This is that time of year where, if people have the capacity to get beyond Christmas, so many folk break out their "year in review" story. I can't recall sharing a year in review, so I thought I'd give it a try.
Of course, this is from my perspective, so the focus will be on the 2017 congregational mission year in review! But I'll do this in a way that I hope will help you to think through and write up your own "year in review" or perhaps tackle a "state of the church and community" in the new year.
I suppose the lead story is that too many churches are still doing what we do totally separated from the community and culture. Can you tell if it is 1997 or 2017 in your church? If our church story has no connection or relation to the bigger community and world stories we are probably missing out. How are you part of the biggest conversations, needs, hopes of your community? Where are you going to listen, learn, and dialogue in such conversations? Often we church folk wonder why folk outside the church say we are irrelevant.
By this I don't intend that a congregation be absorbed by the culture, but as it stands many congregations are merely absorbed by their closed system congregational culture.
Further, many churches practice mission totally separated from the other practices of Christian and church. It's like we can choose whether to be in God's mission or not. In many ways the last chapter of church and Church life have been definitions of silos. The healthier practice is an integrated practice of the church which helps mission avoid being a busy bee do-gooderism that only engages the small percentage of people who have the time, funding, and skills to do a project.
Here are a few questions as you consider what it means for your church to be the Body of Christ and follow the ways of Jesus out among your neighbors:
How has your church been engaged by the current cultural and political turmoil in healthy, productive ways? How are you involved in ministries of reconciliation? How are you helping the community to grow in peace, health, and into maturity?
How does your church break the cycle of fake news and echo chambers? Or do you contribute to the problems of community and country?
How has your church been attentive and a community and world citizen to the numerous disasters of this year- both natural disasters as well as shootings? What is your short term, and long term, plans as you pray, give, and go to be part of the rebuilding of lives and community? Note that many families and communities are still struggling years after the disaster.
How is your congregation alive to your community, and responsive to God, in the current mission movement in your context? This is likely not in the news, not old repetition of mission projects, but something that is highly relational and a sign of what the church is becoming. This could be related to some of the big news stories of the year, and the larger mission movement seen across the world, related to people groups on the edge of the community, e.g. the poor, refugees/ migrants, prisoners, orphans, widows, and others who are among the most vulnerable.
The reality in many congregations is the continued decline of many churches, the loss of the last generation or two, and some denominational struggle and uncertainty on top of the local struggles. Both laity and clergy have proven we aren't very adaptable and prefer what we have known and where are comfortable.
A recurring theme I've seen throughout 2017 include churches redefining local mission and ministry. While we should continue to worship, pray, study, serve, and practice what it means to be a redemptive community, the way this looks must adjust to current and future neighbors in the community. Too many of our churches are trapped in the past by our traditions and preferences. We must define mission and ministry in fresh, vital ways for people today as more than a fad or gimmick. We must escape our church walls, our church traditions, and our church inhibitions to once again become a people or authentic, living giving/ sharing, incarnational ministry.
A new year brings new opportunities. How will you and your congregation catch the wave of the mission movement in your community in this new year?
I'm excited about another year:
- to have adventures of following Jesus in the community,
- to know and join alongside people groups on the edge of community who are in the middle of God's movement of grace,
- to grow in experience and skill of being a cross-cultural person as I learn from others and God,
- to help people find their place in participation and leadership in partnering with God and neighbor,
- to more boldly advance local, regional, national, and international ministries of reconciliation,
- and to encourage and teach more churches how to break out the walls of their cloister and confinement to be a church in/ of the community.