Which comes first mission or ministry? Does it matter?

Given the opportunity to write this blog post, I thought I’d talk about my confusion with our church’s talking about the big ideas of mission and ministry.

Is the mission of the church to care for the least and the last in our society?

Is the ministry of the church to preach to the lost?

Or is it the other way around?

At the 2018 Melville Uniting Church Ping-Pong-a-Thon: hearing about the ministry of the International Justice Mission who free people from slavery.

It’s confusing because we refer to the ordained as “ministers” and state that they are to proclaim the gospel in word and deed – mission and ministry.

Then we then talk about our care and justice organisations and programs doing the mission of the church and the congregations as providing the ministry.

I think our words and definitions have swapped over.  When we say mission we mean ministry and when we say ministry we should be talking about the mission.

The Church’s mission comes from Jesus’ Great Commission to baptise and teach people to follow all Jesus’ commands.

The ministry of Jesus’ followers comes in obedience to Jesus’ Great Commandment to love others as we have experienced the love of God.

The reason we need to sort this out is, in many places, the number of people who are part of the Uniting Church who are doing Jesus’ Great Commission and following Jesus’ Great Commandment- continues to fall.

While we might disagree about the importance of the Great Commission – some think challenging people to follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour are culturally inappropriate – the dwindling and ageing numbers of Uniting Church members means that our capacity to corporately impact our society with the Great Commandment is reducing.

My reflection is in no way meant to disparage any of our ministry activities.

Rather I’m questioning our commitment to the Great Commission and the consequences of our reluctance to invite, invest and inspire people to follow and love Jesus’ with all their heart, mind, soul and strength in their time and place.

Jesus gave us a very simple model for undertaking his commission.

First go to Jerusalem (the people who live near you and are like you), then to Judea (the people who are like you but don’t live near you), then to Samaria (the people who aren’t like you or live near you) and then to the rest of the world (Acts 1:8).

So if you were to start fresh in your “Jerusalem” …ask yourself:

  • Who can you invite to follow Jesus as you do?
  • Where and when can you invest everything you know of Jesus into others?
  • How can you inspire someone to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice and repeat the process?

If all of us invited and invested and inspired one person and they did the same and so on and so on then we might just see the renewal and revival that we long for.

It’s certainly something I long for!

I’d love to hear your thoughts- you can drop me an email here.

With grace and peace,

Rev Mark Illingworth
Deputy General Secretary

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