The mission of the Church is a challenge to the Church itself. Not a right, but a duty. Not property, but an objective. Not a whole, but a part. Not a given, but a target.
The mission of the Church makes sense only in the context of the mission of God, and the Church itself – only in the light of the Kingdom. That is, the Church and its mission exist only in the perspective of movement towards the Kingdom, but not in the centripetal area of special religious interests.
The mission calls upon us to remember not only all that we as the Church are in and of ourselves, but that we are sent forth, called upon to set out, we are en route, in motion, in service. If we are en route, then we have to be willing to serve in every place and seize every opportunity, clearly aware that the situation is constantly changing and that we are changing, too.
In response to this thought, there are several aspects of the mission, which make us uncomfortable, but at the same time, which wake us up and return us to ourselves, to our calling.
First, the mission should be targeted, meaning it should target a particular place; it should be germane, adapted to that place. As we move forward, we should not hurry, we should not disregard the place. Most effective missionaries saw «men as trees» (Mark 8:24), that is, the places were indistinguishable, unrecognizable, anonymous. It can be worse still, when we don’t even see trees, because we’re looking at the world as if from the window of a high-speed express train, rushing into eternity, and therefore all we see outside the window is an indistinguishable mass of colors flying past.
Second, our mission should be both modest and bold – we are called upon to be an influential minority. A minority, but influential. This realization came to me in 2008, and in 2010 my collection of the same name was published. To me, this way of putting things seemed honest, truthful and cautiously optimistic, but it struck our church leaders as defeatist, obviously flawed. Thus, I was surprised and cheered to hear similar sentiments at the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town.
We have no choice – we have to recognize that we are in the role of the minority. Not only as regards our circumstances, but also before God Himself. We have no choice when it comes to being the minority or the majority. Our choice lies elsewhere – namely, to be an influential minority or to accept assimilation.
What does it means to be influential? How can we maintain ourselves among the more powerful groups and titular cultures? We need to be aware of our advantages, offer that which is exclusive, be strong with a power that is light and soft, meet the needs of all, be different, other-worldly, principled, and at the same time wise.
In a hostile environment, we need to be ready not only to develop our structures and ambitious projects, but also to be the church in the church, the evangelical sect in the face of Orthodoxy and Islam, to be steadfast in our convictions and strong in our love as the marginalized. On the one hand, what is required of the minority is a readiness for persecution and a willingness to be fools: “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10). On the other hand, what is required is energy and optimism: «Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We give no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses…” (2 Corinthians 6:2-4). And then the minority becomes influential: “We are unknown, and yet well-known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:2-4).
Third, our mission is to be diverse and inclusive. We need to see all aspects of each side, to choose the best course, but to not lose sight of the whole. What kind of mission is expected of us today? Testimonies? Christianization? Transformation? Compassion? Reconciliation? Solidarity? Conviction? Think about where we hurt the most. The mission will be the answer to this pain.
Be conciliators – today, I regard this undertaking as imperative for Ukrainian Christians. Not only Ukraine, but the entire world is fragmented – socially, politically, culturally, religiously. A mission of reconciliation creates a community of peace, abolishing borders and front lines. «Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.» (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Fourth, the mission must to be ecumenical. I would employ yet another word: catholic. What this means is that it needs to be universal in scope, all-embracing, united. How is it that the Church is such? It can accommodate all only when it abandons its walls. It can become boundless and fit within its limits in the Kingdom only when it abandons boundaries and limits.
Confessional boundaries limit our options and bar us from the scope of God’s acts in the world. If we can ask the question, «Where are the boundaries of the Church?», then it is easy to find an immediate answer: «There are none, nor should there be.» What the people of the Church, aware of themselves as the people of the Kingdom, face before them is the most important discovery: we have more allies than we expect. No matter where we are, we can hear the voice: «I have many people in this city» (Acts 18:9-10).
Fifth, the mission is necessary not only to them, but also to us, not only to the world, but to the Church itself. Not only do we give as much as we receive, we do not so much sacrifice as we triumph, and we do not teach as much as we learn.
In the end, we need to understand: our presence among the people is much more important than their presence in our church. Therefore, we must be careful and look for the kingdom of God in the streets.
Sixth, the mission should be prepared for constant change; not a single trial should be “something strange” (I Peter 4:12). We need to learn to live in a state of constant instability, where there is no safe place, no Christian territory, no forecasts and finely-honed plans, there are no guarantees and assurances.
We must answer the question of how the dizzying changes in society are changing our self-understanding, our topics of discussion, and the shape of the mission. How is God revealed and how does He act in this? How does this help us better understand His mission and our place in it?
Of course it is easier and more interesting to note our successes and progress and to talk about the Kingdom of God from within this situation. But today we must think about and respond to something else, namely how do we effect God’s will in times of war, injustice, chaos, moral decadence, religious conflicts? What is the shape of the future that is emerging through these dark days? It is said that he who knows the future controls history. How can social developments be to us a celebration of the Kingdom in history? What optics help us to see events in the right light? How is the mission of God manifested in these contradictory processes, and what we can do from our side?
Seventh, the mission as a challenge confronts us with the impossible possibility of the Meeting and the Gift, which transforms us and which may become a uniquely valuable component of our evangelistic words and deeds. What does it mean for the Christian and the Church as a whole to fulfill its mission? It means to be a witness to the events of the Meeting and the transforming experience of the Presence. Experience is valuable like never before, and abstract arguments worthless like never before.
All that we can say is to tell about the reception of God’s gift, the miracle of the redeeming and transformational Grace of God. The essence, the subject and the task of the mission are beyond historical logic, economic benefits and political expediency. The Gift is what brings about the rupture, gives rise to wonder, and reveals the impossible as somehow real. If I have no clear understanding, effective strategy and solid plans, I still have the Gift received from above, and which I can share. If I do not have forgiveness as my forgiveness, I still have forgiveness as a gift I have received. If I do not have understanding as my understanding, I still have understanding as a gift I have received. My emptiness and my poverty are filled and replenished by the Gift. All that I can do is share the Gift and bear witness to the Giver.
I have identified seven characteristics of the mission as a challenge that are key to the times. Of course, many more are possible. But this seven-branched candlestick gives us enough light to see our vocation and how we diverge from it. But the main thing is not in us, rather, in this light, we need to think about God and His mission, to better understand it and to be a part of His coming Kingdom.