Rector's Reflections - 9 April

Rector’s Reflections  

Tuesday 9th April 2024

21st Century Church: Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship


In yesterday’s reflections, I shared a few brief thoughts about the word “mission”.   Although it is generally felt that every church community should be engaged in “mission” , there is no one agreed definition of what is meant by the word “mission”. One approach is to think in terms of “the mission of the Church “ and the “mission of God”: this is a reminder that God can be active outside the Church, and that the activity of the Church is not necessarily synonymous with the activity of God. Another approach is to use the Anglican Five Marks of Mission, which have been officially adopted by the General Synod of the Church of England.


A third approach is to see “mission”  as “looking to see where God is at work and joining in!”  The advantage of this approach to “mission” is that it encourages us to look at what is going on around us, in our local communities and in the world. It is inherently open-minded and non-prescriptive. However, some people might well prefer a more-focussed approach, such as provided by the Five Marks of Mission.  If we ask ourselves, “where is God at work in the world?”, surely the answer is:” God is at work everywhere and in every situation”. So if this is the answer to the question, how can it be helpful to see mission in terms of “seeing where God is at work?”  Is n’t God at work everywhere?  One response to this criticism is to say that while God is technically at work in every place and in everything,  He is more obviously at work in particular situations, and so “mission” is about focussing in on the situations where God is “obviously” at work. Of course this in turn leads to a further question:  where is God “obviously” at work?  Who decides where God is “obviously” at work and how is this decision made?


A fourth approach to “mission” is to look at it in terms of management theory.  “Mission” is what helps the Church to focus on what is really important – what is core to its very being and purpose.  The answer to this question may well vary according to context and situation: the “mission” of the Church of England as a national institution is not necessarily the same as the “mission” of the Diocese of Oxford, which is not necessarily the same as the “mission” of  any one of the parishes and benefices which make up the Diocese.  According  to this approach to mission, those in power set out what they consider to be the priorities for the Church, and use the word “mission” to describe and affirm activity which is in accordance with these such priorities. So “mission” in practice becomes a synonym for the values being promoted by the powers that be. Of course the values being promoted by those in power are usually at least unobjectionable, and often eminently commendable. But does the “mission” of the Church mean nothing more than the “values” which are currently being promoted by the powerful?  And if “mission” is collapsed into a statement of the “values” of the Church as an organisation , where does God come into it all? 


And what about Evangelism? We shall turn to this in tomorrow’s reflections.

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