With the huge emphasis on mission in the Church of England, and all sorts of courses on offer from different traditions, it’s often forgotten that churches and parishes need to prepare for mission. There is much to be done, and few resources to do it.
We deacons are in pole position to enable appropriate, gospel-centred outreach to happen in our parishes. We’re the ones creating bridges and stepping stones between the worshipping community and the neighbourhood, and our diaconal ministry means we are involved in our communities in all sorts of ways.
So here’s a course to help, designed especially for deacons (although it can be used by other ministries too). It is very adaptable. Please let me know how you use it, and what suggestions you might have for improving it. It has been developed with the educators of the South-West Ministry Training Course (SWMTC).
Here’s the introduction: follow the link for the whole course. It’s also available as a Word document and can be printed as a booklet.
Pray Grow Serve with joy
DEACONS’ TOOL KIT
A FOUR-UNIT COURSE TO HELP YOUR CHURCH PREPARE FOR MISSION
In the Bishop’s charge to us at our ordination we ‘are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known’, to be ‘heralds of Christ’s kingdom’, and ‘to proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of God’s purposes of love’. This is our primary calling, to be the person on the boundary, connecting the church with the world and the world with the Christian faith. We do this in all sorts of ways, developing projects and taking risks with new ideas as we encourage our church congregations to share God’s love with others, and serve the lostness of the world. We search out need, ‘reaching into the forgotten corners of the world’, and work with others to find ways of meeting those needs. We ‘accompany those searching for faith’, sharing with them the water of life that is Christ. In these and many other ways we ‘serve the community in which we are set’.
We do not do this alone. A deacon works collaboratively, with other ministers and the people of God, with allies and people of good will, living out the Gospel imperative to serve the needs of others with practical help and the good news of Christ. So where to start? How can we find good ways of identifying and meeting the needs of our parish communities?
There are many excellent resources for churches to use, but sometimes we find our efforts in community outreach (mission) or evangelism seem to ‘slide off’ our community as if it was Teflon-coated! Why should this be?
There will be a range of reasons, but sometimes it is because we have not understood the culture – or cultures – of our parishes. We haven’t fully taken on board how people who don’t come to church actually think and feel, or what is important to them. We may not have listened enough. If we don’t understand our people, if we don’t know their concerns, if we can’t ‘speak their language’, then sometimes what we do in mission and outreach Is seen by them to be irrelevant to their felt needs.
This is not a mistake Christ made. He was incarnate in our life and culture. He lived for 30 years in his community, speaking their language, sharing their concerns, building relationships, learning to understand human nature, long before he started any public ministry. He calls us to follow his example by incarnating our own diaconal calling to listen as he listened, and to meet people where they are, not where we would like them to be.
It’s our hope and prayer that this ‘Tool Kit’ will help Deacons and others to find ways forward in thinking about mission in the parish. It can be used as it stands, or adapted to your own context, or act as a springboard for other approaches. It could follow an Alpha or Pilgrim course. It can be used by individual deacons for their own reflection, and with parish groups to help them engage more fully with the material and spiritual needs of their communities.