This is the fourth and final blog post in my series What Is Faith Formation? This one is on faith formation and the mission of the church. The previous posts covered:
- Part 1: The definition of faith formation that I use
- Part 2: The worship service as a faith formation event
- Part 3: The role of Christian education in faith formation (and on how they aren’t the same thing)
You will have to go back and read those to get the whole scope of my teaching/argument/whatever (and you should!). But, for the sake of your busy schedule, the definition of faith formation I use is:
Every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a transformative relationship of trust with the triune God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world.
Why Aren’t We Here?
Before we get to the mission of the church (and to the property committee, I promise it’s here), I want to get out of the way a few reasons that are not included in the mission of the church.
- We aren’t here just to exist. God does not call us into existence just to be. We are called to do. This doesn’t take away from the need for us to rest in God; sabbath observance is an important and often neglected part of faith formation.
- We aren’t here to perpetuate ourselves. Related to the first, when we invite people into our communities, it isn’t just to keep the doors open and pay the bills. The invitation is not for us.
- We aren’t here to wall ourselves off. We endanger God’s mission for us when we create an “us vs. them” attitude. This attitude is especially dangerous when we start thinking (even if we don’t say it) of us as righteous and them as sinners.
In summary, it’s not about us. The church does not exist for us.
What Is the Mission of the Church?
It is my view that God calls us as the church to a single mission, though that mission has two aspects or two sides. Or, if you will, there is a double mission, though the two cannot be separated. It’s like the greatest commandment(s). Is there one or are there two? The answer is “yes.” It is impossible to fully love God without loving our neighbors. While it is possible to love and serve our neighbors without loving God (people do it all over the world), doing the second part without the first cuts us off from the source of all love.
God’s mission for us is to be the kingdom of God. Unlike the “here to exist” criticism I mention above, this “being” is an active verb. Here, being and acting are indivisible.
On the Inside
Inside the church community, being the kingdom means faith formation. We are becoming the kingdom (and we are always “becoming”) as we are formed in and by the relationship of trust and love with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. This relationship transforms and empowers us to represent God to the world. This is the vertical dimension that some talk about, roughly corresponding with the “loving God” part of the greatest commandment. It is training or discipleship.
On the Outside
Beyond the church community, being the kingdom means spreading God’s kingdom. As I’ve mentioned before, what exactly is involved in spreading God’s kingdom is understood differently by different people in different theological traditions. But it can generally be agreed that the church exists not for itself but for the world. The world needs to experience God’s love. This is the horizontal dimension, directly corresponding to the “loving neighbor” part of the greatest commandment.
The reason I say that there is one mission with two aspects is that these two cannot be separated. The aim and purpose of faith formation are to prepare us to spread God’s kingdom. And, in spreading God’s kingdom, our faith is formed. If we do faith formation without spreading the kingdom, then we become insular and faith suffers. If we work on spreading the kingdom without faith formation, we risk misrepresenting God and disconnecting from the power of God’s transforming love. If we neglect both aspects, then we become a social club and do not deserve to be called “church.”
The Mission of the Church and the Property Committee
The church exists for God’s mission. This means that everything your congregation does must serve this mission. Everything. If an action/committee/event does not support faith formation or spreading God’s kingdom, then it should be changed or shut down.
What does this mean for the property committee and everything else that isn’t direct ministry? Ask yourself, what would be the impact if this committee/group/job position were to be completely removed? I think you will find that the property committee, church administrator, and custodians (etc.) all help the direct ministry of the church happen in a safe, efficient manner. These behind-the-scenes actors are important ministries that serve the mission of the church!
Restructure, Reorient, Coordinate
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can just check off the box for each thing your congregation does and move on. The next question is: how efficient is each individual component in supporting and doing God’s mission? And, since everything your congregation does serves the mission, then everything needs to work together smoothly. Each piece might need to be restructured and reoriented. Everything needs to be interconnected in ways that make sense (e.g. the property committee needs to understand the changing needs of Christian education and CE leaders need to know what the committee is doing vis-à-vis their ministry).
For your congregation to best be about God’s mission, the leadership and everyone else needs to embrace one of the scariest words in the church: change. And, this is not a one-time deal. The congregation must keep changing, adapting to an ever-changing world. Sadly I cannot just hand you an instruction book on the 20 changes your congregation needs to do God’s mission. It is pretty much entirely a process determined by your unique context.
How can your congregation grow and change to be about the work of being God’s kingdom?
God’s blessings on your faith-forming work!
Gregory Rawn, Publisher
If you would like to learn more about Spirit & Truth Publishing’s thoughts on faith formation, you can read our Faith Formation FAQ and the blog post on The 7 Facets of Faith Formation.
High-quality tools make faith formation easier! Check out our resources for all ages on the Narrative Lectionary, as well as elementary-age worship education, cross+generational confirmation, and even special orders.
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