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Mission engagement is the heartbeat of CBF Virginia. We take seriously Jesus’ call recorded in Matthew 25:31-46 to care for the poor and oppressed. To be Christ in the world means to be intentional about serving “the least of these.” For most of us, this understanding of missions is foundational for interacting with the world. CBFVA’s desire to partner with congregations across the Commonwealth starts with three essentials for going to the next level of missional faithfulness:

Changing the scorecard when evaluating success

The scorecard most congregations use to evaluate mission efforts is the number of people served. While this is one way to measure effectiveness, many churches are learning the value of shifting from a numbers-based scorecard to a relationship-based one. While the number of people served is reason celebrate, numbers may also reveal an overly objective, linear approach to ministry. Well-oiled food pantry and clothes closet procedures can become a “factory line” of sorts, processing clients quickly so others can also be served.

What is lost in this frantic pace is the transformational, albeit time-consuming, work of building relationships. What if, instead of highlighting 20 families fed, we celebrated relationships cultivated between church members and 10 families served by our congregation? Ask yourself: What is more missional—feeding a hundred people or investing in the lives of ten families?

Changing how we view “success” in missions is not easy, but if we approach missions with relationships as our goal, we give ourselves permission to slow down and see and know the people who walk through the doors of our church buildings. We can discover ways to invest more deeply in the lives of those God places in our care.

Reconsidering the equation

Well-meaning folks can miss the underlying unintentional messages present during mission projects: I, the one serving, offer you, the one being served, a bag of groceries. As a result of this transaction, I receive the good feelings of service (blessing) and what you sacrifice is your dignity and freedom of choice. What would happen if we level the playing field by changing the messages? Instead of the giver being in a position of power, we invite those coming for help to make choices thus preserving their dignity during the transaction.

CBF Field Personnel Josh Hearne manages Urban Farm in Danville, Virginia. Josh says, “The best mission work that happens on the Urban Farm is weeding. It doesn’t matter if you have a million dollars or two dollars, weeding is not fun for anyone! Furthermore, when you’re weeding there is no leader or follower. Everyone is in the dirt together.” This image of missions “in the dirt” summarizes a philosophy of missions that challenges the traditional one-sided transactional nature of service and offers a more equitable way of serving and being served.

Allowing missions to be transformational

How are we shaped and formed by our missional experiences? Does our church allow for space to reflect? In what ways does your church encourage those who serve to go deeper in their faith? The truth is many churches struggle with how to help those engaging in missions to recognize how they were changed by the experience.

Mission involvement is much more than logging community service hours. Missions shape and form both individuals and community. If we believe God works through us to transform the world, then surely the process changes us, too.

There is no set script for what transformation looks like in each unique setting. Think outside the proverbial box! Follow your passions and act on your convictions. In addition to already well-established mission efforts, CBFVA encourages individuals and churches to consider advocacy work in their next steps toward missional faithfulness. Are you passionate about food insecurity? Immigration? Racial inequality? Stewardship of the earth? Others? Find ways to invest yourself at the local or national level, and let your voice be heard! Churches and people of faith must not remain silent on these and other issues. Our public witness and ministry to “the least among us” is vital in shaping policy and practices in our communities.

There are many more ideas in my head, but I hope these three suggestions will start the conversation! Can you discuss the issues mentioned in your church? If you already have, was your conversation fruitful? Either way, please share your stories with us.

Mark Snipes, Missions Coordinator CBFVA