"Sticky Mission" - Part 2
In my last column, I expounded on the need for churches to shift from "Teflon" mission - that is, mission which leaves the giver unchanged - to "Velcro" mission, which picks up people and changes the church by developing relationships with those we serve. At our stewardship workshop on June 24, I defined it a form of "missional stewardship" which engages
personally, directly, and
sacrificially in the mission of God,
builds relationships with those being served, and
invites them to share in the mission.
The aspects of "sticky mission" that distinguish it from other forms of mission are in boldface type. The surprising twist is in the last word. Sticky mission does not invite people to church. It doesn't end with an evangelistic pitch. But it does create ways for the beneficiaries of our mission to join with us in its ongoing work. The theology behind this is that it is not "our" mission - it is God's. We join the work God is already doing in the world, so that what matters is not us, or the church, but the mission - and the people being served.
Here are some examples of how traditional church mission can be transformed from Teflon to Velcro:
- Giving money to a local charity
- Making school supply kits
- Hosting community VBS in church
- Sending money to PDA
- Offering funeral meals for members
- Volunteering to work with the charity
- Tutoring students
- Providing VBS in family homeless shelter
- Organizing PDA field teams
- Offering community bereavement support
As I was writing this piece, a story came across my desk which illustrates sticky mission. It was related by General Assembly Co-moderator Jan Edmiston in her
. It is the story of an Episcopal church in a Colorado ski community which consisted almost entirely of retirees. They prayed for young people to join the church, but the young people in town were mostly "ski bums" or in the service industry underclass. Church just wasn't on their radar.
One day, while sipping coffee in a local coffee shop, the parish priest - who was wearing a clerical collar - was approached by a couple of heavily-tattooed young men who asked if he was part of a church that "let's people get together when somebody dies." They explained that a friend had died of an overdose, his parents had flown the body back home and they hadn't had time to say goodbye. The priest said that - if they wanted - they could have a funeral in the church building where he worked. They accepted.
In making the usual arrangements with the congregation, the priest added that, although it might not be easy, they were to refrain from staring at or judging their guests. "They don't look like church people," he said. Edmiston writes,
The priest relinquished control over the "service." There were no bulletins, no prayers, no hymns. The Friends of the Deceased took turns telling stories. And after, the guests enjoyed a homecooked dinner in the reception hall served by the church ladies and gentlemen. Eating his first homecooked dinner in a while, one guest said, "
This is like eating at my Grandmother's house. I wish we could do this every Sunday." And without missing a beat, one of the casserole bakers blurted out, "
We can. We'll be here next Sunday too, so come for dinner and bring some more friends."
Edmiston concludes with this reflection:
Ministry - for any age - is not about "getting people to join". It's about loving our neighbors and addressing their needs. I have no doubt that congregations will thrive if we are living out the message of Jesus. Focusing on "increasing membership" instead of following Jesus is the sure fire way to kill a church. The by-product, however, of doing healthy ministry is church growth.
So maybe you don't live in a resort community with skiers. But chances are you live in a community with kids who need you. Maybe they struggle with hunger or addiction or bullying or struggles speaking English or substandard housing or unemployment or homelessness or unplanned pregnancy or neglect or overwhelming social pressures or gangs or physical abuse or basic human loneliness. How would you know? Talk to your local police officers, school guidance counselors, emergency room workers. Do your research. And then pray that God will make ministry happen.
That's sticky mission - mission that joins God's mission in the world, builds relationships, and invites others to share in the mission.