June 24, 2016
It’s been said that, “It’s not the Church that has a mission, but a mission that has a Church.” At many churches, including Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD, “missions” is the name of the form of ministry that serves the unmet physical and spiritual needs of the community beyond the parish, whether aimed locally, nationally, or internationally. In one form or another, the work of missions is a non-negotiable aspect of our mission to make disciples.
Borrowing a phrase of author Gabe Lyons in his book The Next Christians, Brian Crook, Director of Missions at The Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD sees the task of missions to be “restorers.” What does it mean to be restorers in the field of missions?
Restoring is how Jesus approached the broken, sinful people he met. He didn’t just “fix” them- he restored them. He didn’t just fix someone’s blindness- he restored their sight. That might just sound like word play, but it’s not. Jesus also restored their faith, their “spiritual sight,” in the same act. We fix problems, but we restore persons. Restoring persons includes the faith dimension, because they aren’t just material bodies that need a mechanic but souls that need the hope of a savior.
Now, don’t take it the wrong way: on mission trips, we definitely fix houses, donate clothes, and build things. That’s because just as people aren’t just bodies, it’s also true that persons aren’t just souls trapped in an insignificant body. The body matters, as especially our recent popes have pointed out. How and where people live matters, and it’s an injustice when families do not have access to clean water, adequate shelter, and quality education. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in a literal, physical way.
How can parishes begin transitioning to the mode of restoring rather than fixing? Here are three ways the Nativity team approaches mission trips and events.
Rather than “stopping by” an area of need, Nativity talks about partnering with a local, national, or international community. It implies there’s something mutual going on, not just big brother church. Partnering builds community with the people a parish serves over time- you begin to learn the neighborhood, understand who really lives and works there, and learn their unique hardships in a way that just isn’t possible otherwise. As partners, the work isn’t just one week out of the year, but continuous throughout the year.
If your church is looking to launch a missions program, Nativity’s advice is to pick one place at first to invest your time, energy, and resources over at least a five-year period (you might add more partners during that time). But first, make sure the partnership with that particular area or pastor is actually a good idea. Do they want to partner? Can your team trust and cooperate with the institution and its leaders? If the prospect seems daunting, there are Christian organizations that exist to help form partnerships for you, such as 410 Bridge.
Build a Missions Team
Like any healthy program, a healthy missions program requires good, organized leadership. This is especially important when it comes to missions because there is a lot of extra planning, communication, and even a bit of diplomacy when it comes to working with people in different cultures and conditions. Look for a couple people in your church with some relevant background, such as development, international affairs, or government, who can provide helpful guidance.
When it comes to promoting trips (as opposed to more local ministries), Nativity actually requires potential missionaries to submit an application and complete an interview with Brian. This isn’t because there are too many applicants, but to help sort out motivations and qualifications for this type of ministry. Applications promote the idea that people who attend a trip should feel a sense of calling to serve in this capacity- not because mom wants them out of the house in the summer.
It’s also important that volunteers are clear on their role and responsibilities. There is a fair amount of necessary preparation and prayer before a trip, which means being on a missions team includes a time commitment both leading up to the trip and afterwards.
By: Evan Ponton, Assistant to the Pastor, Church of the Nativity, Timonium, MD