The classic mental model of a ‘missionary’ is someone specially tasked with a special ministry for a special location. Missionaries are different than us, do different things, and do them out there somewhere, somewhere exotic and dangerous, a place of sacrifice.
That left those of us “normal” Christians at home to live “normal” lives and do “normal” things; like work, and play, and earn money to support the “special” missionaries. The definition of being a Christian in this mental model is to be a faithful church member.
What is a Church member mentality? Compartmentalized life: sacred over here, secular over here. 60 hours of work, plus a couple hours of “church” work. The church is a purveyor of religious goods and services, and if you aren’t on staff, you are a consumer of those goods. And we compete with other churches for the same “market share,” like barkers on the mall calling people to come play our game!
Somewhere along the way the church in the west stopped asking, “How do you make disciples of Jesus.” And we started asking, “How do you make a good church member.” Jim Herrington, the founder and leader of Mission Houston said, “I was a church member, and I was making church members.” A few select folks rise above and give their lives to “full time Christian ministry,” further serving to isolate “normal” Christians from ministry and discipleship.
But is that mental model faithful to Scripture? Is it faithful to Jesus’ call for us to be his followers in daily life? Is it Anabaptist in anyway shape of form?
John Bisagno , long time pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church (20,000 members) said upon his retirement, “For 20 years we have built a great church. But during that same time the city of Houston declined. Were we really doing what God wanted?” What if forming good church members isn’t the point of Christianity anyway?
What if Christ calls us to Actually impact the world in which we live. What if Christ considers us to be on mission right here in Houston, where we live, work, and play?
According to the most recent, faithful definition of what it means to be a Mennonite Christian, being and becoming misisonal disciples of Christ is precisely who we are called to be. In “The Purposeful Plan,” we are learning to say discipleship means ,“Joining in God’s activity in the world, we develop and nurture missional Mennonite congregations of many cultures.”
Where does this firm belief come from? The Purposeful Plan goes on to say, “We believe that our purpose as a church is derived from the very nature of the triune God. God the Father sent the Son—Jesus into the world. Together, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. Now, the triune God sends the church into the world to reconcile and restore it in relationship to God’s good purposes. This is the basis for God’s call.”
In recent months your church leadership has been exploring more deeply the intersection of mission and identity for us as a congregation. We spent several months in late 2011 digging into The Purposeful Plan, which we invite you to read here: http://bit.ly/I4LChR On Monday 5 of your church leaders took a day of work off to dedicate to a Retreat with other congregations in Houston to explore how they as individuals and we as a congregation can be transformed. Judy Hoffhien shared her testimony to that retreat above. And you might also remember that, due to conversations surrounding Campus Development, we’ve heard loud and clear that we need to firmly embrace a shared and compelling identity and mission for ourselves.
Thus, on February 9th and 12th the CDT said the following, “We are aware of growing desire for a parallel discernment process regarding the Mission and Identity of Houston Mennonite Church. A conversation such as this gets at the core of who we are, and is directly related to our location and campus. Our location will shape our identity, and our identity needs to shape our location. Thus, should the proposal pass, it is our recommendation that we as a faith family catalyze energy into simultaneously discerning our location, as well as our mission and identity.”
We have been, are, and will continue to do just that! And we invite you to join us. There are several key links below we’d love for you to explore, a 2 minute video outlining the basic theology of being “missional”; The Purposeful Plan itself; and a link to a new Houston Initiative we are discerning participation in (with more info on the retreat 5 of us attended Monday). On May 19 our church council is taking an entire day for a retreat wrapped around this theme of identity and mission. And following that will be some significant entry points for you to enter the conversation with us.
However, you need not wait! You can pause and pray for this process right now. Seriously, you’re not that busy. Pause, and ask God to remind us all that “we are dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God (Romans 6:11).” Also, our worship services are designed each Sunday morning to commission you to be on mission in Houston. Other than the obvious places you might see “missional content” such as sermons, we also receive an offering each and every Sunday, which invites us to participate in what God is up to in the world. By all means, participate! Sharing time each week we are encouraged to share more than simply our medical maladies, but to share something that builds up the body of Christ or reflects on your own ministry. By all means, participate! And perhaps most significantly, we have drastically re-organized our worship services over the last year to “beef up” our sending section. We now commission you each and every week to be on mission where you live, work and play in 3 ways (watch for them Sunday): with a Sending Text of Scripture, a sending song, and a Commissioning for ministry where we lay hands on one another and commission each other to be on mission (exactly as we’ve done for missionaries for decades!).
Why do we do this? Because we are the sent ones of God! We are specially tasked for special ministry in a special location: Houston! We are on mission with God, continuing Jesus’ ministry in Houston. That’s what missional discipleship is all about. This is our faith. This is our hope.
“Houston Mennonite Church, the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you! Consider yourselves dead to sin, free and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus! Jesus Christ is risen! It’s up to you to decide, Now what?”