(Book of Discipline - 2004, ¶120)
At JUMC, we make sure that the mission of the Church is in our bulletin every week. Everything that we do ought to be viewed through the lens of our mission. Hopefully, it's something upon which every one who participates in our worship and ministry reflects; I know that the pastor tries to drive it home regularly!
One of the proposals to be considered by our General Conference in a few weeks will alter our mission. The proposal has been made that our mission be changed to "The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Many United Methodists have been citing this as our mission (incorrectly) for some time. The truth is that the proposed amendment originates not in our Discipline, but in the Council of Bishops. We need to remember, though, that the Bishops cannot change our mission. Our mission remains the sentence stated at the beginning of this post.
Should we change our mission statement? The truth is that I believe GC2008 will approve the change, if for no other reason than many UMs seem to think that the new version is already in place. And transforming a world so in need of transformation is certainly not a bad thing.
But Stephen Taylor over at NitroRev raises some good points. Stephen is a GC delegate from South Carolina. Concerning the new version, he writes,
"It’s definitely a 'Methodist' statement, which means it is sufficiently ambiguous. It leaves wide open for interpretation 'how' we are going to transform the world and what such transformation would look like. That’s the perfect scenario for any cause group to argue that their issue deserves priority attention since it is part of our 'mission'."
The problem, as I see it, is that some UMs might shift their focus from the making of disciples to the transformation of the world. Transforming the world might then become our measure of success; we may not do well when it comes to baptisms or professions of faith, but as long as people are getting health care in Africa, human rights in Tibet, or just immigration laws into the USA, we may determine that we're being faithful.
Please don't misunderstand...getting health care in Africa, human rights in Tibet, and just immigration laws into the USA are all worthwhile projects. None are necessarily antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But these ministries should not be seen as ends in themselves, but rather as a response to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Our mission is a concise adaptation of Jesus' Great Commission in Matthew 28, in which our Lord commands, "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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." He said nothing about transforming the world in this passage.
Our reason for making disciples, then, is not to transform the world. We make disciples because Jesus commanded us to do it. Transforming the world is a secondary concern; it's not a bad thing, but it's not part of the commission given us by Jesus. The official mission statement of the Church should not obscure Jesus' command. A more faithful change, then, might read, "The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, for Jesus commanded it."
Lots to pray about in the coming weeks...