Grappling with “Mission”

This summer, I stumbled upon a fact about the Mennonite Church that I had somehow missed before; we are trying really hard to be a “missional people” these days.

Ok, no… wait. I knew that, didn’t I? All the Mennonites I know love service, especially overseas. A good chunk of my Mennonite peers are gearing up to depart for year-long service commitments. I guess MMN people are called “missionaries”… MCC might even dabble in the term.

So does that make me a missionary?

With horror, I immediately recalled Nathan Price in “The Poisonwood Bible”. Ugh, missionaries. That isn’t me, is it? Actual missionaries are proud of the term, right? After a search on the Mennonite USA website, I found a section labeled, “Mission & Church Planting”: a button I would normally never click. Sure enough, Mennonites believe in mission.

Even more influential on my burgeoning interest in mission—in fact, the reason I realized that this is a buzzword for Mennonites—was a book I was given at Kansas City Convention. The cover was simple and intriguing: plain green with a paper crane overlaid with the words “Fully Engaged”. My mom and I appreciated the book aesthetically, but alas, it was relegated to the book shelf without so much as a single dog-eared page.

One year and a college diploma later, I was feeling intellectually stunted after quitting school cold turkey. I searched the house madly, looking for reading material. I found this book.

I wouldn’t call it riveting by any stretch of the imagination, but it got the ol’ brain gears churning. I learned a lot.

The beginning chapters explored MCUSA’s relationship with mission. During the MC/GC merger, “the threat of competing or of disparate visions was averted when the delegate assembly agreed that the vision for becoming a missional people was the MOST compelling narrative to undergird the birth of a new church.” (pg 33).

Did you hear that? The merging communities had vastly different theological visions, but they were brought together because they agreed on their goal of becoming a missional people.

Why do I hate the term missionary?

“Looks like you’re on a mission!” a mother might say to her 2-year-old who ignores her while walking purposefully past her desk on the way to the cookie jar in the kitchen. When you’re on a mission, you put on blinders; you don’t allow distractions.

I was on a mission to qualify for track nationals as a freshman. I didn’t stay out late. I didn’t eat ice cream in the caf (like seriously, not even once). I didn’t consider playing intramurals or wearing high heels (well, not too much at least) or lifting too much on race week or drinking beer or anything else that could get in the way of my goal. That’s fine; I don’t regret that, and maybe the end goal was worth it.

But everything went better once I learned balance.

Freshman year, I was on a mission. When that mission failed, I looked back on my year and realized that not only had I not reached my goal; I also hadn’t felt fulfilled. I got surgery the next summer, and it forced me to do some nice hard thinking.

Over the next few years, that mission morphed into a vision. I ripped off my blinders, took a step back, and approached my running more holistically. My vision was for personal triumphs, clearing hurdles, and loving the ride. Performance is a function of your physical strength, your support system, AND your emotional health. Turns out that a human who loves to run can get a heck of a lot further than the runner who forgets to be human sometimes. I failed many times, but it no longer left me devastated because the journey was so darn worth it.

Relating that back to service work, which is, I believe, an even greater calling than track & field (would you believe it)… When you have a mission, you know where you’re headed. When you have a vision, you know the quality of the path you hope to take. When you’re pursuing a mission, you might look for people who can help you. When you’re chasing a vision, you might be more receptive to be transformed by the people guiding you through the dynamic milieu of an unfamiliar culture.

For this reason, I aspire to be a visionary. I want to develop a worthwhile vision to pursue, even one as simple as “serving as called”.

But, here’s the nuance that I missed the first time I read the previously quoted sentence: MCUSA has a vision to become a missional people. This doesn’t mean that MCUSA is simply on a mission to save souls or convert nonbelievers.

Can we be missional without the blinders? Can we humbly aspire to a vision of a joint mission with those to whom we are reaching out to? Can we share our Anabaptist vision without plowing gracelessly through existing cultures?

I want to come to terms with “mission”. And I’ve decided to talk to some family members who have been through this before.

More to come.

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2 thoughts on “Grappling with “Mission”

  1. Hannah – you are starting your post college life with great perspective! Enjoy the coming year – what an awesome gift, to be able to apply your passion for running with your mission….. I’m sure you will get more from the year than you think you contribute – soak it all in – keep thinking – and asking the tough questions!

  2. Good discussion. Mission. Vision. Service. I find it helpful to think of the word ” mission” outside of the church, where it is often paired with “vision.” I’ve been involved in writing the “mission/vision” for intentional communities and for businesses, and that feels different than the church’s version, but maybe it doesn’t have to be so different. Within the church context, mission to me has always been paired with conversion, and I’m not sure if that’s just my definition, or if there’s something within the church giving it that definition. Thanks for the intellectual stimulation!

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