Mission, service and church growth

I’ve been here in South Hertfordshire, exercising my ministry in Potters Bar and Brookmans Park for nearly a year now and I’m beginning to get a sense of what I believe myself to have been called/sent here to do. In both the churches I think that the extra dimension I can add, as a stipendiary minister of word and sacraments, is essentially missional.

That is to say what I feel my specific vocation here to be is less about preaching and teaching than I expected it to be, although preaching and teaching are important parts of my ministry here, and more about seeking and nurturing the opportunities for the churches to reach out into their communities.

It further seems to me, again rather unexpectedly, that these opportunities are largely (but not exclusively) about seeking ways to serve those communities and to build relationships, not firstly about the explicit statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Building partnerships and looking for the things we can do that will minister to those in need at their point of need is occupying a good part of the centre of my attention, at the moment. This was not what I expected.

These needs are various and determined in part by the resources we have to offer, as church communities. These include my time, as someone free to devote myself to thinking and doing things determined by my discipleship rather than the necessity of earning a living. They also include our buildings, valuable as assets in themselves, as places to gather and to experiment. Vitally they also include both the experience and commitment of the members of the churches and their (and my) networks of contacts.

All of this makes the churches potentially invaluable starting points for initiatives to build community and reach out to those who are vulnerable, weak or isolated, to the poor, to the elderly, to the sick, to the damaged. I’m sure all of this will take time but I feel myself strongly drawn towards it,

At the same time I think we will continue to look for ways to draw together those whose lives seem outwardly to be without real difficulty but who, like us all, are in more pain than we can bear to contemplate because of our separation from God, who is the source and destination of all that is good in us and without whom we are unable to ground or sustain ourselves as integral beings.

The great danger, I think, is that we can come to believe, or to want to believe, that doing good is an end in itself, and that the good we do is the justification for our actions. This is not so. Anything we can achieve is always going to be irrelevant without faith in the coming of God’s kingdom, not through any human action but through the action of God. What we do is a mere sign of that kingdom, not a step towards it. It is thus meaningless with the proclamation of our hope in the promise of Christ’s return in glory and in judgement.

The specific calling for me now may be mission as service but that is meaningful only as part of an overall ministry which is defined by the Word and by the Sacraments. Encouraging and nurturing the mission of the churches makes sense primarily as an aspect of the development of their discipleship and their witness to the gospel and must continually be grounded in the study of the Bible (and I’m blessed to have three active Bible study groups in which to participate) and its opening to the present in preaching.

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