(Appeared first in May 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.—Romans 12:4-5 (TNIV)
There are few things that draw a church community together like a common sense of mission or purpose. Some churches have a written mission statement, others just carry their calling in their bones. You can feel it in every aspect of the congregation.
God has gifted every believer with gifts to be used on behalf of the church’s mission. In response, a church with a clear missional calling has vital work for every member to do.
Unfortunately, many “Gifts Discernment” committees simply seek to fill “slots” in the congregational structure. They begin with a list of roles in congregational life and breathe a sigh of relief when they find enough people with the gifts to fill them.
In a truly missional community, it works the other way around. The church begins by looking at people’s gifts and then pointing them toward roles and tasks that exercise those gifts.
Some churches go to great lengths to help members identify not only their gifts and strengths but their particular passion for ministry. Many gifts of members are put to their best use in the outward mission of the church, ministering to people who are not yet connected with the congregation. The church does well to highlight this kind of ministry.
The apostle Paul shows that gifts of ministry are given to each individually in order to benefit the whole body of Christ. Here is where Christians make a radical departure from our worldly surroundings. We do not use our gifts for self-aggrandizement or to further our position. Rather, we use our gifts to build up the body of Christ. This is what is implied by the following trait of a missional church:
Missional character trait: The church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all its members.
Signpost: The church has made its “mission” its priority and in overt and communal ways is seeking to be and do “what God is calling us to know, be and do.”
The Salvation Army (originally named Christian Mission) is a good example of this trait. Ministering to nonmembers has been an essential part of their calling since the church was founded as a denomination in 1865. Their ministry of mercy is so obvious to the watching world that one can hardly miss it, especially at Christmas time. It’s far more than a social service; it’s a spiritual calling. To emphasize the missional duty of the church, every member is called a soldier. Where I live, the Salvation Army congregation is growing rapidly because their community takes seriously their task to reach people for Jesus who are not yet associated with any church.
I have reservations about being called a soldier for Jesus, even though Paul uses the metaphor in 2 Timothy 2:3-4. But I heartily commend the Salvation Army for making their missional calling a top priority. As Mennonite Church USA, we dare not settle for anything less.