What’s Your “Mission Question?”

Rev. David M. Brown

Over the past few months, I have been working with a group of people to launch “a different way of being church" in the town where we live. We are committed to developing a way of being church that avoids the program-based, attractional models that many of us have known for most of our lives. We have been meeting in small groups for Bible study and prayer, worshipping in borrowed spaces, and discerning God’s call to engage with our neighbors.

In June, when our group of Servant-Leaders sat down together for the first time, we spent much of the meeting talking about mission and vision. We wanted to have a strong sense of how God was moving within the group - and what we were called to do and be in the world - before we began creating structure and organization around that identity and mission.

As we struggled to make progress toward a mission statement, one person in the group recalled a daily engagement from the “Making the Shift” Field Guide, which we had been studying in small groups together. That daily engagement suggested that every person’s life and the life of every organization was spent answering a question (or a set of questions).

She wondered if, rather than a mission statement, we needed a mission question.

Good questions are powerful. Good questions clarify details and uncover bad assumptions. Good questions define, frame, and approach problems in more precise ways. Good questions explore ideas and options more fully. Good questions spark curiosity and unleash creative potential. Good questions engage other perspectives - within ourselves, in our relationships, and in the surrounding world. Good questions, particularly “why” questions, break open the status quo and invite people into further conversation and collaboration. Good questions build a culture of inquiry, learning, and innovation.

Have you ever noticed the number of questions Jesus asked? (Here’s a list of 100 of them, with scripture references!) Often Jesus would answer one question with another question, inviting those with whom he spoke to a deeper level of reflection. Jesus knew the power of a good question!

In his book, Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke writes: 
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves… Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

If we are more intentional about discovering the questions that our lives are answering, then perhaps we will be more intentional about how we are living our lives. 

At that first Servant-Leader meeting, as a fledgling group of disciples trying to discern a direction in the world, we embraced the mission question: “Where is God in all of this?” That question shaped our conversations, prayers, and discernment through the summer. Now, a few months later and entering the next stage of our life as a community, our question is shifting. Taking a cue from the prophet Micah, our new question asks: “As disciples following Jesus together, how will we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?” As we move into the fall, I hope this question will help us rediscover and recommit to the essentials of following Jesus together in our context.

I’m not suggesting that every organization ought to abandon their mission statements. In fact, I worked last weekend with a group from a nearby church to develop mission and vision statements for their ministry team. I believe the statements they developed will provide clarity and focus as they work together to pursue God’s mission in the world. 

At the same time, as individuals and institutions, it’s hard to ask too many good questions - questions that have the potential to break open our assumptions and invite us into new ways of seeing ourselves, the world, and God’s movement.

So, does your church or organization need a “mission question?”