Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Function or Mission?

What's your Function? 

 If someone asked you what is the function of your ministry, how would you answer? Is it to bring new members to your church? Is it to instruct the next generation in the faith? Is it to make sure the people in your congregation are cared for? Is it to make sure that the corporation (yes, legally most congregations are corporations) continues to be financially viable?

What's your Mission? 

Now what if someone asked instead what is your mission, how would your answer be different? I would hope that one would not merely search the files and old newsletters to pull out the mission statement ratified by the church council in the 1970’s, but give a ready answer about what his or her church feels called to do. The question I would like to explore is is there a difference between function and mission? Some of the corollary questions are: is there tension between the two ideas? Do we at time confuse them? What do you think? Let me know in the comments section.

Update: September 26, 2013 

Some helpful Distinctions:

In seeing some of the responses so far I have come up with these ways to help distinguish between mission and function.

1. Focus: Mission is outwardly focused on God and those God calls us to serve. Function is internally focused on the self or organization.

2. Purpose: Mission is concerned with tending to the relationships with those involved, God first and then those who God calls us to be in mission with. Function is concerned with the output. How good are the sermons the pastor writes, how many meals delivered by the soup kitchen etc. So function is accomplishment based while mission is concerned with the health of relationships and their interactions.

3. Scope: Mission is always open to new information, in fact helpful mission strategies are always look for new information to help see where God is leading. When thinking about function the scope is always limited to the task at hand so new information can even be harmful at times.

4. Nature: Mission is at its core an entire way of life. It relies on a holistic attitude to bring all areas on one's life into focus to follow God's call. Function is a component of this, but just a part. In the end our functions must serve the mission we have partnered with God to carry out. It is when we elevate our function to the level of the overall mission that our confusion comes.

By praying regularly and coming back to the cross through remembering our connection to it in our baptism, we can help remember our identity and focus our various functions on the overarching call to God's mission for our world. By staying grounded in God's Word contained in the bible we can help put the pieces our our lives together.


  1. Received this link via one of my high school teacher's from a church in FLA

  2. This is a stimulating topic, and when ignored leads to all manner of unfocused behaviors. My first response to your challenging questions would be to discern, articulate, and internalize an understanding of God’s mission for the church. It is never “my mission”. We keep God at the center and God is the author of the mission of this church. We may ask and seek answers to, “who are we becoming?” or “whose lives, beyond the congregation, do we mean to change?”, but it is always God who directs that discernment.
    Beyond that, we craft the ministry ventures. Armed with God’s missional imperative to change and save lives in Jesus name, we contextualize our witness and embed ourselves in the culture to make disciples and seek justice, and restoration. This ministry may take the form of service, teaching, learning, healing, restoring the broken, and all manner of godly transformation.
    I understand my function in that Mission and Ministry format to develop and deploy resources to transform and restore culture. My function is to seek common venues for spiritual and faith formation which create and support God’s mission and our ministry. My function is to equip the saints for witness and service through their vocational placement as part of God’s mission to transform the world.

    1. Thanks Scott,

      It seems from your reply that one of the distinctions between mission and function would be where it is focused. Function is internally focused on the one performing the action while mission is focused out ward on God and those God calls us to serve.

  3. Thank you David for highlighting an important distinction. The short answer is that yes, we confuse our function with God's mission all the time. In our own little corner, it is easy to imagine that what I do -- pastor, cook, hang out -- is God's mission. What we say and do always function as part of a larger story. The question is whose story and for whose purposes am I functioning? That's the short answer. Here's my long answer ... :)

    I think of God's mission as the arc of God's story throughout scripture and clearly seen in Jesus. God's mission is to restore human beings and their God to a relationship of trust and love -- that we fear, love and trust in God above all things; know that God loves us, hears us and speaks to us; that we rest and delight in this relationship as the source and end of life.

    Our functions, on the other hand, are the actions and works that contribute to the larger mission. For example, the Law and the Gospel function within God's purposes to carry out God's mission. The Law kills. The Gospel makes alive. Or, the Word and the Sacraments are the means through which the Holy Spirit creates faith and love -- they function as means through which God carries out God's mission.

    We, the baptized, also function in various ways according to God's mission in the context of our own callings. I function as a pastor of a community of baptized people. That function is complex, multifaceted. The community, too, is made up of many different people, called and gifted in a variety of ways, and functioning in complex, multifaceted ways both inside this community and deployed into the world.

    I think, however, we naturally experience a tension -- okay, it's going to be crisis and suffering -- because we often find ourselves functioning for purposes other than God's purposes or even at cross purposes to God's mission. Read 1 Corinthians to see this happening inside a congregation; go to work or school to see this happening in our deployed and daily lives.

    A daily return and remembrance of our baptism, may help us keep perspective. This is the daily equivalent of the repentance we enact in our baptismal rite when we renounce three times other missional trajectories -- those that lead us from God and God's purposes -- and then turn to confess our faith, our trust, in this message of God's grace revealed in Jesus, the God who claimed, marked and sealed us as God's own for Jesus' sake.

    Whatever our calling or vocation, the baptized, I believe are sent to speak and act -- function -- within God's larger mission wherever they find themselves, trusting that God will create faith where and when God will ... and usually in the last places we would every expect.

    1. Thanks Jim,

      It seems that returning to our baptism and finding our identity anew each day becomes essential to help us discern if we are using our functions for God's missional purposes.