What is the Mission of the Church?

Our Catechism tells us “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to God and each other in Christ.”[1] Whether it was my Southern Baptist upbringing, or the Diocesan half of my current vocation, I can’t help but thinking of evangelism when I think about what the initial steps might include for the “restoring” all people to God that the Catechism envisions; “how will they hear without a preacher?”

It’s uncontroversial to say that our branch of the Church finds this activity generally uncomfortable. To be sure, knocking on doors during dinnertime and insisting that strangers dialogue about their eternal destinies will excite only the most zealous and extroverted among us, and Episcopalians are right to recognize that this sort of thing is typically alienating, unfriendly, and (if mediums are messages) not reflective of the powerfully relational and meaningful reality of our faith in Christ. In my experience, we’ve rightly rejected tracts, door-knocking, and acting like a magazine salesman when trying to communicate our faith to others, but a problem has arisen: we have not yet found a “method” that we like, if we look for one at all.

But evangelism need look nothing like that. The methods of evangelism are and have been delightfully varied: sometimes it means engaging directly current philosophical/religious trends (“Men of Athens, I see you are very religious…”), sometimes it means world-moving humility (Zossima kissing Dmitri’s feet). It is accompanied by healing and social justice, since God’s restorative work includes both souls and bodies (Paul’s exorcism in Philippi). It is always the act of bearing witness, in thought, word, and deed. Methods are usually compelling (Zech. 8:23), even if they initially start with the bad news first (Jonah among the Ninevites).

The method of this bearing witness is one consideration, and content is like it. The Good News presentations I was taught to make at an early age were all about convincing someone to pray prayer to ensure them a place in post-mortem paradise (nevermind that this method was totally foreign to the original kerygma). In contrast, thoughtful Episcopalians know the Paschal Mystery will take us a lifetime (and beyond) to wrestle with…how could we possibly communicate it all at once?  Take heart, it is alright to focus on just one theme of that vast symphony when we speak to our neighbors about Christ; we may have one or two themes that really resonate with us, and in getting to know our neighbors, we will understand which ones would be a good entry point for them. If you’ve ever seen a well-crafted movie trailer, then you know what I’m talking about.

I was once on cross country flight, near final exams, hammering away on my laptop, when I closed all windows for a moment, and the Pantocrator icon on my desktop caught the eye of the passenger next to me. She asked what I was studying, I told her, and we began a conversation about our respective fields. Her’s was biology, and she remarked that many of her colleagues were often depressed at the apparent meaningless of the universe’s material makeup, and that she often succumbed to such feelings as well. In a quick, uncharacteristic flash of boldness, I told her, “You and your friends should convert to Christianity, your lives would be better.” She responded without a hint of sarcasm, surprise, or contempt, “Yeah, maybe we should.” Our conversation continued until the end of the flight. Her conversion did not happen that day, but I pray for it whenever I think of her. My method was confrontational, my content was the Christological cure for existential angst.

If that interaction made your made your skin crawl, know that my way is not prescriptive, only our Great Commission is. This is where the much maligned, navel-gazing content of CPE can really come in handy: the body of Christ needs you, and your charisms, proclivities, interests, and personality will incline you to evangelize in other ways, though we are empowered by the same Spirit (no one should say, “because I am an eye, I do not belong to the body”). If you like, take an enneagram, a spiritual gifts test, or an evangelism-style questionnaire: the better you know how God made you, the better you’ll be able to speak others about His provision in your life. If what we’re doing is truly evangelism, it is always participation in God’s own work of reconciling the world unto himself. So study hard, keep an open mind, and before you speak, pray with Samuel, “speak Lord, your servant listens.”

[1] BCP 1979, 855, which, blessedly, is not intended to be a “complete statement” of belief and practices.

Posted by The Rev. Ryan Pollock with

Priests from throughout the diocese explore religious topics with depth and nuance.