When I was a kid, I took great pride in taking the dimes that I earned from my paper route and placing them in the dime cards that we received from our denominational mission agency to support overseas mission. Mom took notice of my interest and told me more than once that she was praying that I would be a missionary. Well, I never quite met Mom’s lofty ideal, but being a pastor was probably the next best thing.
For Mom, a key component of her understanding of mission was overseas missionary work. For many of our congregations, this has been the primary understanding of mission. For the most part, we have assumed that congregations are places of worship and nurture. The real mission of the church happens “over there.”
Since the days of dime cards, the world has changed dramatically. For congregations that now find themselves in the middle of a secular Canadian society, the “over there” understanding of mission is no longer an adequate understanding of what it means to be the church. This is something my parents understood over fifty years ago. Balancing their passion for overseas mission was an equally strong passion for mission in the local community.
Our little faith community, the Waters Mennonite Church, was an active mission outpost that engaged its local neighbourhood. Members developed personal relationships with people outside the congregation and shared with them a thriving Anabaptist faith, which meant that the congregation was filled with people who were new to the Mennonite faith.
Many Mennonite congregations today do not have that kind of balanced commitment to mission. It’s a lot easier to only be worship and nurture centres, leaving the call to mission to the saintly few that go “over there.”
I believe that God is calling us to re-engage mission in our local congregational contexts so that, in addition to being places of worship and nurture, congregations are also actively relating to their neighbours and inviting them to experience the quality of life, the rich relationships, and the meaningful spirituality that we take so for granted within our faith communities.
We need to re-learn what it means to be communities of Christ’s peace. This kind of commitment to God’s mission for the church in our secular society will require a whole new way of thinking and some entirely new skill sets for both pastors and church members. God is calling us to redefine what it means to be “missionaries” right here in the local neighbourhood.
Actually, maybe my mother was on to something. Maybe it is not too late for me to become a missionary. Perhaps we each need to start acting like missionaries in our local communities, a new kind of missionary who shares God’s love with authenticity and grace so that others can also experience what God has shared with us.
In November the Mennonite Church Canada General Board and leaders from its five area churches accepted a proposal from the Future Directions Task Force to restructure our national and regional churches. The purpose is to realign our structures, staffing, and programs to support this new “face of mission” that invites our congregations to be vibrant communities of worship and caregiving that are intentionally building relationships with their neighbours, actively sharing their faith, and inviting others to experience the richness of an Anabaptist Christian community. Please pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as our church leaders across Canada envision a new path for mission and lay the groundwork for being the church in a secular society.
David Martin is executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.