Is it Mission Sunday or Missions Sunday? And does it matter?
Mission Sunday, not Missions Sunday. And Yes.
Mission Sunday reminds us that our fundamental mission as a church is to participate in the mission of God. It’s about more than short-term mission trips (though those have a place in this church’s life and spiritual formation). This day is a celebration and recruitment for God’s mission in the world (Gen. 12:1-3; Isa. 49:6). This day tells the story not only of missionaries who are sent out from the church, but also of the missional identity of the church. So, yes, we will collect funds for trips and missionaries. But the larger emphasis is to align ourselves with God's 365-day mission in the world.
In The Mission of God’s People, Christopher Wright reminds us, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world.” A church without a mission is not a church; it’s just a civic club or neighborhood group. That said, churches have historically been a bit torn on whether it is Mission or Missions. Is this who we are as a church or something we send people out to do abroad?
Some churches have treated missions as work that happens overseas. This predates the United States, but was central to the country’s founding. In the 18th century, structures called missions popped up in places like Saint Augustine (1565), San Diego (1769, named for Saint Didacus), and San Francisco (1776, named for St. Francis of Assisi). These basilicas in the New World symbolized Spanish missionary work where the conversion of the foreigner was important, but so was the occupation of a new spot on the map for commerce and exploration. American-born churches later returned the favor by sending their own missionaries out, so everybody was then sending missionaries to places who were also sending their missionaries back. Great for Delta and United, but possibly confusing for everyone else.
This narrow definition of mission reinforced the idea that mission mainly happened somewhere else and was something that we do. No doubt, the church is called to go to all places (Mt. 28:18-20). But that is a response to the work of God, not the initiation of it. Further, if special trips are the only place we live out the mission of God, we have misunderstood the mission. Mission starts at home. It means that the church joins God’s mission whenever they participate in the ministry of proclamation, justice, and discipleship–no matter where it happens. Passports are helpful for joining the mission, but not prerequisites for it.
This does not mean, however, that churches should suspend their foreign mission work. Churches who commit themselves exclusively to local work have some challenges as well. Money goes toward facilities, staff salaries, landscaping, and recreational leagues for members. Sure, the church becomes significant for the local community. But what about those outside the reach of that church? What about the enormous global population that lives in comparative poverty? What about those who have never heard the message of the gospel? What about those who live in persecuted communities?
A church who understands God’s mission will meet those needs as well. The church who sees itself not simply as a location in a neighborhood, but also as a member of a global body will address people outside its walls, injustices outside its zip code, and the lost beyond its borders. This church will see itself as partners in a God-directed global mission to the entire world. Because wherever God has a mission, the church must rise up to join it.
I hope White Station can rise up and join it on March 19th.