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What if Our Mission Was “To Keep People from God?”

Mark Yaconelli is a writer, speaker, retreat leader, spiritual director, community activist, youth worker, storyteller, husband, and father. He is the co-founder and programme director for the Center for Engaged Compassion at Claremont School of Theology which seeks to heal broken people and communities through contemplation, creativity and compassion. He is spending 6 months as "Missioner in Residence" with the St Aspah Diocese in North Wales nad recently shared this account of his experience there.

Sitting with two groups of church leaders recently, I asked, “In practical, everyday language, what is the purpose of the Church?” Many responses were given, but the one that stuck was, “To bring God to people and people to God.” I then asked “If our mission was to do the opposite, in other words, if our mission was ‘To keep people from God,’ how would we accomplish this reverse mission?” In both groups, laughter erupted. “Done!” someone exclaimed, “We know exactly how to accomplish this mission!”

I asked the group to list the activities needed to meet this reverse mission. Here is a sampling:

  • Speak in coded language so that a person outside the Church would feel alienated and confused
  • Make sure the church building is cold and without bathrooms
  • Provide uncomfortable seating
  • Have inconvenient meeting times, particularly for families
  • Make sure everything is done very prim and proper so that outsiders are easily embarrassed
  • Give the impression that everyone is doing very well so that newcomers feel unsafe to share their shortcomings and problems
  • In all church worship gatherings there should be a sense that you are being judged and found wanting
  • Do not welcome people when they come in the door
  • Notice boards should be inaccurate
  • People should be expected to come into the church building, make no effort to go out to them
  • Anxiously remind people that they are responsible for meeting the needs of the church (building upkeep, church finances, bureaucratic tasks) so that they understand that the mission of the church is to maintain the church
  • Avoid providing a safe space for people to confess their needs
  • Find ways to continue programs that are burdensome and uninspiring to those involved
  • Never sing music nor play instruments less than 100 years old
  • Talk continuously about the failings of The Church and Church leadership, rather than the needs of the people and the freedom and possibilities of life with God

There was much laughter, self-recognition, and humility as people listed the activities and attitudes that would keep people from the Church and from the faith. This laughter was a sign of health. The conversation then shifted to discussing the concerns and needs of the people in Northeast Wales. Here are the main items listed by the church leaders:

  • Food
  • Self-worth
  • Acceptance
  • Belonging
  • Respect
  • Financial security
  • Safe place for children
  • A sense of purpose (and good work to do)
  • A safe place to tell the truth
  • Possibilities for how life could be lived
  • Unconditional love
  • An ongoing experience of a God who offers compassion

The vicars and lay-leaders who gathered decided that if we could focus on meeting these needs, the real needs of the community instead of the anxieties of the church institution, God would be felt and known.

You can read more of Mark's Blog at http://stasaph.churchinwales.org.uk/mark-yaconelli/an-american-in-wales-reflections-from-mark/ 

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