The Church doesn’t have a Mission; the Mission has a Church
“If your mission is to fill buildings, then keep going with your current strategy. But if your mission is to reach people, it might be time to rethink things.” Carey Nieuwhof
As I begin Sunday Mass, I look around to observe who is present. A task that is not so simple as the parishioners are scattered throughout the church in order to respect physical distancing while maintaining the 30 percent capacity allowance. Everybody is wearing a mask and I’m “blinded” by the spotlights. At the same time, I’m very much aware that the cameras are rolling since we live-stream our Masses. I try to imagine who is joining us on the other side of the screen. Like it or not, this is the reality of how the Church gathers today; this is a new way of being Church – the “hybrid” Church.
Our mission has never been to fill the buildings (as tempting and satisfying as this might have been); but rather to reach the people wherever they are, to go beyond the walls. Throughout the centuries, the way of being the Church has changed according to the reality of the social environment. In the beginning first Christians gathered in homes, often in secret due to persecution. In the middle ages, beautiful cathedrals, which are real pieces of art, were built across the European countries as places of gathering and worship. Then, the Second Vatican Council updated the liturgy and understanding of the Church in the modern times. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic brings us into a new face of being the Church. As much as there is a temptation and sentiment that one day things will go back to “normal”; the reality is there is no way back, the only way is to move forward.
The way we gather as Church might have changed through history; but the mission has never changed! “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’” (Matthew 28:18-19). The church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a church.
Christopher J.H. Wright wrote, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission – God’s mission.” It’s a paradigm shift, when we realize that this is not about us, but about God’s mission, Missio Dei, in the world of today.
There is nothing that can replace or substitute the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This is “the wedding banquet” where we open the scriptures and break the bread, being nourished and sustained. However, maybe, just maybe, the current time of the history is the moment of the Gospel story when we are being invited to embrace God’s mission to “Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” (Matthew 22:9)
“The digital genie is out of the bottle. Your church is still around. The church is still around. It’s just leaving the building.” Carey Nieuwhof
By Jarek Pachocki, OMI