The Local Church as Bayanihan in God’s Mission
by Elizabeth S. Tapia
“The Water of Life” sculpture by Stephen Broadbent in Chester Cathedral cloister garth.
The sculpture depicts the story of Jesus and the woman at the well in a different light.
Photo: Harry J. Mitchell
… Because God is a missionary God, God’s people are missionary people.
David Bosch, South Africa, 1995
For mission to be effective, the Good News must meet the real world. For mission to be faithful, it must be grounded in the Scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit, and pointed toward the kingdom of God.
Dana L. Robert, USA, 2010
As a young child in the Philippines, I was nurtured in faith by my family and by the Bulacan United Methodist Church. My parents, David and Lydia; grandmother, Julia; godmother, Ninang Isang; and our deaconess, Ms. Hernandez—all taught me to love Jesus, my playmates, and our neighbors. At our rural church, I learned how to sing, pray, read the Bible, and save pesos for the offering. Later, by worshiping with people who were different from me, visiting the sick, sharing rice and fish with our hungrier neighbors, and protesting the dumping of waste in the river, I learned about mission. Mission was something our church did as a bayanihan—a Filipino cultural tradition of people (bayan) working together in a voluntary, communal, celebrative effort to benefit those in need. One participates in bayanihan out of love and compassion for others.
I believe each local church needs to be a bayanihan for God’s mission. A local church is a community of faith. Thanks to God’s grace and our United Methodist connection, local church members can participate in the saving action of God in places far beyond their actual location. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” declared St. Paul in Romans 5:5. God (Dei) sent (mission comes from the Latin mittere, “to send”) God’s Son to redeem the world. Through grace, God’s love bears fruit as Christ’s disciples respond by loving one another. (1 John 4:11-12)
Theologically speaking, God is the author of mission. To be in mission is to bear witness, guided by the Holy Spirit, to the reconciling love of God through Jesus Christ. It has been said that mission is embedded in the very being of the church. Mission belongs to God, is initiated by God, and—like bayanihan—compels us to act together in love and service.
How do you understand mission?
- What is the theology behind your mission involvement?
- What things should your local church consider in developing its own theology of mission?
Why a Theology of Mission?
The definition of theology in the 2012 UMC Book of Discipline is both simple and complicated. “Theology is our effort to reflect upon God’s gracious actions in our lives….Theology serves the Church by interpreting the world’s needs and challenges to the Church and by interpreting the gospel to the world.” (“Our Theological Task,” ¶105) Theology is both reflection and action based upon God’s presence in one’s life.
Since the root of the word mission means “to send,” because of God’s love affair with the world (John 3:16), God sent Jesus to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18) Here we have a manifesto of Jesus’ purpose and life-defining ministry.
Mission Dei was initiated by God, not by The United Methodist Church, or by UMCOR, or by Bulacan UMC in the Philippines. As a response to God’s transforming love, believers are invited to participate in furthering God’s mission in the world, which brings salvation, well-being, and a renewal of creation. By aligning our local church mission with God’s mission, we can help transform families, neighborhoods, towns, cities, borders, and beyond.
A theology of mission invites us to reflect on the meaning, motive, methods, goals, and strategies of Christian mission. One’s own theology of mission is shaped by one’s social location, spiritual engagement, and mission practice.
For example, why does a local church start a food pantry or soup kitchen? The first answer might be “because Christ has taught us to feed the hungry.” But there are even deeper questions to ponder. How do we feed the hungry? How do they feed us? Why are there so many poor and hungry people in our area? What keeps them impoverished? These further questions help us discover the theology behind what we do. Our Bible itself points to the theological basis of mission: the reign (or fellowship) of God as preached, lived, and promised by Jesus.
In your local congregation, take time to study and pray together. Ask questions and raise issues. What particular scriptural passages move you? What ignited your passion for mission? Study the situation of your town or state, and jointly plan a mission emphasis for the next 12 months. Think how you might partner with other local churches or faith-based communities in your area.
In conclusion, I believe that each local congregation is a bayanihan in God’s mission. It is a cradle in which people’s faith is fed and nurtured, loving service is encouraged, and worship and work are one. Evangelism and the pursuit of justice are intertwined. Laity and clergy work together, side-by-side, in “kindom-building,” recognizing and rejoicing over their kinship in Christ. Salvation is preached in holistic terms, and the local church is a vibrant community of joy-filled servants engaged in service to our missionary God.
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth S. Tapia (Philippines/USA) is the Director of Mission Theology for the General Board of Global Ministries. This article was first published in the January-February 2014 edition of New World Outlook magazine.
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