We often as a Church are challenged to be ïn mission” in our community but what does that actually mean?
In the Basis of Union, it talks about the key movements of the Church as worship, witness and service. When we talk about mission in the church we are usually talking about how we witness and serve our communities beyond the Church. Even our service is not a means on it’s own, but a signpost of the love and generosity of God shown through our actions.
For me by reframing back into witness and service it reminds us that it is not our job to convert people ( that is God’s task) but it is our task to witness to the hope that is within us and to serve those in need as an intentional action of showing God’s love. In essence, being good neighbours. (Check out Growing Young if you want to know more!) Any action we seek to employ as a church into our wider community should have this end.. Historically, in the recent history of the Uniting Church we are amazing at serving people. We are incredible at loving people as God loves us, but we are often not so good at witnessing because we do not want to use it as a form of control or manipulation. But to witness is not to lecture, or demand it is to tell of what we know and see. The hope that is within us..
So what does it mean then for us to be in mission with families in our local community or in the community as a whole and how would we do that? Mission is such a loaded word, when we talk of mission, to Christians, they often think about sending people overseas as missionaries, or helping the poor in our community. For Aboriginal communities, this word is about being locked into land that is not necessarily their home and being expected to become something they are not. Mission at times has had a terrible reputation.
So as you think about the families in your community what are some of the darkness’s in our families lives? Where does the hope of the message of Jesus shine light in the darkness of their lives? What about our individualistic, consumerist culture is toxic to our families and communities and how has the gospel liberated us from these things? (If in fact we have been liberated from these things!)
There are many things that we can do to be in mission to and with our community, but the question it must keep us asking is how do our witness and service connect people to the Good News of Jesus.
So how do we do this?
As Churches there are great examples of congregations providing space to serve families in their community. We do it through playgroups, support groups, dad groups, mum’s support groups, craft groups, beer and beef nights, pinot and painting nights, cycling groups. All of these are great at helping families and people in your community to connect into the Church community and helping our Church community connect in with people in our community.
If you are going to intentionally serve and show the love of God without naming it that is ok, but it is good to then have ways that those people who belong to your community through these groups, engage in the next level. These are creative spaces where you do explore about faith in a way that is meaningful and engaging to families. This could be through Messy Church, 4wd church, walking church, fresh expressions, or special events like Christmas pageants, or Easter or even halloween nights!
Sometimes we have to realise that most people in our community will not ever join our traditional ways of worship, so how do we create worship spaces that truly engage families deeply. How do we be warm and welcoming communities where people can grow in faith?
One of the trickiest things I have found with worshipping with families well is being able to engage kids and adults deeply. It usually requires interaction, conversation, courage and creativity and usually stepping way out of your comfort zone!
We know that food helps build those sacred communities where we can talk about the things that matter. It is not accident that Jesus gave us communion through the last supper as a key sacrament for the church. It is over food and through relationship that we are deeply able to remember God and truly be the community of faith.
So some things to think about when you are working with families:
They like to do things together, unless they don’t. With the busy lifestyles that we live in our western world family time together is sacred, to be able to explore faith together is a great way to do that meaningfully. We know that parents are actually the key spiritual guides in children’s lives. We need to support them in that task. There are also times, where parents are exhausted and need respite and a sacred space for themselves. The thing to remember here is that a lot of families don’t have extra support and childminding how do you plan for this? I think it is important to have both. One church I knew did an amazing job of running a women’s retreat day, that had special pamper packs, a massage therapist as well as a series of great speakers. The women in the church loved it so much they couldn’t wait to invite all their friends and they loved it too.
Their kids are their number 1 priority, they need to know they are safe.. In recent years with the royal commission into institutional child abuse in the church, the church has lost alot of trust from the community and rightly so. Add to this the overwhelming barrage of all the bad in the world it is not surprising that parents are helicoptering or snowploughing! Making sure that all your practices and spaces are safe for kids is essential, it alone is a powerful witness. So this means having great kids spaces that are fenced in and well thought through. Having keep cups for parents so they can enjoy their coffee without worrying about spilling hot drinks on kids. Clearly communicating where kids are and even better having line of sight.
Every parent is trying their best and all of us are learning. There is so much pressure from our culture on parents around expectations on who they should be and what they should be doing for their kids. We as churches need to partner with them in growing their kids spirituality, not become another demand. How is what you are doing helping families to have conversations around faith and what the families think, not just when they are with you? How is that life giving?
To be in good mission with families you need to know who your families are and what their lives are like.. The best way to find this out is by listening and learning from them and finding those connections where the gospel (good news) has something to say.
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.