It’s mission, Jim, but not as we know it.

Posted by admin at 8:01 AM on Jul 12, 2020


It’s mission, Jim, but not as we know it.

The minister of a church suggested a title for a talk on Industrial Mission (IM), or Mission in the Economy, could be, “It’s mission, Jim, but not as we know it.” Devotees of Star Trek would recognise the allusion, but was he right? IM and workplace chaplaincy, its principal expression today, don’t conform to the idea of mission which involves gearing up for special evangelistic activities, or inviting friends and neighbours to come to our churches. If the effectiveness of mission is simply measured by increased church attendance, then IM is not a very successful activity for churches to be carrying out or to be funding.

But is there a broader view of what mission is all about? The 2017 Church of England report “Setting God’s People Free” offers:

“Whilst mission has sometimes been conceived as the work of rescuing souls from a degenerate world, a more holistic & inclusive vision understands it as the property and activity of God at work in the world as creator, redeemer and sustainer.”

From beginning to end, our scriptures point to this “holistic and inclusive vision” of “God at work in the world as creator, redeemer and sustainer.” This vision, with its wide and expansive understanding of the reign of God and the ultimate reconciliation of all things to God through Christ, is brought out powerfully by Paul in Colossians 1: 15 – 20 (see also Ephesians 1: 10 and Matthew 19: 28). It finds its completion in the restoration of the new heaven and earth in the book of Revelation.

When the gospel message becomes formulaic and limited to little more than moralistic rules or instructions for getting to heaven when we die, the mission of God’s people is downgraded to an ecclesial recruitment strategy. It fails to deal with people’s everyday lives, their feelings for the sacred and the ways in which God may already be at work in their lives. It cannot find room for their difficulties, uncertainties and doubts. Such a small gospel is rarely attractive to those outside the Christian community, and has resulted in Christians drifting away from churches, even whilst retaining a faith in God.

IM places a high value on human creativity and interaction in the workplace, and sees where people’s daily work potentially shares in the provision and sustaining activity of God. It helps people to recognise God in their everyday activities. We meet people with real faith, who may have left our churches or have not yet found a place in them.

IM and chaplaincy play a part in mission in its fullest sense and, alongside the more conventional expressions, they should continue as a constant reminder to the church to grasp that “holistic and inclusive vision… of God at work in the world as creator, redeemer and sustainer” – and, we might add, as restorer.

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