Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 17 September 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 72:1-20 / (NT) John 15:1-17
I. “Faith mission” and its limitation
II. “Ownership” mission
‘How to live as a Christian’ is an important issue for every believer. I believe all of you have seriously thought about it at least once in your life. In fact, such is a serious question not only to individual believers, but also to churches. Every congregation must consider this question seriously not once but many times because its membership changes and, as time passes, people forget the results of their consideration. I believe our congregation has pondered it many times and reflected its results in the history of this congregation over the past century. Yet, our Session concluded after a year’s prayer and consideration that it was a time for us to redefine the purpose of our existence and direction to move on in the coming decades at least. The Ministry Vision paper that you have read is a summary of the answer to the important question, ‘how to live as a Christ’s church at Peppermint Grove in the 21st century.’
Last Lord’s Day, the message we heard was on church’s growth through evangelism as one of the principles covered by this Ministry Vision. Growth through evangelism is, simply put, to reach out our immediate neighbours through our faithful life, living as the salt and the light of the world.
In addition to this, we as Christ’s church must have a clear vision on mission. That is to say, our act of reaching out to our neighbours who are ‘distant.’ Our reaching out to the immediate neighbours is ‘evangelism’ and to the distant neighbours is ‘mission.’ Like the command of the Lord Jesus in Mt. 28:18-20 and in Acts 1:8, we go out to proclaim the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth, starting from our immediate neighbours then to others in the distance. So, as much as we’re commanded for evangelism through our being as the salt and light of the world, we’re ordered to reach out to others who are away from us. This is mission and we must seriously consider ‘how we should carry it out.’ The message I’m going to share with you is an answer to that question as summarised in the Ministry Vision. In a word, it is an ‘ownership’ mission and I’m going to explain shortly what it means.
I. “FAITH MISSION” AND ITS LIMITATION
In the current era of so-called ‘faith mission,’ Christianity has reached far inland even to most of the hidden tribes and peoples. The gospel of Jesus Christ is delivered to almost every corner of the land. Many scholars who study mission unanimously agree that this era has opened up the gates of cities and towns that have been shut since the Fall of mankind in sin. God has raised numerous people to serve in mission and opened His treasury to provide for their works. There’s no doubt about calling this era as a ‘golden era’ of mission.
However, there’s a problem with the mission of our time. It is carried out by a small portion of Christian population and the majority are simply bystanders. Of course, all Christians cannot go to mission fields; it has to be done by a small and gifted people in mission. Most Christians stay home. That’s how it works in mission. But, the problem is that, because a small number of people assume full charge, there’s hardly any space left for the majority others could join in. Hearing this, someone might say, ‘Ah, that’s alright. People join in and they give mission offerings and donations. They pray for mission and have seminars and rallies.’ But, what I mean by ‘hardly any space left for the majority others’ is that, with the majority Christians, mission is something that pops up and goes away; it’s an interest that is sporadic than incessant in their life. Unlike evangelism that continues in the life of Christians, mission is intermittent or seasonal, if you like. Because a small number of ‘specialists’ do the work, there’s no need for the majority Christians to be engaged in mission always. That’s what I mean by ‘hardly any space left for the majority others.’ In a sense, mission is taken away from the majority Christians.
That’s not because missionaries wanted it to happen, but because of the limitation in how ‘faith mission’ works. And ‘ownership’ mission is to supplement what faith mission lacks. Then, what is this limitation of faith mission? It starts from recruiting missionaries. Candidates for mission have to be self-supportive through ensuring sufficient number of financial supporters. In the process, most mission candidates recruit multiple supporters than having a church per each candidate. Then, candidates who successfully pass this step, move on and go out to their mission fields. In this, many mission works and projects become a small number of people’s concerns rather than individual churches. A sufficient financial support goes out to mission works, but it’s a selective people’s work, not of churches. In this, mission is taken away from the majority Christians in churches and no longer to them is mission anything that must be concerned as everyday work of any congregation. Rather, it becomes something that comes and goes, then, slowly disappears from the minds of many people to be forgotten at last. Of course, this discourages many missionaries and they suffer from it, spiritually, emotionally and financially as well.
II. “OWNERSHIP” MISSION
A solution to this limitation is ‘ownership’ mission. It can be called by any other name that might describe its concept, but the main point with this solution is that every mission work or project needs to be ‘owned’ by a church at least.
