelical cautioned me. “They want to convert you too. Episcopalians like you aren’t real Christians.”
I may have a suspicious view of mission in Evangelical hands, but Episcopalians and other old-line Christians also speak of mission. We mean service to people in need. We shun high-pressure efforts to convert. We view Muslims and Jews and members of other faith traditions as people of God. We emphasize aid and support for all people. We also think of forming faith community and promoting dialogue and education. Noble ideals all.
The problem is that such clear views of mission easily get lost. For one thing, clearly, Christians differ. For another thing we are self-critical: we lapse into moaning about what we’re not instead of what we are. Worse, we can be long on talk and short on action. Our words don’t often translate into concrete acts.
Mission is a topic we must discuss. There is sufficient confusion, among the churches and beyond them. Clarity is needed. We start here: mission is not a set of programs based on the assumptions of religious institutions. Mission is about core purpose: why we are Christian and what we are called to do as a result of faith. Mission should be a road map for being the church. Mission is about how we can live the ideals of Christian faith genuinely and effectively.
As we have said in A Church Beyond Belief and in Fragmented Lives, faith is not focused on belief. Faith is a way of life, together, that is unfolding, being discovered. If faithful people do not address the why, what and how regularly, mission becomes confused and half-hearted. No wonder religious institutions struggle. They easily lose focus. Then, whatever we mean by mission, it does not happen.
William L. Sachs