The Mission Engagement Project has developed under the Together on the way, enriching community process, and is intended to help resource our work in terms of developing a sustainable mission-oriented organisation.
Let me take a moment to outline a number of the main objectives for the project over its projected two-year life.
Firstly, to play a part in encouraging our church to continue developing intentional mission-shaped action. That is, to help us be the kind of church we want to be; one that is actively growing disciples, engaging in our communities, and participating in the mission of God, the missio dei.
Secondly, to help ensure we are intentional about learning from our experiences when it comes to mission engagement. An experience not reflected upon is an experience lost. When we move in new directions; when we are exploring, innovating, imagining and creating new approaches, we need to be intentional about learning from those experiences, and to share those lessons around the whole church.
Thirdly, to resource the church through Presbyteries, both through supporting the work of presbytery staff, and regularly visiting different parts of the state to learn from different contexts, and encourage idea and resource sharing.
All of this helps lead to describing a mission engagement framework – a way of being for our church; an approach to developing missional initiatives, growing leaders, supporting innovation and encouraging action.
These first few months have been primarily dedicated to listening carefully around different contexts within the church. I’ve felt very welcomed visiting presbyteries in most parts of the state and sharing in countless encouraging, inspiring and, yes, challenging conversations.
I think we have some work to do in understanding and articulating a shared, underlying theology of mission. The diversity of the Uniting Church is not news to any of us, and there are different approaches to, and understandings of mission built into that diversity. Nonetheless, I think a careful framing of a missiology within which there is room for a great variety of action will help encourage us for our travels.
There is for us a great opportunity, particularly with Trinity College Queensland that we have just heard about, to be even more committed to developing missional leaders in the life of our church. When I say missional leaders, and what I hear as I listen to stories around the state, are the kinds of leaders that can inspire us into new adventures. The kind of lay and ordained leaders that can see opportunity, help us discern action, and draw us forward – in every case in response to what God is up to in the world around us. The ways in which we develop, resource, support and protect leaders who will take us to new places will have a direct bearing on our health and vitality in the years to come.
One of the key projects over the next few months will be to undertake a set of intentional learning conversations around our recent experiences in church planting. In stories we know such as Highfields, Northlakes, Carbrook and Pacific Pines we have lessons to learn that can bear fruit not just in those locations but further afield. As we imagine growing a new faith community in south Caloundra, how can our experiences in Highfields or North Lakes be helpful?
There are of course many different approaches to mission, reflected in a range of stories I have encountered around the state so far. Some approaches are simple, others complex. Some require little in the way of capital resourcing, others are demanding of money and property resources. If I may share two stories that capture this diversity:
Fitzroy North Rockhampton Uniting Church is located just across the street from North Rockhampton State High School. Students after school are waiting on the footpath, without shelter in the sun or rain for extended periods waiting for buses to take them home. One or two duck across the road to fill water bottles from taps in the church garden. Members of the congregation notice all this and wonder ‘how can we be good news, how can we join with God here?’ Simply put, they open the doors of the hall, and offer a place to wait, to join in afternoon tea and form community. Now several days a week, up to 25 or 30 young people gather, hang out, eat together, supported and encouraged by members of the congregation. Relationships are growing; I heard stories of people praying together. This is the Uniting Church in action. This is mission engagement.
In Mitchell, work has started on a new early childhood centre, supported by the local Uniting Church, with assistance from Lifeworks Uniting Church in Toowoomba. This is a big project, aimed at helping address historic disadvantage for young children in the region, strengthening ties between church, families, school and the wider community, and ultimately building vital futures for all. This is the Uniting Church in action. This is mission engagement.
All of this listening leads me to reflect on three questions of mission. Three questions that, if taken seriously, can help shape our mission engagement with our community, both in the local neighbourhood and with those further afield.
First, we must start by continually addressing the question ‘who is God?’ What does the nature and character of God reveal to us? As disciples of Christ, how do the stories and experiences shared in scripture shape our own lives and stories?
Second, the question ‘what is God up to in our world?’ implies the sense that mission belongs, rightly, to God; that as the Basis of Union puts it, there is an end in view – God’s view. God is active, is up to something in this world. Our task is to look for God at work, to notice what’s going on.
And then thirdly, to ask ‘how can we join in?’ This is the question of discernment, the question that leads to action; the question that leads to Fitzroy North Rockhampton throwing open the doors of the hall on a hot afternoon; the question that leads to a new faith community in Highfields; the question that takes us into prisons, schools, hospitals, army bases, university campuses and a thousand Blue Care fleet cars all over Queensland.
Who is God? What is God up to in our world? How do we join in?
These are the questions of mission. The questions that ought draw us forward in worship, witness and service.