Mark Greene is LICC’s Executive Director, and author of various books, including Thank God it’s Monday. Here’s an article he wrote back in 2012 about an extraordinary day.
There are things, I suppose, that each of us hopes for but that we don’t really expect to happen in our lifetime. In my case, that Spurs would win a cup, or that I would get to go to my granddaughter’s wedding. I don’t yet have a granddaughter and my oldest son is 20, single, and with no plans he’s telling me about or that have been revealed by tapping his phone or covertly monitoring his email traffic. And I’m 102. The odds are against it. And against Spurs.
But then on Sunday April 22nd 2012 something happened that I have been hoping for and didn’t necessarily expect to see and, as far as I know (let me know if I’m wrong), hasn’t happened in any church in the UK in my lifetime: a church commissioned their whole congregation to their mission on their frontlines in the world. Actually, they didn’t just commission them, they inaugurated an annual service of commissioning.
Now, of course, lots of churches commission their pastor or an overseas missionary or a youth worker, and I’ve been in a church where quite spontaneously the pastor has asked everyone to stand and has commissioned them to their mission field but I have never been in a place where such a service has been officially adopted by a congregation, where the leadership and ‘laity’ have worked together to find out where everyone’s frontlines are, what they feel about them and how they see God working through them there.
It happened in Hook Evangelical Church, a medium-sized independent church just off the A3 in South London. As the pastor, Paul Pease, said at the service, “It has taken many years to get to this point.” That is, it has taken many years to get to the point where they have all grasped the vital nature of their daily frontlines, as well as the other ways in which the church reaches out in mission. Indeed, one of the really encouraging aspects of the service was the way the formal prayers were divided between praying for people on the frontline and praying for the people who teach, encourage, support and pray for the people on the frontline – the preachers, worship leaders, home group leaders etc. Of course, they are often the same people because we all have a frontline, but Hook recognises the essential role of the gathered body of Christ in resourcing the fruitfulness of the body of Christ when it is scattered out in the world. Indeed, this springtime service of frontline commissioning is intended to complement their autumn service of dedication of all those involved in the ministries of the church in and through the building.
Any church could do this.
Call me ‘sad’, but I felt like a grandfather at my granddaughter’s wedding – elated, privileged to be there, rejoicing with God’s people in the freedom and purpose they were celebrating. I’ve waited a long time to see such a thing. Of course, it was only one church. But there again it may be the white cloud on the horizon – the beginning of a new season of corporate church support for fruitful whole-life mission. And indeed I have been invited to speak at another ‘first’ commissioning service in the Autumn in a church in Hampshire. Still, whether or not the service at Hook was a precursor of a new season in the UK Church, we did discover that, for Paul, the pastor, it all began ten years ago when curiosity spurred him into reading a book that one of his congregation had been reading once a year for quite a number of years. The book happened to be Thank God it’s Monday. Sometimes one little thing does lead to another bigger one. So, though you may not be in a position to inaugurate a commissioning service in your church, you might be able to give your church leaders or a Christian friend some material that would get them started on the road. It could be a verse, an article, a link – it doesn’t have to be Thank God it’s Monday, of course, though that would help my granddaughter’s wedding fund.