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What Would “Missionary Society” Formation Look Like?

By Cynthia Coe

Recently, the Episcopal Church has sought to re-brand itself as the “Missionary Society.”  Generally, I like this re-branding.  Most real life is experienced out in the world, not within the walls of a church building for a couple of hours a week.

In keeping with this re-branding, should we also re-think our Christian formation programs?  If we focus our efforts on equipping our members for “mission” out in the world, do we need to radically re-focus our efforts to “form” people to function as missionaries in their everyday lives and as they live and work outside the Church?

Here are some ideas of what we might seek to accomplish as central objectives of Missionary Society formation:

  •  Create awareness of the needs and issues around us: Inside a lovely church building or living in suburban America, we may honestly not know what is going on in our cities, in our regions, or in other parts of the world.  Before we seek to send others out into the mission field, we might highlight needs and urge parishioners to actively read up or think about needs around them.
  • Equip missioners with the basics of the Christian faith: We need to offer “basics” courses on scripture, theology, and how we might address needs as Christians.  Often, we ask for volunteers to “help” with various ministries without any reflection or theological basis for doing the work in the first place.
  • Skills building: If we want missions to be successful and effective, we might offer training in subjects like pastoral care, language skills, fundraising, asset-based community development, causes of poverty, and other helpful tools.  Training could be offered by networks or on a regional or diocesan basis.
  • Support and Companionship: Fellowship with others working in a mission field is often one of the most rewarding parts of any ministry.  Intentional efforts to offer support groups for those in similar ministries might go a long way towards preventing burn-out and supporting on-going efforts.
  • On-going Praxis:  What do we learn from ministry?  What often do we stop to think about incidents in our ministries and how they form and inform our faith?  Regular times and places to do just this might be terrific means of actually “doing” lifelong formation.

These programs could be offered via online courses, in person, in small groups, diocesan-wide, or through regional weekend retreats – the possibilities are endless. Some of these topics are currently offered by seminaries and other institutions to M. Div students or for clergy or other professionals as continuing education.  But if we want to function truly as a Missionary Society, we need to make this support and these tools available to all laity – a radical but likely necessary step as we continue to re-think the Church.

Copyright 2014 Cynthia Coe. All Rights Reserved.

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