Listening for Mission

13 Jun 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Listening for Mission

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

When it comes to engaging with our local communities in mission, listening for mission is essential. The three main teaching resources that I use for learning about mission all emphasise listening. The Mission Shaped Ministry course that our Presbytery and Synod uses includes a unit about “Listening for Mission”.  The loving-first cycle in the Godsend App is like a map to help you plan your journey in mission. Part of that map is: listen lovingly to God and to people around you. The last session by Neighbourhood Matters in a mission leadership formation hub, was about listening to culture.

The place we often start with our listening for mission as congregations is listening to ourselves. We listen to ourselves to take notice of our passions, skills and interests.  We notice what we have, for example church buildings and facilities, members’ homes, and availability. This listening helps us know who we are and what we have to offer in relationship with our local community. However, we are only one part of the mission relationships. The Godsend App mentions four other important aspects to this listening for mission:

  • Listen to God directly in prayer;
  • Listen to those in your local community who you are seeking to love;
  • Listen to those supporting you in prayer;
  • Listen to those with relevant experience. Their wisdom may be invaluable.

My most recent session in the leadership formation hub focussed on the area of the second dot point about listening to your local community. This stage of listening starts with simple observation. It is not about evaluating or judging the local community. Rather it is about taking time to notice the local community in which we are placed and to which we are called in mission.

One of the tools that Rev Dr Karina Kreminski of Neighbourhood Matters introduced for this kind of listening comes from Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission (Colorado Springs, Upstream, 2013). There, listening to the culture of the local community involves answering the following questions.

Values/Customs – What is important to them? How do they spend time, money, energy? What is the importance of family, work, group, money, power, respect, land, independence?

Conflicts/Needs – What challenges their values? What tension do they feel? War/peace, social issues, oppression, natural disasters, enemies, economy?

Outlook – Is their general outlook positive or negative? Are they victors or victims? Are they hopeful or hopeless?

Stories – What movies, books, TV shows, mythology, folk tales/songs are important to them? What are their favourite themes? Redemption, overcoming oppression, rebellion, hope, good vs evil?

Idols – What do they worship? What are their (dys)functional saviours: religion, tradition, systems/structures, technology, money, materialism, education?

Fears – Look at the cultural extremes. What do they run from/defend against/avoid: war, oppression, loss of culture, loss of status, disease, exploitation, loss of face?

Narrative – How do they make sense of the world around them? What is their national story? Explore what social commentators and historians say.

Tribes – How do they organise socially? Where do they find their social identity: sub- cultures, affinities, clubs, neighbourhoods, stereotypes, friends, cliques?

Other tools for listening for mission include “Reading the Built Environment” and mapping your local community. I plan to introduce these to you over coming weeks.