missional competence, or something like that

September 14, 2011

A few weeks ago I arranged to speak with someone from CABSA, to find out from her how she think the church is doing in it’s mission in a context of HIV and AIDS. It was one of those conversations where I quickly realized that the best thing I could do is to keep my mouth shut about everything I thought I knew about HIV and AIDS, and just listen. Early in the conversation she explained that the question she is asking is not whether a congregation are involved with an AIDS project here or there, but rather whether they are HIV competent. HIV competent meant that the congregation understood the complexities of the problem, contributed to breaking down the stigmas concerning HIV and AIDS, and in short, was a space where those who carry the virus would feel safe to participate in this community. Very few congregations would be able to call themselves HIV competent.

Over the past year, and the past few months specifically, I’ve been struggling with some similar questions concerning mission. To state it bluntly: I’m disillusioned with the way the church always want to fix the problems of others, while keeping them on a distance. Something deeper is needed. Maybe we need some missional competence (although I hated the concept even while writing the post title), or something like it. We need to be poverty competent, suffering competent, in the sense that the friend from CABSA challenged me.

What would mission become when the local congregation isn’t asking themselves “where is God active in the world today”, and then join projects in the community, but start asking themselves: “who are the poor today? why are they poor? how do we end poverty? and most importantly: is this a community in which the poor, as the poor, are welcome?”. These questions might be somewhat in tension with the reflections in the previous post, which should lead us to ask “who are the poor whom this congregation should be joining and learning from?”, yet, these questions might be somewhat more practical for the average middle-class white congregation to ask.

It is the change from: we are running a soup kitchen down the street to those who benefit from the soup kitchen are teaching Sunday school, serving as elders, and participating in the life of this community. It is the change from we are handing out breastmilk to HIV+ mothers to some of our cell group leaders are HIV+.

Maybe that wouldn’t make us competent. Maybe that wouldn’t even make us missional. Maybe that would just remind us that we are broken. Maybe brokenness is closer to the core of being church than mission?

 

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One Response to “missional competence, or something like that”

  1. Piet Steyn Says:

    Cobus, I appreciate what you wrote. I very often wonder whether it is possible at all to mobilise a church towards missionality/authenticity etc. Even where exciting projects come off the ground, it ver, very seldom changes the real identity of the church,
    Very often it seems that the only way this can happen would be for the church to die so that the body can be resurrected. Theologically this makes sense of course, but in real life it is never the path of choice and always seen as a disaster.


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