For some time now it has been standard operating procedure for any organization or business to have a "mission statement." The idea behind it is that it creates a focus around which the group organizes its work and activity. Churches, naturally, got in on the idea as well, and began crafting mission statements in a rainbow of colors. I never entirely understood this, though. Businesses and organizations vary widely in their purpose (profit vs. non-profit, etc). The church, however, has only one mission. The different incarnations of the church, be they large mega churches numbering in the thousands, or tiny rural parishes barely hanging on, all exist for one reason. They are all called by their Lord to "make disciples of all nations" by means of baptizing and proclaiming the Gospel (Matt. 28:19).
As the national convention of the LCMS looms just ahead this month, I am reminded of the tension that exists when we talk about mission in the church. Right now the official mission emphasis goes by the name of "Ablaze." The goal of this mission program is to "ignite 100 million hearts with the Gospel." An official counter is established on the website to record the number of people "ignited." This has always made me a bit uncomfortable, since counting, as necessary as it is sometimes, fails to really get at the heart of mission. For example, how do we define Jesus' mission when many of his disciples left him after his Bread of Life discourse (John 6)?
I have heard discussions over the years about the difference between "maintenance" and "mission" type congregations. Other terms have been applied, but the premise is the same. Some congregations are only interested in maintaining what they have at present. They are unwilling or afraid to change and move on. On the flip side, however, there are churches that are bold and brave and pushing the envelope of mission by reaching the unchurched in new and innovative ways.
As a pastor of a mid-sized rural parish, I guess I'm just maintenance. We haven't grown in any significant numerical way since - well, I don't know when. In fact, we shrinking. I know, it's demographics. Family farms are disappearing. But still, shrinking or not, can't the little guys be in mission too, even if our 'counter' is slow at the moment?
I believe we can. This morning I am going over shortly to instruct a young man in the faith. Yesterday I worked with a retired couple looking to join the church. Other prospects await. We loose as many to death as to new growth, to be sure. But that's not the point. The point is are we proclaiming and Gospel? Are we baptizing? (This Sunday I will baptize another infant - something Ablaze, I don't think counts!). If this is true, then I am in mission.
And we are doing all this in a very traditional way. The worship is basically what it has always been. The preacher still vests up in his usual cassock and surplice. No jumbo tron screens. No fancy state-of-the-art PA system. Just a microphone and a text. But then the secret of the Gospel is the power of the Word itself. It really does work! Yet should that surprise us? God himself said that his Word would never return to him empty, but would accomplish the purpose he set out for it. And on that promise I will continue. I'm not sure how "ablaze" I am. By definition I'm rather laid back. We're not a very exciting and emotionally riveting place out here. But disciples are being made and strengthened in Christ through the Word. For me, that's the mission.