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The Council for World Mission (CWM) describes itself as a partnership of churches in mission. Its 31 member churches around the world work collaboratively, sharing resources of people, money, and ideas, and understanding themselves to be partners together in God's mission. Our common life takes shape around our vision – fullness of life through Christ for all creation – and our mission statement: Called to partnership in Christ to mutually challenge, encourage and equip churches to share in God's mission.

Enabling members to develop missional congregations has been identified as the central focus of CWM's current strategy.

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The strategy, which is drawn as a diagram to convey the dynamic relationship among the various parts, seeks to promote the idea that all the key elements should both inform and be informed by each other. Furthermore, CWM, as a global partnership of churches in mission, seeks to acknowledge in its strategy the influence of our external environment, and more importantly how we should be seeking to witness to the wider world based on our accumulated experience of working with our members to develop missional congregations, or what we are now describing as life-affirming communities. As such it builds on CWM's theology statement (2010), Mission in the Context of Empire, in which we set out our understanding of our calling today: “naming our context as Empire; describing our approach (and alternative paradigm) as partnership; and setting out our vision of fullness of life through Christ for all creation.”[1]

Our focus on enabling our members to develop missional congregations does not stand apart from the other elements; rather it is the touchstone of all our efforts. If the congregations we all serve and support are not missional, then how can we describe ourselves as partners in God's mission? Our congregations, the local churches to which we all belong, stand at the interface between the celebration and nurturing of our faith and our witness to the world. At the end of worship each Sunday in the benediction, we are commissioned to be apostles, bearers of good news to the communities we call home.

  • So let us go to the world again in confidence;

  • playing our part in God's mission and never losing heart.

  • Let us put our faith in Jesus, our companion traveller, who will match his stride to ours until our journey's end.

  • And the blessing …

So important is this element to our strategy that we have been engaging our members on it from the very outset, developing a programme that is focused on congregations and how they can be assisted to assess what it would mean to be engaged in mission – that is, to be life-affirming in their context – and supported as they develop the capacities and responses that their situation calls for.

As part of this we have been drawing on the new WCC statement Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, as well as our own theology statement, Mission in the Context of Empire (2010). Both speak of the need to understand the nature of mission as embedded and transformative, that is, that mission should proclaim and offer fullness of life that speaks to people's life experiences. This is to go beyond simple contextual understandings of mission, to challenge us to see mission as the practical outworking of our faith, so that it is rooted (takes shape) in our communities and grows from there, engaging and transforming the challenges we face and gradually realizing the fullness of life that God promises.

To this end we have developed a working definition of a missional congregation as a life-affirming community, drawing on the work of our members as they have explored this theme over the last couple of years:

A life-affirming community–

  • Lives a spirituality of engagement, which is reflected in its worship, and in the nurture and support of its members;
  • Is attuned to the communities in which it is set and alert to the needs of the world, so that it is willing to stand alongside and speak out with those who are suffering or are marginalised;
  • Does not work alone, being in active partnership with other groups who share similar concerns;
  • Is a learning community, with its members taking seriously their re-reading of the Bible and their reflection on their experience, both as individuals and as a community.

All of which leads the congregation to be a community of transformation, manifesting the reign of God in its midst as lives are made new and justice is realised for those who have been denied fullness of life.

Supporting this, we have developed a toolkit resource[2] that can be used by our members and anyone else with their congregations, with a particular focus on mission audits, mission planning, and capacity development. Over the next six years we will provide additional support and encouragement by collecting and sharing resources from our members – and in particular their missional congregations/life-affirming communities – that will help others with their worship, discipleship and leadership development, re-reading of the Bible, and so on. Finally, team visits to all our member churches throughout this period will enable further sharing and a benchmarking of where we are with this strategic emphasis.

Our hope is that we can reinvigorate a passion for mission in the local church: Not as a delegated activity that is done out there (often in another country), but as part of the lifeblood of the congregation as they engage with the life experiences of their own members and the experiences of the people who comprise their neighbourhood, witnessing to their faith in God's promise of life. As we see it, participation in God's mission has always been and continues to be a very localized and relational activity. Even when mission is understood as sending someone to a far-off place, it is undertaken so that that person can become rooted in a particular community and relate to the people in that place. Thus if our congregations are to be missional or life affirming, their members and adherents need to rediscover what it means to live in relationship not only with God but with each other and with their neighbours, and how such living can be life-giving and transformative for everyone as they witness to God's healing love and justice.

As such, our sharing together in worship on Sunday, whilst it is an important moment of celebration and thanksgiving for what God has done, should also be understood as the point of re-commitment from which we draw strength and inspiration for the transformative, life-giving work that still lies ahead as we follow Jesus into the world of our lives and the life of the communities that we inhabit (family, neighbourhood, workplace, and so on). Together Towards Life captures this dynamic, most obviously when it speaks of local congregations (§§72–79). However, it would be shortsighted to limit the statement's vision for the local church to this section alone.

The section on transformative spirituality (§§29–35) states that “authentic Christian witness is not only what we do in mission but how we live out our mission,” pointing to the need to develop life-affirming spiritualties to counter the life-denying forces around us. This though is necessarily a community (congregational) exercise, for life can only be fully expressed in communities where joys and calamities are shared by all, enabling us to draw strength from one another, whether in moments of celebration or despair.

Mission from the margins (§§36–42) challenges us to go beyond ourselves, which is the very essence of mission. A congregation cannot be missional if it is not attuned to those on the margins, either within its midst or beyond. Our faith speaks of an incarnational God, who breaks into our lives in unexpected ways. Power and privilege, even in the most humble of circumstances, can blind us to how God is working in our midst. A missional congregation has to find ways to work that enable all voices to be heard and appropriate responses to be developed so that in every respect it is life affirming.

The statement's call to evangelize (§§80–100) makes clear that there is no mission without proclamation and an invitation to join the community. Again we are reminded that at the heart of the Christian life, there is community. In our coming together we affirm the power of life, and so there must be an invitation to come and share, for the celebration of and witnessing to life depends on their being a community at the heart of it. This is not about institutional survival or the crude notion of “bums on pews,” but an expression of what our faith calls us to, the celebration of life in all its fullness, which can only be realized in community, in the company of other people.

Congregations, therefore, in order to fully realize God's promise of life in all its fullness, need to rediscover their missional calling and mission needs to rediscover the role of congregations as communities of witness and transformation. Mission is not something we can outsource; it should be the very essence of congregational life.

Footnotes

  1. Top of page
  2. Footnotes
  3. Biography

Biography

  1. Top of page
  2. Footnotes
  3. Biography
  • Rev. Philip Woods is a United Reformed Church Minister from England, currently serving with the Council for World Mission, based in Singapore, as Programme Secretary for Mission Enabling.