Is it Time to Clean Out Your Congregations’ Missions Closet?

September 08, 2020

By Rev. Alexis Coleman
Lydia’s Place/1st UMC Asheboro

When Shelter at Home orders began to go into effect, many people cleaned out their garages, closets and dresser drawers. It was enormously satisfying for most people I knew but cleaning out is a process. Each item must be examined individually. Typical questions might be:
  • What is the purpose of this?
  • Do I need this?
  • When is the last time I wore it?
  • Does it still fit?
  • Will I miss it? How much?
It seems that there are always a few items that cause an argument, especially t-shirts that are SO comfortable but no longer have collars and have more holes than fabric. When I finally got around to taking all the clothes, we finally agreed to get rid of, the local clothing closet hadn’t reopened yet. I found myself unloading the car and taking the boxes and bags back into the house. And then we began to rethink the items we had packed up. Maybe we still wanted some of those things. Maybe a few of them even made their way back into their original places. UGH…

The same thing often happens with the missions in a congregation, particularly at this time of year when pastoral moves have taken place. New pastors ask a lot of questions, trying to understand the culture and context of their new appointment. As they try to get the lay of the new land they’re in, pastors typically use phrases like:
  •  “Tell me about…”
  • “Say more about…”
  • “I’d like to know more about…”
In this time of pandemic, however, it may be prudent for all pastors and their missions committees or teams to ask some hard questions about what’s in their missions closet. The reasons to do this work now are clear. When the pandemic is “over” (whatever that looks like in your community), things in your church and community will not be the same. Sociologists who study these things are already telling us that there will be fundamental shifts in both the resources and needs in communities and in churches. Congregations will need to refocus their missions on what is most important, i.e. what is God calling us to do as a congregation now? This means that a thorough examination of each program or non-profit currently being supported (financially or through volunteers) by the congregation needs to happen. Take it out, look at it objectively, ask some hard questions. Before doing that work though, the missions committee or team needs to ask and answer these questions:
  1. What are we and our church trying to accomplish? (i.e. what is our mission and vision?)
  2. What outcomes do we expect to see? (i.e. how will we know when we’re successful?)
  3. What is the scripture that most guides our missions work? (i.e. what is our theology of missions?)
  4. How important is relational ministry to us? (i.e. do we want to build relationships with the people we are serving? Do we want to be in partnerships with the organizations we are supporting? What do partnerships look like for us?)
  5. Are we willing to stop doing some things we’ve always done in order to bring transformation to our community?
As your committee or team examines each missions program, ask yourselves these questions:
  1. Does the work of this organization or ministry still fit the mission and vision of our congregation?
  2. Do the ministry report outcomes or does it report inputs and outputs?
  3. Is it helping to transform lives or is it creating dependency?
  4. Does its theology align with our team’s theology and our congregation’s theology? If not, are we all ok with that?
  5. Can we build a community that more closely resembles the Kingdom of God through our support of this organization or ministry?
  6. What would happen to the organization or ministry if our congregation no longer supported it?         
The process of cleaning out closets is a messy affair. Start now anyway! You might be able to do a closet in your home in a day or two, but it may take months or even years to pack up some of the missions you’ve been doing in your congregation. Be patient but stick with it! When the work is done and organized properly, your congregation will be grateful. And whatever you do, don’t let anyone hang that holey decades-old t-shirt back in the closet!
 

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