How can we help teens think more intentionally about the radical mission of the Church?
In progressive/mainline churches, when we speak of "mission" we are most often speaking of the work of the Church, who and what we are called to be as followers of Christ. Our mission is most tangible in the ways that we live together as community and the activities to which we give our time and treasure. In this understanding, everything from worship, to youth group gatherings, to building a Habitat for Humanity house have the potential to be mission-focused.
As our youth ministry prepares for a week of hands-on volunteer work this summer -- work which we hope will continue throughout the rest of the year -- we took time recently to invite our teens to explore just what we mean by the word "mission" and how it connects to the life of Jesus and the life of the church. The program we used is posted below:
Getting Ready: Mission Possible (5 min.) - Begin with this "Group Draw" community builder activity. In brief, teens work in teams of three to recreate a simple image. Only one teen can see the image and must communicate it to the others with sign language. Only one of the teens can watch this person and share verbally what he or she is describing. The last teen attempts to draw the image, though is unable to watch what the others are doing. For the image, use the photo to the right (found here). Afterwards, discuss what it was like to do this challenge.
Digging In: What is mission?
Read together Luke 4: 14-30, depicting Jesus' journey back to his hometown and his reading from Isaiah in the synagogue. Ask: How might this text helps us understand what Jesus believed his mission to be? What did he feel called to do? Why did the people of his hometown reject his mission? (Note: the text implies that he felt the justice of God was for all people, including gentiles, and this is what angers the crowd) What might this tell us about the challenges of participating in God's mission of radical justice for all? What challenges might we face if we participate in God's mission to the oppressed, the poor, and the captive?
Reflecting: In small groups, take time to look again at the airplane image. Ask: As a metaphor, what might this image have to say to us about the mission of the Church and how we carry out that mission? Challenge the students to consider what the plane, the parachutes, the people, and even the act of skydiving itself might represent in our call to mission. (Note: In our discussion, some of group saw the parachutes as God, supporting us in mission. Others saw the parachute as representing us, supporting and uplifting those we are called to serve in mission. Some saw God as the plane. Others saw the plane as the Church. Several noted that the group jumps together, reminding us that we participate in mission as a community. Finally, we discussed how mission, like skydiving, takes us out of our comfort zone and involves risk and challenge.) After a few minutes, share your observations as a large group.
For a second metaphor, watch this video. Again, discuss how the various images and elements might be metaphors for mission (Note: this video as metaphor may be less obvious than the plane image, but it yielded some rich and unexpected responses from our youth).
Wrapping Up: Share that mission "is not what we do but what we are." Mission is the self-proclamation of the Church to the world about our deepest values, the most important parts of our identity, and who we are at our core. It’s our witness -- what we profess to be to the world. Ask youth: How would you sum up our mission in a word or phrase? What would you declare our witness to be? Invite each person to write their word or phrase on a speech bubble (as in photos at the top) and snap their picture. Use the images for a bulletin board display in your church or perhaps share them on your youth website or blog as a public online witness to your understanding of the mission of the Church.