Reprinted with permission from The Presbyterian Outlook
, Jan 26, 2004 issue. (This article is in the print-edition only, not on the Outlook Web site.)
'Gathering' Steam for Presbyterian Global Mission
By David HackettOne of the most significant and hopeful actions of the 215th Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly slipped under the radar of most reports. Without the fanfare it deserved, the Assembly adopted the Worldwide Ministries Division’s important mission vision and priority paper entitled "Gathering for God's Future."
"Gathering" is the result of an extensive discernment process to guide the vision and directions for Worldwide Ministries Division for this next decade. Those familiar with its predecessor document, "Mission in the 1990s," will know that this new piece has tremendous potential to shape how Presbyterians do mission for the next decade.
The attractively presented 18-page paper, subtitled "Witness, Discipleship, Community: A Renewed Call to Worldwide Mission," begins its readable text with a crystal-clear clarion call to mission: "The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be shared with the whole world." Each Presbyterian, it says, is sent into the world to join God’s mission – "God-called, Christ-centered and Spirit-led."Four Challenges
The "Gathering" paper begins with an invigorating section detailing four "Challenges We Face." Those challenges are 1) Witnessing and Evangelizing Worldwide; 2) Equipping the Church for Transforming Mission; 3) Engaging in Ministries of Reconciliation, Justice, Healing and Grace; and 4) Living the Good News of Jesus Christ in Community with People Who Are Poor.
The first of these four challenges, "Witnessing and Evangelizing Worldwide," gratifyingly calls the PCUSA "to respond to particular needs and opportunities in worldwide mission…where there is a need to share the gospel for the first time," "where witness to the gospel is endangered," and "where the church is dealing with explosive growth." All of these rightly direct our focus on spiritually desperate people groups that the gospel of Christ calls us to address.
"There are still people and cultures that have not yet heard the gospel of redemption and new life in Jesus Christ," the paper acknowledges. "We are called to offer the hope we find in Christ, to assist new disciples as they grow in faith and form a church led by their own leadership that is culturally relevant and independent of control by the sending mission church."
This commitment to evangelism among unreached people groups is all the more remarkable because it demonstrates the distance the PCUSA has come from its stance in the early 1980s when Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship began its advocacy for frontier mission. In those years it was our church’s conviction to undertake mission only in those lands where the already-existent church issued invitations to us, and there was no acknowledgment that cultures still remained unreached with the gospel.
The second challenge, "to equip the church for transforming mission," urges congregations to "grow in knowledge and understanding for mission." This is all the more urgent as congregations step beyond checkbook-oriented mission into direct, personal engagement around the globe. It urges the sharing of best practices, the formation of mission networks, and wonders what additional new tools will help the church stand fully equipped for its call to make disciples in all places.
A third challenge rightly prioritizes the integration of "ministries of compassion equally with ministries of proclamation," and continues the long Presbyterian heritage of advocacy for health care services, economic development, educational opportunities, and racial justice ministries on behalf of "the One who breaks down walls."
A final challenge to the church is to reflect on our wealth and to learn new ways to live the gospel in community with people who are poor, sharing resources in ways that make a difference while "avoiding dependencies." Due to the degree of dependencies we have been guilty of creating by unexamined financial gifts, this section needs additional fleshing out in order to help our churches understand how to avoid dependencies. This section could be elaborated upon in a study guide if one were produced.Five Approaches
The "Gathering" paper details five "core commitments in our approach to mission" that "will guide Presbyterian mission": Joining in partnership, working ecumenically, developing leaders, connecting mission near and far, and sharing people and resources. Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship is gratified to see the church map out involvement and priorities in such helpful developments as the networking/partnership movement, short-term mission trips, ministries among immigrant groups in the US, and maximizing "the 'web' of Presbyterians who incarnate the gospel around the world."Contextual Dynamics
The "Gathering" vision document takes care to describe the contexts in which the church undertakes it mission. Two sections in the paper successively delve into dynamics in the world
– including globalization, ecology, interfaith tensions, population and power shifts, and diseases of poverty – and dynamics in the church
Regarding dynamics in the church, "Gathering" says, the church is changing its patterns of growth and mission, facing religious conflict, responding to globalization, doing evangelism in context, and dealing with shifts in patterns of support and connectionalism. As an example of the latter shift, the paper notes that "methods of funding the church are shifting. Donors with particular interests bring new resources to bear in international mission."
If anything, this vision paper underplays
the dramatic rise of congregational initiatives in mission that bring new resources to bear in international mission. Our churches are reasserting their own direct engagement in mission and are shouldering responsibility to see that mission gets done in ways that will dramatically realign mission in our denomination. Congregations are using the powerful influence of designated giving to reshape budgets. Individual congregations are discovering a kind of neo-ecumenism in which grass-roots mission networks cross denominational and national boundaries based on shared passions for mission engagement. These are developments that Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship welcomes and encourages; the extent and significance of these developments may still be underestimated by the Worldwide Ministries Division.A New and Different Church
A final section takes an honest and insightful look at how "the evolving characteristics" of the Presbyterian Church are "affecting our response to the challenges before us." It says our international connections have increased through technology, mobility, and ties to a diverse "mission marketplace" in which congregations, presbyteries and synods have multiple mission opportunities open to them – and with those new opportunities, are seeking "new kinds of supportive relationships" in mission. The paper lacks follow through comments on the implications of these characteristics, such as how these developments might impact mission funding, organization and administration. It also overlooks demands for new levels of compelling mission interpretation if congregations are to be invested in denominational mission projects.
In describing how education and nurture for mission has changed, the paper notes that "we must find ways to revive the study of mission and the awareness of mission opportunities," while realizing that "denominational 'branding' began to matter less" in the late 1990s.
Due to high rates of immigration, our churches are discovering that "local mission is often globally connected," and that immigrants "have changed the cultural environment of communities across the United States."
While mission funding appears to be uncertain, the paper says, the demands on mission budgets have grown. In an environment in which "mission committees and church sessions are asked to fund more than they can possibly support," the paper counsels that we "make wise choices in the ways we support mission in the local community, across the U.S., and around the world." We suggest that "Gathering" follow through on this counsel by producing a study guide or mission class that can be used with this vision statement to help move churches forward in our missional calling.
"Gathering for God's Future" is a sharp, astute look at mission on a growth curve. It paints a picture of an activated, missional denomination of churches. It wants to prepare churches to do mission with wisdom, follow their gospel zeal and act in concert with fellow Presbyterians and partners of many stripes. It recognizes that global partnerships and networks are the way of the future for our churches. And best of all, it signals that our denominational mission leaders believe God has capably gifted and called our churches to fulfill this challenge of taking the gospel of Christ to a world in need of Christ's healing.
"Gathering for God's Future" is available online at www.pcusa.org/wmd/gathering.htm
or can be ordered, free, singly or in bulk. To order, call PDS at (800) 524-2612 and mention PDS 74-900-03-001. An excellent "Gathering" handout companion piece is available as well: PDS-74-280-03-007.
David Hackett is associate director for denominational relations with the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship.