When Presbyterians think of mission, they usually think of people, programs, and practices performed by others, which their church supports financially. We regard "missionaries" as a unique class of Christians called to leave their communities and go elsewhere to do God's work. Those who read this column regularly know that this is no longer sufficient. The mission field is no longer "out there"; it is right at our doorstep. Missionaries are no longer a special class of Christian; we are all missionaries serving in an alien culture.
This shift is having an effect on our practice of mission that is both necessary and inevitable. It is no longer sufficient for mission to be something for which churches write checks for someone else to perform. It is something that we must do ourselves, not only because the need is at our doorsteps, but because the credibility of our faith and witness demands it.
We have already seen some changes in the past few decades. When I entered ordained ministry thirty-four years ago, 90% of denominational mission giving was undesignated, meaning that it was given to the church to use according to denominational mission priorities. Now, 90% of denominational mission giving is designated - that is, to support people and programs identified by the giver - and far more is spent on "hands-on" mission activities. The giving patterns of Gen-Xers and Millennials show little interest in supporting institutions; they have a definite preference for participatory mission in which they have direct connection with the beneficiaries.
Similarly, younger generations are not excited by a list of causes that churches support with their money but aren't engaged in with their lives. Our presbytery Vision Task Force recently conducted a survey of mission conducted by congregations (see it
). It is an impressive list of local and global missions that our churches support. But the majority fit the old model of mission - programs performed by others to which we write a check. They are worthy programs and we are generous people, but they do not persuade younger inquirers of the genuineness of our commitment, because, in their language, we have no "skin in the game."
Halford Luccock, the chaplain at Yale University in a previous generation, wrote a stewardship piece that said one's checkbook was the true measure of one's faith. In other words, we can tell our priorities by what we give, and to whom. That is no longer true. The true measure of one's faith priorities is no longer the checks we write (some people write no checks at all!), but the time we spend, the people we touch, and the difference it makes. Giving is important, but it is no longer sufficient to demonstrate our faith.
At this week's New Visions of Stewardship workshop (see related article), I am leading a section on "'Sticky' Mission: Developing Missional Stewardship." It is my belief that churches need to shift from "Teflon" mission - mission which leaves no lasting effect on the church - to "Velcro" mission - mission that picks up people and changes the church by developing relationships with those we serve. In my next column I will explore examples of this "sticky" mission. Or, you can come to my workshop Saturday!