The foundational principle of this ‘ownership’ mission is found from Jn. 15:1-17, our text passage for today. Jesus teaches in Jn. 15 that we must go out (that is, in this case, mission) to bear fruit that lasts or continues. In a word, like the way nutrition ceaselessly flows from the root through the branches to the fruit the tree bears, all mission works must have a constant flow of ‘nutrition,’ that is, people and their prayers and encouragement and so on, including finance. To have such a continuous flow between root and fruit, a church must adopt a mission work to ‘own’ that work as a part of that church’s everyday ministry.
Let me expound to you what Jesus teaches in Jn. 15 so that you may see what I mean. Talking about our relationship with the Lord, Jesus says in v. 16, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide ….” Our Lord means, He chose us and appointed us to ‘go,’ first – here, you need to see how it matches with His command for us to ‘go’ to the ends of the earth in mission as given in Mt. 28:19. Then, His sending us is to ‘bear fruit’ – see also how this ‘bearing fruit’ overlaps with that command of the Lord for us to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them.’ And the Lord’s teaching doesn’t stop there. He continues, “that your fruit should abide (or ‘remain’ or ‘continue exist’ or ‘last’),” meaning that our bearing fruit should and must be continuous and long lasting. Also see how this idea of fruit bearing that lasts long overlaps with the very last section of Jesus’ command in Mt. 18 where He says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What Jesus teaches here is that our work in mission must be continuous rather than temporal or sporadic. While we live our life as the salt and the light to the eyes of our immediate neighbours, we must also continually go out to the mission fields and participate in those works. As much as our evangelism is continuous, our mission should also be continuous.
Then, having understood what our mission should be, the question we have is this – ‘How can we put it into practice? How can we do it?’ Should we all get flight tickets and go abroad and give our hands in mission? Of course, we shouldn’t, because such is not what this principle of Jn. 15 teaches. Moreover, other parts of the Bible teach us that we all differ in gifts and talents and functions in God’s church. Some teach; others serve. That’s the principle for how Christ’s church functions. So does with mission.
Instead, a church adopts and ‘owns’ a mission. The owned mission is now the church’s work and everyone participates. As we minister to our children through Sunday School or support our young adults working together as a group, the mission work we ‘own’ is a part of our church’s everyday life. The missionary who works at the mission field is a member and staff in the ministry team. So, he/she is like a ‘general manager’ of that mission work of our congregation. Do you see the point I’m making? In this way, we as a church ‘adopt’ a mission work and it’s different from simply ‘supporting’ it financially with minimum interest by a minimum number of people.
Then what? As every organisation or activity of our church is carried out, we participate in our church’s mission work. Some of us visit the mission field – possibly sent by the church or voluntarily in terms of finance – and give hands whenever possible to the work. Then, come back with a report that’s fresh and vivid in picture, and prayer points. All in the congregation share them and pray and consider how to work together better as one team for the glory of God. Then, in another time, another group of people go out, bringing news and various support from us to the missionary which will surely encourage and strengthen not only the missionary but also whoever are involved in the mission work. This is the picture of continuing flow of ‘nutrition’ to the fruit in Jesus’ teaching. And this flow continues as long as our church’s role in that mission continues. This is what I mean by ‘ownership’ mission. If a church cannot do it alone, then, two or three churches could join and work together.
There will be two immediate benefits of ‘ownership’ mission. First, the mission work will be continued in full effect as the whole congregation participates and work together. Second, the congregation will enjoy their experience in mission because it is God’s hand working in people’s lives with power. Such experience will surely deepen all members’ faith and commitment. Also many people will have a different worldview and understand what it means for them to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first in their life.
So, as the conclusion, Session prays and seeks God’s guidance for our congregation to learn from the Scriptures about our mandate in mission, then, be able to follow the Lord’s command and adopt a mission work – in other words, begin owning a mission as a part of our congregational life.
As the start, Session would like to begin from supporting a church that is close by. It will be no overseas mission work yet, but through our participation in the life of that fledgling congregation and through our support for them, we may learn what it is to adopt or ‘own’ any work in mission. Then, after having some experience and joy and encouragement through what we’ve done, we could own a mission work by the grace and providence of God.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all pray to God for mission and start working together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please join the Session in prayer for our ‘ownership’ mission. ***