Last week I was at the Fellowship Community/ECO conference in Dallas, TX. The Fellowship Community (formed recently from the Fellowship of Presbyterians and Presbyterians for Renewal) is a ministry of and to conservative churches within the PC(USA); ECO is the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, composed of conservative churches who have left the PC(USA) to begin this new denomination.
Although the conference had churches and individuals from both denominations, most of the meeting was the same program because the two have the same commitments to the creation of thriving, missional churches. The conference is among a number of efforts within the PC(USA) and other similar denominations to challenge and nurture churches to join God’s mission to transform the world, rather than primarily existing to serve their own members. The Presbyterian Mission Agency (where I serve) brought an initiative to help congregations and individuals to live missionally to the most recent General Assembly, where it was unanimously adopted. The Next Church, a ministry largely of and to progressive churches within the PC(USA), is also striving to help the denomination to become more outward focused.
The conference this week was filled with very engaging speakers and workshops dedicated to helping churches become more missional. In fact, I joked to someone that the speakers seemed to be in a competition to show who could put the most original twist on the shared purpose of helping conferees gain a vision for churches who benefit the communities in which they live, rather than being largely a club for their own members.
The conference also had large-scale worship services, filled with long periods of dedicated prayer. One strength of the prayer times at the worship services was that they was focused on God helping us to become more missional—giving us the courage, strength, and discernment to overcome the obstacles, whether those be structural or individual. We long for the Holy Spirit to empower us in this way, and I’m certain that if I had been leading prayers at a similar event, I would have led the prayers in a similar vein.
I got a different perspective of missional prayer as I watched the news Wednesday morning while packing. The reporting was very heavy. For instance, a journalist had just been beheaded by ISIS/ISIL, and Ferguson, MO, continued to boil. One bright spot in the coverage of Ferguson was the mention of faithful clergy there working to bring reconciliation and justice and shalom to that town. It was then that I was struck that praying missionally, at its best, does not simply ask God to strengthen us to live out our faith in the world, but also thanks God for already being at work all around us and asks the Spirit to blow even more powerfully in places where the abundant life that Jesus wants for us seems so far away.
I hope that I will keep praying for ourselves, that the Spirit will equip the church (and every denomination) to join God’s mission to transform the world. Our participation in this ministry is crucial if we are to be faithful Christians. But I also hope that I will remember to pray for the world, that the Spirit will bring God’s mission to fruition (whether we ever join in or not).