Theologically speaking, a Christian denomination’s priority should always be mission – that is, service to the world.
We could say the same thing for congregations and parishes. It is that outward-moving, creation-and-people-loving, God-honouring impulse that takes seriously Jesus’ own sense of mission in Luke 4:16-21:
When he came to Nazareth … he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day[.]
He stood up to read … the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
… ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
… [Then he said] to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
If this is Jesus’ own program for mission, and if we are also called into mission as people who follow Jesus, this pattern should be central for us. It is about proclaiming good news; seeking the well-being of the impoverished; working for liberation and healing; and announcing the goodness of God. In short, it is about serving others.
Have I missed something? Let me know in the comments.
Although there were ugly aspects of The United Church of Canada’s originating dream (for example, the totalizing and sometimes anti-Catholic discourse), the heart of that denomination-forming impulse at the turn of the 20th century was principally a missional impulse.
We need to keep the priority of mission (serving others) in front of us in the present. It will help us test how we invest ourselves. How is ‘x’ serving Christ’s mission? ‘X’ might be a favourite project, a new or continuing ministry, a committee, a gift of time or organization or money or labour.
When we answer that, we’ll know how to allocate resources, energy, time, prayer, people.
Serving Christ’s mission, in the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the litmus test for the faithfulness of our life together.
Rob Fennell teaches theology and the history of Christianity at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.