from Amy Walter-Peterson
As people of faith, we trust that God is doing a new thing in the world and we long to be part of this work. Congregational mission planning is the process of discovering how each community of faith is called to live as the body of Christ.
Mission planning can be accomplished in many and various ways. In some congregations, mission planning is a regular and ongoing topic for conversation. In some, mission planning is a new way to think about the ministry of the church. In all situations, there are a few guiding principles that can help congregations think about how to proceed with developing a mission plan.
Mission planning involves three great listenings – listening to God through scripture and prayer; listening to the community outside our doors; listening within the household of faith. Identifying what God is up to in the world and in the community and determining how we are called to be involved in God’s work involves intentional and thoughtful listening. Mission planning is rooted in listening through scripture and prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction. Mission planning also listens to the voices of people in the community – those within the faith community and those outside the doors of the congregation.
Mission planning is relational and fosters partnerships. We are part of an interdependent body. Planning connects us with the wider church through synodical resources and programs (through the director for evangelical mission, and other available resources), to other congregations in the community (Lutheran, ecumenical partners, or others), to area social ministry organizations (such as Lutheran Social Services agencies), to church educational partners (colleges and schools) or to global companions. Building relationships with these partners takes time, energy and intention.
Every congregation is uniquely gifted by God. God has gifted us greatly! Mission plans are grounded in the conviction that God has given us all we need in order to do what God calls us to do. Mission planning focuses on the assets, strengths, unique resources and opportunities that God has graciously shared with each congregation and invites us to identify how we will steward what God has entrusted to us, set priorities and monitor progress.
Mission planning pays attention to context. Congregational mission plans are contextual, taking into account the cultural realities of the congregation’s neighborhood and community, and being mindful of the socio-economic, ethnic-specific and multicultural dynamics of the congregation’s setting. These realities apply in our engagement in our global context as well. Through baptism God has formed us into the body of Christ and enabled us to love and serve our neighbor. Mission planning gets us outside of the walls of our church and into the world where we seek to learn how to love God through our neighbor.
Mission planning is a shared journey. Effective mission planning is the work of an entire congregation. There may be a small group of people involved in the hands-on work and planning activities, but the whole congregation is engaged through prayer, discernment and other forms of participation and support as well as sharing a commitment to the actions that emerge from the planning process.
Mission planning is ongoing. We are always in the process of discerning how God is calling us to live together as a community of faith as well as how we will set priorities and steward the resources God has entrusted to us. Ongoing attention to mission planning gives congregations the opportunity to be attentive to shifts in congregational, community or neighborhood dynamics and to remain focused on the ways that living out our baptismal call continually changes.
How do you help your congregation see it as a community that is mission minded?
The Rev. Amy Walter-Peterson is Coordinator of Area Ministry Strategies for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). This article is used with permission and can be accessed in full, as well as other Congregational Mission Planning resources from the ELCA’s Mission Planning website.