Essay: From Castle to Frontier Outpost: Changing views of mission.
The one, holy, universal and apostolic Christian Church has received a calling to mission directly from Jesus. The Church has always turned to the Great Commission - the resurrected Jesus’ last words to his disciples - as the starting point and inspiration for our mission work (See Matthew 28: 19, 20). Nonetheless the understanding and definition of mission is changing and shifting in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today. Your view of these changes depends a lot on the location and viability of the congregation where you are located. I offer two different images or mental pictures of mission that may, I hope, help us understand these changes.
Castle: Consider in your mind’s eye an image of a medieval castle. Throughout
these amazing structures are still fascinating places to tour. Consider a
castle as a definition of mission. In this regard, the church is the castle. It
is strong, secure, established and solid. Imagine the heavy, secure doors of
the castle opening, the drawbridge across the moat dropped down, and a group
from the castle sent out on a mission. This may be the understanding of mission
familiar to most of us. In this view, the church is the castle and the mission
we do is sent from our secure, established home base out into the world. Mission goes out from the
church. This mission may be in the form of missionaries sent out to create
castles in other places. Or this mission may be in the form of simply sending
money out to help with people, organizations, agencies that are beyond the
walls of our castle. For our Presbytery, this understanding of mission funds
our Mission Grants programs which makes financial grants.
Frontier outpost: Consider a completely different image. Consider in your mind’s eye a small group of faithful Christians venturing together into a wild, wilderness frontier and living there; this is actually the original history of Presbyterians in
Consider a small frontier outpost established in a wild, savage wilderness as
an image for the church. In this image the definition of mission is very
different. The existence of this frontier outpost is questionable and tentative;
it is not secure or established. The existence and survival of the church itself
is at risk. It is constantly threatened. In this case the survival of the
church is its mission. It is not at all certain that this Christian outpost
living in the wilderness will survive. Thus the continuing existence of the
church, in every way, is its mission.
I believe the definition of mission is shifting in the church today from castle view to frontier outpost view. In the castle, all the work of our daily operations from the salaries of our people, to the care of our buildings, our worship and our pastoral care are all accomplished. The castle sustains itself. We are, in fact, very good at this. When everything has been accomplished making sure the castle is secure and comfortable; then we send out our mission.
If the church is understood as a frontier outpost our survival, including all the day to day operations, are our mission. Thus everything we do - including salaries, our worship and programs and our buildings - are all contributing to the existence of this fragile outpost in a threatening wilderness. Everything we do is our mission. Our mission is to exist as a church in the midst of a wild and foreign world.
Questions for prayer, pondering and discussion:
- How secure and established do you consider the existence of the church today? Do you feel that the existence of the church in our society is at risk or threatened?
- Do you feel that the continuing existence of your congregation in your community is at risk?
- What does it mean to consider the existence of the church as its mission?
- What is God doing? In the castle image of the church, the church does mission. The church is secure, stable and established and thus sends out mission work. In the frontier outpost image of the church, God does mission. God has sent the church into the wilderness frontier of the world. The planting of the church in the wild frontier is God’s work of mission. This is, of course, the most important question: What is God through Christ doing in regard to these issues?
- How do these different views of mission influence the ways we fund the church and organize ourselves? This opens the complicated question of our financial system.