Freeing Congregational Mission

The work of “mission” is complicated. There are all kinds of ways that we try to organize ourselves to “do” mission and to make it less complicated, but the longer I have been doing mission, the more comfortable I have become with its complications. These complexities do not discourage and overwhelm me, at least on my best days. But the challenging aspects of doing mission mean that we are called to always be learning, growing and examining the how, why, where and when of the work we do in mission as a church.

The work that I did in mission in my last congregation in Indiana was on such a small scale compared to what we have the capacity to do here at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. Mission meetings in that church consisted of opening all the mail we received asking us for donations, coordinating our build day with Habitat for Humanity, recruiting for monthly meals to be prepared and served at the local homeless shelter, and raising money for natural disasters around the country and the world. That church’s mission budget was around $15,000 a year. But even on that small scale, there were always complications – with money, with relationships, with priorities, with volunteers.

At BMPC there are nine different “mission” committees run by around 150 church members who maintain relationships with more than 60 partner organizations locally and globally to distribute approximately $500,000 every year. This takes complicated to a whole new level.

But while it is complicated, it also is joyful, meaningful and life changing. Navigating the complications often helps us come out on the other side changed because of the work we are called to do as a church.

This weekend we have the great privilege of hosting Hunter Farrell and Bala Khyllep, director and associate director of the World Mission Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the authors of Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility and Co-Development.

Hunter and Bala draw upon their extensive and shared experiences of seeing mission done really well and really poorly and all the places in between. In their work they have been called to help churches of all sizes better understand how to do complicated mission well and with integrity. This passage is from the beginning of their book:

It is hard to take an honest look at how our mission practices impact other communities – and ourselves – but we stand arm and arm with Christian mission leaders from around the world, and many of them deeply desire to walk with us on this path. The mere possibility that different members of the body of Christ could work together across geographic, cultural, and theological differences to address the root causes of injustice, poverty, and broken relationships moves us to gather these stories of contrition, confession and powerful transformation.  

More than seven years ago, when I was working as a mission co-worker in Egypt, I received an email from Hunter Farrell, who at the time was the head of Presbyterian World Mission for our denomination and my boss. Hunter told me he had heard that a really great church, deeply committed to local and global mission, was looking for an Associate Pastor for Mission and Adult Education. He thought that I might be a good fit. Of course, it was Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.

I am grateful for the conversations that mission leaders in our church have had over the past few months as they read Hunter and Bala’s book together. And I am genuinely looking forward to all of us at BMPC with a heart for complicated mission to spend time with Hunter and Bala this Sunday morning, learning more together about how we can continue to do complicated mission well.