Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that we are put here as God’s transfiguration.  Through us God intends to transfigure hate into love, injustice into justice, poverty into wealth, grief into joy, death into life.

The discussions my congregation and First Christian Church of Fremont have been engaged in for over two years now about the possibility of merger began for two reasons, one practical and one missional.  The practical reasons still exist:  Niles Congregational Church has a poorly designed worship space; First Christian Church still has a small membership.  Perhaps merging two neighboring congregations from denominations that already do a lot in cooperation makes practical sense.

The missional reason also still exists – and it is the more important reason for this consideration.  Perhaps merging two neighboring congregations from denominations that already do a lot in cooperation makes sense missionally.

I’ve now used the word “missional” twice and “missionally” once and so you’re probably wondering what the heck I mean by these words.  A missional church is one that has its sense of purpose in an understanding that God has a mission and desires the church to participate it in.  God’s mission is formally referred to as missio Dei.

This is an old understanding.  Paul talked about God’s mission in 2 Corinthians:  “God was in Christ reconciling the world” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to say that God has invited us, the church, to take part in that mission (the rest of verse 19).

Somewhere along the way, we lost track of this notion and started assuming that the church has a mission on its own.  However, missio Dei tells us this is a mistaken notion.  “Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.  God is a missionary God.  ‘It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.’ [Jurgen Moltmann]  There is church because there is mission, not vice versa.”  (You can read more on Wikipedia.)

So, the missional reason for considering merging is that, perhaps, by merging we would be better empowered to participate in God’s mission.  If we discern that we really can do more of God’s mission in the Tri-Cities by merging, then we should merge.

So, what is God’s mission in the world?  I agree with Archbishop Tutu.  God’s mission is nothing less than transformation:  hate into love, injustice into justice, poverty into wealth, grief into joy, death into life.  God’s mission is to change lives – your life, my life, our neighbors’ lives, everyone’s life.

And everything the church does should be about participating with God in that mission.  Our worship should be about changing lives and empowering our participation with God in the mission of changing lives.  Our participation in service programs should be about changing lives.  Our planning about facilities should be about how are facilities can help God fulfill the mission of changing lives.  Our prayers should be about allowing God to change our lives.

For many Christians, this notion of God changing lives has a lot to do with after-life insurance.  Many Christians believe that God wants to change lives so these lives will spend eternity in “heaven.”  As Progressive Christians, I see salvation as having very real “here and now” importance.  Hell is a very real experience for people (and other parts of God’s creation) on this earth in this moment.  God’s mission of transforming lives and life is (at least in part) to save people from hell here and now.  The church exists as a group that lives for each other in such a way that those things that tend to make life miserable can be overcome with love and inclusion and the fullness of life as God would have it.

Being a missional church is nothing less than helping God change lives – your life, my life, our neighbors’ lives – here and now so that all may experience life in all its fullness.

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