So here’s one of the plans I wanted to share with you after I’d got the thing about giving God a laugh off my chest.
I’ll be hosting a national conference on mission and evangelism in Adelaide next year: 28-30 March 2014. Uniting College for Leadership & Theology is planning to a five day intensive course on mission and evangelism immediately following the conference for those who are interested and available to participate.
The idea was raised at the first National Young Adult Leaders Conference, in February 2012. Some delegates thought that a conference specifically on mission and evangelism would really help collect the ideas and build the networks that would enable the Uniting Church to live up to its potential in this generation. The President, Al Macrae shared that with Chris Walker, the National Consultant for Theology and Discipleship, who took it to the national network on mission and evangelism that he resources. A small team from the network have been consulting with me to make the idea a reality.
The conference will be open to anyone in the Uniting Church, but it is intended to be particularly helpful for for people involved in missional innovation, leadership, community development, training for ministry, and in service across a variety of contexts – congregations, agencies, schools, presbyteries, synods, and global connections. And we’re particularly keen to ensure that the young adult leaders who initiated the idea get to address their agenda in the gathering.
But why would we want to call a national conference on mission and evangelism for the Uniting Church anyway? Well, it’s really all about who we are.
The Uniting Church was formed around the realisation that the Christian movement is all about mission. In paragraph 3 of the Basis of Union the mission God is identified as “reconciliation and renewal…for the whole creation”. Moreover, “The Church’s call is to serve that end…” The church exists for the sake of that mission of God, as a sign, instrument and foretaste of what God in Christ has done as is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. It exists for mission and evangelism, to live and share the Gospel that heals and transforms broken people and societies.
The Copernican insight that resulted in the formation of the Uniting Church was that in the church of God everything revolves around mission and evangelism – and that none of the things that were keeping the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches apart could be justified in terms of the mission of God. It was hard, risky, but there could be no more excuses. It all had to go and a new Uniting Church in Australia inaugurated with the prayer that “God will use their common worship, witness and service to set forth the word of salvation for all people” (Basis of Union paragraph 1).
It’s still true, however, that a lot of what we do, enjoy and are comforted by as a church is not about mission at all – even less about evangelism. A lot of it is just habit, nostalgia, vested interest, or merely a lack of imagination. The need to discern what participation in the mission of God requires of us is ongoing – and so is the need to measure what we are already doing against it.
The Uniting Church is going through a time of tremendous change. Some of it we have chosen but much of it is simply generated by the force of circumstances. In this time of change it is critical that we keep in front of us the point of it all – mission and evangelism or, more properly, participation in the mission of God in Australia today.
In recent years most of our presbyteries and synods have engaged in some kind of process intended to do just that. A national conference on mission and evangelism is a means of acknowledging and encouraging that work. It is also a means of bringing together the insights of the different councils of the church into a fresh national process of missional discernment. It is an opportunity to articulate a shared vision of mission and evangelism linking the church’s congregations, councils and community service agencies.