A missional strategy for the local parish involves change, and perhaps nothing is more unsettling than change. For centuries we’ve been used to the idea that parishioners belong to a church in order to get their needs served. In many parishes countless hours are spent talking about who wants what in worship, who doesn’t like what in worship and who gets to do what at parish socials and projects.


A priest is “hired” to meet these needs and must spend his/her time largely worrying about whether performance is gladly evaluated in a positive manner, putting out fires, and making people happy.


Some times, often the time exceeds the performance, is spent discussing how to attract like-minded people. After all, we’ve let our children become “free-thinkers” or to marry outside the church, and those of us left are getting closer and closer to the grave. We’ve always believed that our history, liturgy and good taste are attracted enough to draw people in through the red doors.


But now we have a new idea. The church is to be base camp. Those who are active believers are to be shaped into eucharistic communities charged with going into the local world to tell the Good News of Jesus.


Now of course not everyone is either talented to be an evangelist or called to be an evangelist. Among the core group will be those who support mission with prayer and even money. There will be those whose ministry surrounds worship, not as spectators or those to be satisfied, but as active offerers of the Eucharist for the life of the community; the Eucharist is for the baptized and the baptized are the priestly company through which Christ makes himself known in the shared Breaking of Bread.


Some will have talents in radical hospitality, providing practical care by feeding the hungry, teaching children, helping people with finance, healing the sick and a myriad of other services outside the church building to the community. But there must be a core group of people trained and empowered to speak about Jesus in housing estates, local neighborhoods, supermarkets, work, play. Certainly such evangelism will be deeper than handing out tracts and asking people whether they are saved. However it will be much more than merely “doing good” and hoping people will take the hint that we are Christians!


And all present church buildings may not be suitable to be “base camp” for the church’s working out of the Great Commission in the local community. Not all clergy will be able to lead Great Commission parishes. Buildings which swallow up the resources of the eucharistic community need to be abandoned. Far better to rent a store front in a strategic area than pour money into a Victorian faux gothic pile far from where people now live and work. Clergy whose talents are liturgical and pastoral need to be gathered into team ministries led by clergy who have the gift of evangelism and have been intentionally trained to teach and lead outreach.


The Episcopal Church needs to develop ways to pay clergy who transform parishes into eucharistic/great commission base camps. Mutual mission patterns and yolked parish models are old-fashioned and only compound the felony of preserving old and obsolete patterns of parish life and ministry. Dioceses need to take a hard look at population concentrations and revamp the parochial system to respond to such concentrations. Population concentrations don’t have to be large, but in smaller towns it is vital to make sure that the cost of maintaining an existing building and paying a priest doesn’t cripple outreach an mission.


All this needs to be fleshed out. We need clergy training centers devoted to equipping entrepreneurial clergy and lay leaders. Bishops and COMS must start to risk promoting extroverted ordinands, or introverts ready to conquer their introversion. Canons which permit parishes to resist the new model must be revised. Above all our outreach must be to all who respond, whatever their social or political views. While we remain “Progressives at Prayer” or “Conservatives at Prayer”, our religious faith shaped primarily by our politics, we will remain a sectarian, dwindling, hopelessly old-fashioned church. We will not deserve to survive.



2 Responses

  1. Ah, all those dreams we had forty and fifty years ago! And where did they get us except right back where we are now, retired and nothing accomplished.

  2. Steve, how lugubrious!

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