Recently I sat in on a presentation of the findings from a study entitled “Current Missions Trends in Canada.” This was a collaborative effort of several Mission agencies trying to discern the level of engagement in Missions within churches in Canada. The study polled approximately 1400 pastors and 2000 lay people, largely from Conservative Protestant churches. One element of the study focused on short-term missions trips, which have become increasingly popular. Two of the questions asked included: “Why are people participating in such endeavors? What is the main benefit?" Three quarters of the pastors indicated that the main benefit was discipleship among team members who went. Two thirds of the lay persons indicated that the greatest benefit was their own spiritual growth. Yet the impetus behind mission trips supposedly is to reach out and minister to the needs of other people.
Another distressing finding had to do with finances associated with missions in the average local church. According to the study 99.7% of missional and financial support typically went to places where the church already existed. What that means is that only approximately $0.30 out of every $100 is going to people with virtually no access to the message and ministry the church has to offer.
One of the three domains identified as a marker of a flourishing congregation is the “Outward,” which includes neighbourhood involvement, evangelism and partnerships. More and more of the world is becoming our neighbour and the Outward domain no longer requires departure from our Canadian shores, or at least as much as previously. This study seems to indicate that even among flourishing congregations there is ongoing need to take inventory of our level of commitment to the Outward dimension of flourishing.
Every now and then it is beneficial, indeed essential, to release oneself from the tyranny of the newest and latest. This is particularly true with respect to books to read. Recently I revisited an ‘old friend,’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s well-known Life Together. His masterful blending of solitude and multitude provides a crucial reminder for all of us in ministry leadership. One gem from my recent re-read: “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others … They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” A good book is always worth a re-read.