Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Developing Leaders for the Mission of Christ

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Developing Leaders for the Mission of Christ

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 2001, the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reported a jump in the number of Americans claiming no religion ("non.es"), from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. Taking into consideration the population growth during this time, this translates to an increase of over 4.7 million "nones" in eleven years. Although some thought the 2001 findings were an anomaly, the 2008 ARIS survey confirms it was not. By 2008, the number of people reporting their religious affiliation as "none" liad grown in every state in the United States, increasing to 15 percent of the total population. The number of "nones" now exceeds the number of people who self-identify as mainline Christians (Methodist, Ludieran, Presbyterian, Episcopal/Anglican, and United Church of Christ combined). Mainline denominational affiliation self-reports shrank from 18.7 percent in 1990 to just 12.9 percent in 2008.1 Clearly, mainline Christian denominations such as the Episcopal Church face a challenging task. What has worked in the past is no longer working.

This issue of the Anglican Theological Review seeks to address leadership in and for mission in a time when, as Ellen K. Wondra has described it, "the church increasingly understands its mission as participating in the mission of God, rather than mamtaining itself. This [recovery of] purpose brings with it a redirection and recovery of theology and ecclesiology, and it does so in a set of ecclesial and socioeconomic contexts that poses particular challenges at this time."2

Given the challenges of today's rapidly changing context, what is leadership in and for mission for mainline denominational leaders?

Addressing this question from my perspective as Director for Evangelism and Congregational Life at the Episcopal Church Center, three questions emerge.

* What is this rediscovery of core purpose?

* How does it inform today's leaders?

* How is the program staff of the Episcopal Church Center uniquely poised to contribute?

If the Episcopal Church is to continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that is relevant in todays social landscape, leaders must return to the core purpose to which God calls us, and leaders must be willing to adapt and refocus on partnering with God on God's mission. Churchwide program structures, including those at the Episcopal Church Center, can play a key role in facilitating this process.

What Is This Rediscovery of Core Purpose?

In todays rapidly changing ecclesia], socio-economic, technological, and cidtural context, trying to define the church's mission can be divisive and distracting, and can lead to a loss of clarity of purpose - an almost counterproductive exercise. But at the same time, it is vital to continue these attempts to define and understand mission. We have reached a watershed moment in the church's history, and Episcopalians are poised to reach out with the message of Christ's love in new ways. We have the opportunity to connect with a growing number of people who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" (the ARIS "nones") who currendy are not being fed spiritually by any faith community. We have the opportunity to become the truly multicultural church about which we dream. However, there is an urgency of the moment. We must, as a Communion, embrace the refreshingly simple notion that the mission of the church is the mission of Christ.3

How Can This Rediscovery of Core Purpose Shape Today's Leaders?

Embracing the unity of the mission of Christ with the mission of the Episcopal Church and the Anghcan Communion returns us to our core purpose. And rediscovery of core purpose is essential, especially in the increasingly secular American society of the twenty-first century. In fact, congregational growth is strongly correlated with a member's sense that the congregation has a clear sense of mission and purpose. Dr. Kirk Hadaway, researcher for the Episcopal Church Center, writes in his report "FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth," "Essential to the mission of any religious congregation is creating a community where people encounter God. …

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