The Church is called the Body of Christ. In our bodies, we need both self-care (faith formation in the Church) and service to others (the Church’s vocation).
The Mission of the Church (Part 3 of 3)
In the past two weeks, I have been reflecting on the mission of the Church, both why the Church even exists and what I refer to as the internal mission of the Church. The internal mission—forming the faith of those within the Body of Christ (building up the Body)—is not separate from the external mission—the topic of this post. The internal and external missions are, in fact, two aspects of the same calling.
Within these posts, I have also distinguished between being the Church and the Church doing. The Church, and the individual members of that Body, exist apart from our actions. The Church exists because of what God has done for and to us: making us forgiven and reconciled, beloved children of God through the work of Jesus. While being is enough in itself, it is only the starting point.
The Human Body
It is no accident that Paul used the analogy of a human body to talk about the Church as the Body of Christ. He was teaching mostly about how we are not separate individuals in the church, but interconnected parts of a single body. We are each different—just like the eyes, ears, and feet are different—but those differences are important for the well-being of the whole.
I think that the analogy can be pushed further than that (and I am not the first or only one). It can mirror my suggestion of an internal and external mission. Self-care—that is, building up and maintaining the health of our bodies—is of critical importance. If we do not eat well, get sufficient rest, exercise, and attend to our spiritual, emotional, and other needs, then our bodies will not function well. Self-care is not selfish, it is critical. We can make a rough analogy to this self-care in the Church as faith formation: nourishing and building up the members of the Body of Christ.
However, if we just focus on self-care and ignore everything outside of ourselves, this becomes selfishness. We shouldn’t strive for optimal physical, emotional, spiritual (etc.) health for their own sake, but so that we can best serve others in our vocations. As the oft-quoted metaphor states, we should put on our oxygen mask before helping others. But it’s horrible if we put our own mask on and ignore anyone who can’t put theirs on.
Within the context of the second-greatest commandment, we love (care for) ourselves so that we can love our neighbors. The greatest commandments of loving God and neighbors make up the essence of our individual missions—our vocations (callings). Our vocations (plural) are how we enact this love for God and neighbor concretely in our lives.
And note that, when things are going as they should, our self-care (internal mission) supports our vocations (external missions), AND working in our vocations “feeds us,” supporting our self-care.
The Church’s Vocation
Continuing our body analogy, the Church has a vocation (mission). The essence is the same as for us individually: loving God and loving our neighbors. Love in action is service, and serving God and neighbor spreads the kingdom of God.
One point that different theological traditions, denominations, and congregations disagree on is what exactly “spreading the kingdom” means. That is not a discussion I am interested in having right now.
General and Specific
A note on vocations here: We can use the term vocations (what God is calling us to do) in both general and specific situations. We have the essence (loving God and neighbor), the general vocation (one of mine is creating faith formation resources), and the specific vocation (working as the publisher of this company). We can continue to get more and more specific.
Our Congregations’ Vocations
Our congregations (churches with lowercase “c”) are local, concrete manifestations of the Body of Christ. The vocation of the Church (spreading the kingdom) is our general vocation, too. This leads us to our specific vocations as churches. These specifics vary from time period to time period, culture, location, etc. Just as I’m not going to argue for one specific definition of “spreading the kingdom,” I’m also not going to even try to enumerate the possible specific vocations.
A Church Checklist
As we did last week, now we get to the practical part. How does the mission of your local congregation relate to the overall mission of the Church? I’ll repeat what I said last week for your convenience:
Internal Mission: Faith Formation
- Choose one or more events, groups, ministries, committees, etc. in your congregation, preferably working with other people. You can also narrow this down to just one “thing” that you are a part of.
- Ask yourself: how does this contribute to faith formation? How does it create or encourage actions, experiences, or relationships that nurture and shape faith?
- What changes can we make so that this is more effective at faith formation?
External Mission: Spreading the Kingdom
- How do you, your church, your denomination, etc. define “spreading the kingdom of God”?
- Again, choose one or more events, groups, ministries, committees, etc. Over time, I would hope this assessment would cover the entire church, but that might not be in your purview.
- Ask yourself: how does this contribute to spreading the kingdom of God, whatever the definition is that you are using?
- What changes can we make so that this is more effective at spreading the kingdom?
Please note that some ministries are more specifically and directly faith formational (like Sunday school or worship) or kingdom-spreading. Hopefully, those missions overlap, but it’s fine even if they don’t. And it is essential to recognize that other ministries are indirect (like the building committee or church council) in their specific vocations. These indirect ministries help make the direct ministries happen. That means they are critical, too.
Blessings to you as you both evaluated and do your ministry,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
VBS, Summer, and 2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we have many resources for your faith formation needs:
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (products for all ages)
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (intergenerational classroom)
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Worship and Liturgy Education