Thursday, February 11, 2010

The five marks of mission: How do we fit?

What is our mission? How does our mission in our local context fit within the wider mission of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which we are a part? How does our mission in our context fit within the even wider mission of the Body of Christ?

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged us to grapple with those questions here at St. Paul's. In her remarks at our Centennial banquet on January 30, she referred to the "Five Marks of Mission" that was adopted in 1990 by the Anglican bishops as the standard for mission in our communion. I am reprinting the "five marks" below, and there is a discussion question for you at the bottom. Please lend us your answer in the comment section of this posting.

The artwork today is from a mural of the Nativity that was on a wall at the Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The mural was destroyed in the earthquake, but the mission lives on.

Here are the five marks of mission, reprinted from the Anglican Communion website:

Mission - The Five Marks of Mission

The Mission of the Church is the mission of Christ

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom To teach, baptise and nurture new believers To respond to human need by loving service To seek to transform unjust structures of society To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth (Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

Mission: Announcing good news

The first mark of mission, identified at ACC-6 with personal evangelism, is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one (albeit the first) of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement abouteverything we do in mission.

Mission in context

All mission is done in a particular setting - the context. So, although there is a fundamental unity to the good news, it is shaped by the great diversity of places, times and cultures in which we live, proclaim and embody it. The Five Marks should not lead us to think that there are only five ways of doing mission!

Mission as celebration and thanksgiving

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12:1). And each time we celebrate the eucharist, we proclaim Christ's death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling; and although it is not included in the Five Marks, it undergirds the forms of public witness listed there.

Mission as church

The Five Marks stress the doing of mission. Faithful action is the measure of our response to Christ (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-26). However, the challenge facing us is not just to do mission but to be a people of mission. That is, we are learning to allow every dimension of church life to be shaped and directed by our identity as a sign, foretaste and instrument of God's reign in Christ. Our understanding of mission needs to make that clear.

Mission as God-in-action

"Mission goes out from God. Mission is God's way of loving and saving the world... So mission is never our invention or choice." (Lambeth Conference 1998, Section II p121). The initiative in mission is God's, not ours. We are called simply to serve God's mission by living and proclaiming the good news. The Five Marks of Mission could make that clearer.

The Five Marks of Mission and beyond

We commend to each Province (and its dioceses) the challenge of developing or revising its own understanding of mission which is faithful to Scripture. We suggest two possible ways forward.

  • The Five Marks could be revised to take account of comments like those above. This has the advantage of retaining the familiar shape of the Five Marks.
  • Alternatively a holistic statement of mission actions could be strengthened by setting out an understanding of thecharacter of mission. This would affirm the solemn responsibility of each local church to discern how it will most faithfully serve God's mission in its context. An example of such an understanding is given below. Mission is the creating, reconciling and transforming action of God, flowing from the community of love found in the Trinity, made known to all humanity in the person of Jesus, and entrusted to the faithful action and witness of the people of God who, in the power of the Spirit, are a sign, foretaste and instrument of the reign of God. (Adapted from a statement of the Commission on Mission of the National Council of Churches in Australia.)

Whatever words or ideas each local expression of our Church uses, MISSIO hopes that they will be informed by three convictions:

  • We are united by our commitment to serving the transforming mission of God.
  • Mission is the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God.
  • Our faithfulness in mission will be expressed in a great diversity of mission models, strategies and practices.

Discussion Question

If you were to ask people in leadership positions in your Province (diocese, parish) whether they see mission as "the bedrock of all we are, do and say as the people of God", how do you think they would answer?

Anglicans In Mission (MISSIO report 1999)


ginger greene said...

I fear that St. Paul's original, specifically stated mission--to attend to the needs of the University of Virginia students--is getting lost in the verbiage.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Thanks for your comment. Could you elaborate?

Ann Willms said...

Interesting to me that the word "prayer" never appears in the document on the five marks. It may be implicit, but Jesus and his mission were fed by his relationship with his Father - through prayer. This is what gave him the strength and love to keep proclaiming good news, teaching, and healing.
With regard to the particular mission of St. Paul's to students, perhaps we need to discern anew, in prayer, where God is calling us now in the UVa context. Prayerful discernment in community of "God in action" will help us proclaim good news, celebrate/give thanks, and be church, all in the context of Chancellor and Univ. Ave.