“Mission” is one of the buzz words these days in the church. For the last number of years there is a great deal of discussion about the mission of the church, with terms like mission-centred and mission-shaped to describe the Church as being formed or shaped around or by the mission of God, or missional listening for the way we are to listen to the community around us to help us to discern the needs of the community so as to be able to respond on behalf of God. Mission is one of the words I used in my sermon on vestry morning as I talked about our inward and outward ministry and mission.
When we hear the word mission, one image that comes to mind is mission teams sent off to do work in other countries in the name of Jesus, whether it is helping to build schools or providing medical services or any number of activities. Similarly, we associate the term with missionaries, those who were and are sent to foreign places to evangelize. In the early days of Canada, missionaries from England primarily were sent by Mission Societies to Canada to bring the gospel of Jesus to the indigenous people and to setup and provide services to Christians living here. Many of the earliest churches were started by those supported by Missionary Societies. Later, Canada among other nations would send missionaries to Africa, South America, and Asia, as well as to the Canadian North. These are just two examples of how we have understood mission in terms of the Christian Church.
The dictionary offers a wide array of meanings for “mission,” including those listed above but also these three related definitions which may bring us closer to the way “mission” is being used in the Church these days: (1) any important task or duty assigned, allotted or self-imposed; (2) a goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction, a calling or vocation; and, (3) the sending or being sent for some duty or purpose. It is clear from these definitions that “mission” describes the important duty or purpose of a group or individual. Mission statements are written by groups and organizations to define who they are, and what their purpose is as a group or organization.
As Christians, our mission comes from Jesus, defining who we are as his followers, as those who bear his name as our identity, and mission defines what we are to do, our duty or calling as His followers. Mission helps us to define what it is that makes us who we are as his followers, and what marks us as different from others around us. In the Anglican Church our baptismal covenant or promises could be considered our mission statement that begins by declaring what we believe about God in the words of the Apostles creed, and then how we live out what we believe, what we do as Christians.
Over 35 years ago there was a desire within the Worldwide Anglican Communion to develop a practical checklist for what we do, the outward practice of our inward faith. Out of that came the “Four Marks of Mission” which quickly became “Five Marks of Mission” as we also recognized our role as stewards of creation. Ten years ago the Canadian Anglican Church created Vison 2019 and these Marks of Mission became the foundation for that vision.
The five Marks of Mission are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
This is how we as Anglicans have chosen to define what we are called to do as Christians. I can see in them the second half of our baptismal covenant in which make specific promises about how we are going to live out what we have just said we believe. Notice how the Marks of Mission draw us out into the world. The first two Marks reflect the call to share our faith, and remind us that faith is not a private thing, but rather something we called to share. The next two Marks reflect our call to serve and to challenge unjust structures of society, to like Jesus seek to serve others to be advocates where we see injustice. The final Mark is to be active as stewards of God’s creation, reminded that God has entrusted us with care and sustenance of His wonderful creation. The Marks of Mission guide and direct our discipleship as we seek to follow Jesus.
As we enter into the season of Lent, which is intended as a season of reflection and preparation for baptism and renewal of baptism, this is a good time to reflect on our mission or purpose as followers of Jesus. One Lenten practice you might consider is reflecting on the Mark of Mission. You could choose one each week during Lent, reflecting on what it means and how you are living it out, or if not, how you could strive to live it out. This is the link to the Marks of Mission and the discussion about living them out, to aid in your reflection. https://www.anglican.ca/marks/about/
However, you choose to observe Lent, may it be a time of growing in your faith and seeking to live that faith in the world around you. May we seek to find and live our mission as Jesus’ disciples.