Local churches—the key to living out the mission of The UMC
January 11, 2022 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
As we enter 2022, we look toward the future with hope and promise, while recognizing the external forces that produce uncertainty and anxiety. The lingering effects of a global pandemic, the multitude of injustices that continue to be perpetuated and experienced, the deep divisions of thought within our culture, and the choices that linger regarding the future direction and form of The United Methodist Church, are just some of those forces. The challenges are real and yet in the midst of them, there is a constant that we claim as followers of Jesus Christ. Our mission does not, has not, and will not change.
As followers of Christ, our mission is to be disciples of Jesus Christ who partner with God to invite others to become disciples of Jesus Christ. God’s plan to accomplish this mission is the Church - followers of Jesus acting together as one body, with Jesus as the head, taking the Gospel into all the world.
As the body of Jesus Christ in the Upper New York Area of The United Methodist Church, we stand on the foundation of an unchanging mission in the midst of a changing world. We believe that this mission of sharing Jesus and extending the incredible gift of grace we have experienced through Jesus to the world around us is our reason for being.
Many have pointed out over the years that while the Bible might not specifically use the word “mission,” the concept is rooted in biblical truth. Mission signifies purposeful movement—being sent from one place to another for a purpose. The word “mission” comes from the Latin noun missio, which means “sending” or “commissioning.” If someone has a missio, it means they are going from here to there for a purpose on behalf of someone.
An unidentified author has written this about Missional Theology within the Church of Jesus Christ:
Missional theology is the gospel mobilized by a faithful, Christian, local church through a commissioned agent for a particular people in obedience to God. In other words, missional theology is Christ going out from the church, through someone called, to a people, for the sake of the gospel.
The beautiful urgency of missional theology is that it actually brings something new and real to lost people, and the cost of lostness is unbearably high. News about Jesus Christ will always transform the culture it enters, because Christ will always transform those who, by grace, have faith: “and in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
In Matthew 28.18-20 we hear the role of the Church articulated by Jesus:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
At another time after his resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8, NLT).
This remains our call today!
In its statement regarding Theology of Mission, The United Methodist Church Board of Global Ministries says it well:
God’s Holy Spirit calls the Church into being for mission. The Church is one sign of God’s presence in the world and of God’s intention for creation. In response to God’s call and the leading of the Holy Spirit, women, and men, young and old, of all nations, stations, and races, and in all times and places, unite as the living body of Christ to join God’s mission of redemption, bearing witness to God’s presence in the world. This Community of faith aspires to live out the potential of new life in Christ among all human beings now, while envisioning the fulfillment of God’s reign and the completion of God’s mission. The Church experiences and engages in God’s mission as it pours itself out for others, ready to cross every boundary to call for true human dignity among all peoples, especially among those regarded as the least of God’s children, all the while making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
In our ministry together in Upper New York, we believe that this mission is best lived out by the local church. The role of the Conference, the Regions, and the Districts are to create the systems, strategies, and support to equip the local church to live the mission effectively and fruitfully for the glory of God and the transformation of the world. Our goal is to increase the vitality of our congregations by discovering, developing, and deploying Christ-following transformational leaders (both clergy and lay).
Several years ago, we established a definition and markers of a vital congregation that we have been inviting every local church to live into.
A vital congregation is:
- Inwardly transformed and outwardly focused
- Spirit-filled, forward leaning communities of disciples
- Growing, both numerically and spiritually over time
- Welcoming all people (Galatians 3.28)
- Serving the world radically like Christ, through life-changing ministry and mission that build up the community of faith and transform lives and social conditions in the community and world (Micah 6:8 and Luke 4:17-21).
- Joining God in the work that God is already doing.
- Having powerful stories, measurable fruitfulness, and life changing ministries.
Markers of a Vital Congregation
- Inviting and inspiring worship
- New and growing Disciples
- Small Group ministries
- Engaged Disciples in mission and outreach
- Generous giving.
In the midst of all that swirls around us, we need to remember our center and foundation. The world and the organization of the church will continue to change, but our mission – our reason for being - will not and must not change! The call of God for us to be the Church, offering the good news of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed to individuals remains the only hope for transformed lives, transformed systems, and a transformed world.
Over the next few months through a series of articles, videos, and conversations, we are going to remind ourselves about our call, our story, our mission, and the future that God is inviting us to step into. No matter what else might change, these things will not change.
We are going to remember in a fresh way our “WHY” – the reason we do the things we do. We need to talk more intentionally and deeply about our “HOW” - the specific ways we do the things we do and the strategies we employ for this time - SO THAT we will live more fully our “WHAT” - “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
We need to celebrate together what God is already doing and engage more deeply TOGETHER in conversations that will allow us to more fully be the Church God is inviting us to be.
I hope you will engage in this conversation. I pray you will continue to open you lives to the call of God upon you, individually and together as we live God’s mission.
Thanks for being the Church of Jesus Christ! May we be open to the Spirit’s leading for things we cannot imagine or dream within us and through us, for the glory of God and the increase of God’s kingdom.