Mission is a big word. It means different thing to different people. Is it about providing a weekly lunch for people who are lonely? Is it about advocating for social housing to provide for homeless people? Is it about starting an environmental action collective among like-minded groups in our local community? It is about hanging out with gamers at the Games Shop downtown on a Friday night? Or all of these things?

At our recent presbytery meeting I spoke about mission as community engagement, and talked about these helpful thoughts from Sam Wells.

Rev Dr Sam Wells, minister at St Martin in the Fields in the UK, speaks of four ways of engaging in mission as exemplified in the Incarnation – the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God-with-us. He emphasises one of them as being God’s primary way of being with humanity in mission.

Wells explores these four ways of mission across four solid books of biblical study, theology and social ethics  – Living Without Enemies, A Nazareth Manifesto, Incarnational Ministry and Incarnational Mission. The four ways of mission are

WORKING FOR – “where I do things and they make your life better.” This is about seeing people’s problems and using our resources to try to solve them to make people’s lives better: charity.

WORKING WITH – “gains energy from problem-solving, identifying targets, overcoming obstacles.” This is about energetic collaboration across organisation to address issues of disadvantage or injustice: partnership.

BEING FOR – is “concerned with getting the ideas right, using the right language, having the right attitudes.” This is about big ideas, public awareness, public action: advocacy

BEING WITH -“believes one can seldom solve people’s problems – doing so disempowers them and reinforces their low social standing.” This is about enjoying and celebrating who people are and journeying with them in life: presence

[The quotes are from the first chapther of Incarnational Mission which provides a short overview.]

The contrasts are about attempting to do good things for needy people without necessarily even consulting them – seeing people as objects of our charity, speaking on other people’s behalf without even needing to get involved, organising collective action that includes those being served, and being with people on their own terms and seeing their strengths, not their deficits. The latter, “being with” doesn’t seek to fix people’s problems but delights in them and accompanies them in finding fullness of life.

Here is Sam Wells explaining the four modes of mission. For him, “Being With” is Jesus’ primary mode of living as God-with-us.

Wells describes eight aspects of “being with” :

  • presence – being in the same physical space
  • attention – focused interaction
  • mystery – exploring with appreciation (not problem-solving)
  • delight – recognition of abundance
  • participation – balancing our involvement
  • partnership – sharing of gifts
  • enjoyment – being with for its own sake
  • glory – God being with us in Christ

We recommend the introduction to Incarnational Mission as a good overview. Download chapter from the PPE website.

We also watched Rob Douglas’ excellent video Treasures in Exploration about Spearwood UC in Western Australia.

Download Incarnational Mission Powerpoint file rom the PPE website.

Download Incarnational Mission PDF rom the PPE website.

Download Incarnational Mission Keynote file (for Apple Mac 1 mb) rom the PPE website.