By Father Peter Farrington
The mission is only a means to an end for the Church in that it presents the Lord to the world; it cannot become gratification and an end in itself. Making Life Choices With God | Mission Is A Means Not An End.
One of our Coptic Orthodox bishops once posted a timely and necessary reminder to all those engaged in mission, and indeed in any service of the Church, saying…
Mission is only a means to an end for the Church in that it presents the Lord to the world; it cannot become gratification and end in itself.
It is very easy to become so engaged in any service and activity that we lose a proper sense of why it was organized in the first place. We can become busy for the sake of being busy and find that our effort becomes the goal in itself.
I remember in my last job before I became a priest, I was implementing a computer system and had to understand how every part of the business operated. In the Accounts department it was insisted that invoices needed to be printed five times and held in different filing cabinets in the same room. After some investigation it became clear that these different cabinets represented the ghosts of other departments and offices that no longer existed, and in fact there was no need to be printing copies of the invoices at all.
In many Christian contexts the same thing can happen. Meetings and programs can carry on for years even when the reason for them no longer exists. In the evangelical church I once belonged to, we held a Gospel service every Sunday evening. But it was very unusual for any non-Christians to be present. Nevertheless we continued preaching the Gospel to those who were not there because it was what we had always done.
Even when developing new forms of service it is easy to be caught up in the excitement and to lose a focus on the will of God and the needs of those we are to serve. We can believe that God wants and waits for us to do things for him, as though he were distant, and as if any activity might please him. But this is not the case at all. He does not ask us to be busy for him, but to be engaged with him in his own mission and activity in the world.
Mission, and all service, must be more than a process which absorbs our time, energy and attention. It must be the means by which we fulfil our vision and vocation in the world.
What is this vocation? It is to be salt and light in the world. It is to make a difference in people’s lives in the name of Christ. It is to share our Orthodox Faith. Not merely as a collection of doctrines, but as abundant and healing life in Christ.
Mission as a process and activity requires organization and structure, commitment and effort. But this process must not become the goal. The mission of the Church is an aspect of its life in Christ not simply its activity.
If we consider mission in the sense of establishing new Orthodox communities where there are none and among those who are not Orthodox or even Christian then this certainly requires the prayerful development of projects, programs and processes, because the aim is to make disciples, those who are integrated into our Christian community and participate with us in the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit.
But the going out, the being sent, of the Church as the Body of Christ is of a wider scope. It describes all of our actions, at all times, and in all circumstances. This is not a matter of programmes but of personal witness to the life we confess. Before Christ calls us the light of the world he says of himself, I am the light of the world. If we are the light of the world it is because he is the light of the world. If we are sent into the world it is because he first came into the world for the life and salvation of the world.
Each day we must surely have our heart set on obedient service to this divine mission of our own lives, measured by our loving and humble service of each person we meet, before we have a proper and necessary concern for the ministries in which we are engaged. These will come and go in the will of God, but the mission of our lives is without end.
By: Father Peter Farrington | A priest of St Mary and Saint Cyril Coptic Orthodox Church in Liverpool. United Kingdom ~ Diocese of the Midlands.
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