Deeper, Wiser Mission Committees

 

Speaking from experience, I think we can agree together that we approach dangerous water when we speak (or hear) this sentence: “Of course, we all know the purpose of the ________________ Committee.” Probably somewhere in a tattered file folder in most every congregation, there is a mission statement (really a to-do list) for each church committee—Worship and Music, Building and Grounds, Personnel, Evangelism, Fellowship, Children/Youth/Adult Education…and of course Mission itself.

Whether your church calls it the Mission Committee, the Outreach Committee, or the Service Committee, there is likely a vague sense in your congregation that “we know what sort of things they are supposed to do.” And there is likely a strong sense, among specific members of your congregation, of what many things they are supposed to do.

For instance, Mission Committees might be supposed to:

  •  allocate money from the mission part of the church budget to worthy recipients;
  • evaluate new proposals to give money;
  • support worthy causes in the community;
  • support worthy causes globally;
  • be a kind of small church-version of the United Way;
  • poll the congregation and find out what members give to and then give to those things;
  • not worry about money but rather advocate for action on pressing issues of the day;
  • organize the monthly meal at the homeless shelter;
  • organize letter-writing campaigns on urgent issues;
  • hold educational forums on things like homelessness, global hunger, AIDS;
  • be a board with one member from every important cause the congregation supports;

Or…fill in the blank for what your experience has been with this expansive committee job description.

Embedded in these to-do list items are fine and worthy activities and causes. And, in most churches, it tends to be the same good people advocating for the same good causes in a state of worry and frustration that more people are not enlisted to the work and in the causes.

How can Mission Committees become places of greater engagement, clarity, and depth, commensurate to the “Mission” they carry in their title? Over the next three weeks, we will offer some objects and questions to open up this possibility. Today, to start, a poem, by Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956), titled “A Bed for the Night.”

A Bed for the Night
I hear that in New York
At the corner of 26th Street and Broadway
A man stands every evening during the winter months
And gets beds for the homeless there
By appealing to passers-by.

It won’t change the world
It won’t improve relations among men
It will not shorten the age of exploitation
But a few men have a bed for the night
For a night the wind is kept from them
The snow meant for them falls on the roadway.

Don’t put down the book on reading this, man.

A few people have a bed for the night
For a night the wind is kept from them
The snow meant for them falls on the roadway
But it won’t change the world
It won’t improve relations among men
It will not shorten the age of exploitation.

Bertolt Brecht (translated by George Rapp)

 


What is the man on the street corner doing?

In speaking of the men who have a bed for the night, why does the narrator say that the snow is “meant for them”?

Why does the poet tell us not to “put down the book” after the second stanza?

What does this poem have to do with the work of your regularly scheduled mission committee? Is the committee’s work best described by stanza one, two, three, or four?

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