The development of a new mission congregation is a challenging, yet exciting enterprise. It is challenging because mission developers must overcome great obstacles on a daily basis, operating without the familiar infrastructure of an existing congregation. On the other hand, mission development is exciting because one gets to create a new community of faith with its own identity and mission. Nothing can describe the joy of seeing new people come to a deeper understanding of God’s grace, giving of themselves freely to build a new church. It is wonderful to see lives transformed by the Gospel. Total strangers, touched by the Spirit, become new friends, new members of the household of faith. Soon these new people become the founders and leaders of a new congregation.
For a new ministry to develop successfully several factors need to be in place. Among these are: location in an area with great potential, models and methodologies adequate to the context, leaders who are passionate about outreach with the Gospel and systems to ensure support, supervision and partnerships. But, above all, a clear vision is needed—one that includes a strong sense of call to witness and reach out, a desire to see lives transformed with the Gospel, and a goal to build viable, vibrant, mission-oriented congregations.
This vision comes from God’s Word and our understanding of that Word. The driving force undergirding mission development emanates from our theological understanding of God’s character and missionary activity in the world. Theology always leads to mission. The more we are able to understand who God is, the more compelled we are to participate in God’s action plan for the world.
Our particular theological understanding of God as active in our lives in Word and Sacrament fuels the mission development activity in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. “In the beginning was the Word,” we read in the Gospel of John; “and that Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Lutherans understand the Word of God as spoken, active ever since creation, incarnate in Jesus Christ, written in the Holy Scriptures, and proclaimed by God’s messengers. This Word is “living and active, sharper than a two‑edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), and useful for equipping Christians for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This Word is powerful, as the prophet Isaiah asserted: “This word will never return empty, but will always accomplish the purpose for which [God sends] it” (Is. 55:11).
What a privilege it is to go out and meet people to share the good news. Whether it is through door to door calling, radio evangelism, printed materials, small groups, or phone contacts, our aim is that the Word of God may spread rapidly and new disciples of Christ emerge everywhere. The mission thrust and the passion to evangelize emanate from this theological understanding of God’ s Word. The Word shapes and motivates our mission work.
The Sacraments also lead in the same direction. In Holy Baptism we are given a new identity. We are made children of God and co‑workers in the Kingdom of God. We hear the words “let your light so shine before others,” sending the baptized forward as witnesses of God’s saving grace and unconditional acceptance.
I believe that Baptism also has an equalizer effect on the lives of people. The waters of Baptism wash away any division, prejudice or categorizing created by human standards. All the baptized stand before God on equal footing. Therefore, our commitment to break the bonds of racism, sexism and other ills of society is an integral part of our witnessing to the good news of the Gospel. Baptism shapes our mission work.
There is a saying in Puerto Rico that goes: “Donde comen dos, comen tres”, that is, where two can eat, three can eat. When it comes to eating, there is always room for more. So it is at the Lord’s table. Christ gives of himself freely to forgive, to reconcile, to empower us for mission in the world. Holy Communion is food for the journey as we go and serve the Lord.
od’s Word and the Sacraments generate, shape, and sustain mission work in our midst. Theology and missiology are close partners which need and complement each other in fulfilling God’s agenda in the world.
One clear example of the close connection between theology and missiology is the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. Amidst fluctuating philosophical currents and the religious pluralism of his time, Paul maintained a solid and unwavering theological focus, complemented by an aggressive mission‑oriented thrust. His writings always include the components of theology and practice—theology and mission. His journeys reflect his passion for outreach with the Gospel. I would say that Paul couldn’t help it. His encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus transformed his life. He turned from being a religious gatekeeper and persecutor of the church, to being a witness and a cross‑cultural mission developer, taking the good news to the people all over Greece, Rome and even Spain. He couldn’t help it. His new life in Christ generated a passionate impulse to go and make disciples of all people.
Paul was a movement ready to happen, and it did. His thrust was simple, yet effective. He first proclaimed the Word. People would gather for further instruction in the Christian faith, to worship and receive the means of grace. Leaders were trained and congregations organized. Then each congregation assumed responsibility for assisting another. Paul’s role expanded to being also a mentor of maturing congregations. In other words Paul made sure that the core of the Christian faith took root in every place and then he trusted that the Gospel would find its corporate expression according to the context. The Word and Sacrament ministry was to be done in the language of the people.
I also see the Metropolitan Chicago Synod as a movement ready to happen. In a sense it is happening already, yet there is much more that can be done. A growing number of existing congregations are making plans toward revitalization, pastors are asking for training in evangelism and outreach, the ministry of Word and Sacrament is taking place in at least 11 languages throughout the Synod. There are 13 congregations under development related to the Division for Outreach, ELCA. Last month, New Day Lutheran Mission began its ministry in the West Dundee area thanks to the partnership of the churches in the Elgin area and Our Saviour’s Lutheran in Arlington Heights. This month San Pedro y San Pablo Lutheran Mission began its ministry in Eastside Chicago thanks to the gift of Bethesda Lutheran Church. After many years of faithful ministry Bethesda concluded its ministry for the purpose of enabling the birth of a new Lutheran expression among Hispanics.
We also have crises in the making in both cities and suburbs.There are no quick fixes and no short‑cuts. Despite the complexities of every situation, there is something we can do as leaders in the Church. Like Paul, let us make sure that our members live out the strong connection between theology and missiology. Of course, this means that you and I, the leaders in the Church, would do well to first take a trip down our own Damascus road. In fact I would venture to say that our future as a Church depends on what happens on that road, and whether people like you and me are willing to head in that direction. Let me tell you, there are no theological bookstores on that road, only a person waiting for you and me.
The world is like a field ready for harvest. We are a movement ready to happen.