A Proposal For Formal Mission Work2
Can the church do formal mission work today?
Three elements are needed which only God can provide: opportunity, qualified missionaries; needed resources.
Opportunity abounds and people are easily reachable by a missionary in all urban areas. I estimate that there are over 500 residences within one mile of my parish, Christ Lutheran Church, which is on the far west side of Cleveland, Ohio. But there is also an intangible under the heading of resources, namely the willingness of a parish and pastor to do this work. It isn't done to increase the head count, or to fill the coffers. But out of love for our fellow man, and a desire to give people the greatest gift of all: the remission of sin, life and salvation in Christ.
Qualified missionaries are harder to find for what I will propose below. The missionary must be a fully trained pastor. A theologian who will be able to deal with the true spiritual needs that will arise from the activities I will outline. Not every pastor is cut out for this work, but I think that some are.
Resources are equally hard to come by. To Call a pastor to serve as a full time missionary in a major city will likely cost $90,000/year for salary and benefits. In addition there will be some expense incurred in his labors.
The plan is this:
The missionary pastor is Called as an assistant pastor to an already existing congregation. Every Sunday he is in the chancel, leading the church's worship with the pastor. But beyond that his only responsibility is to spend his entire week knocking on doors in the church neighborhood where one of several things will happen.
A common scenario is that no one is home, and he leaves a brochure with the church information, time of Services, and a spiritual message.
In another scenario, someone answers the door and the missionary pastor introduces himself, and inquires if the person is actively involved in a church. If the answer is yes, he politely moves on. If the person is busy, he can offer a brochure. If the answer is no, the missionary can offer a brochure, attempt to strike up a conversation. If none can be had, then he moves on.
But, having done this myself in younger days, it is surprising what encounters like this can lead to. The pastor can ask after the person and the household, and offer to have prayers for whatever the person's concerns. If things go especially well he should invite the person to the Divine Service where the missionary will be seen in his priestly role. If a person is reluctant to come then further visits can be attempted, and catechesis can even be initiated in the home. Simply reading from the Small Catechism is powerful.
When the missionary has contacted every house, he should start the same circuit over again from square one. It is likely he'll have more success the second time around; and even more the third.
What might the results be if the missionary pastor, clad in clerical collar, were to do this all day, every day? I don't know the answer, but this would constitute actual mission work: sowing the seed of God's Word anywhere and everywhere. The results are out of our control, but we will never know until we try.
Sincere Christians have proposed any number of less direct methods: food banks, basketball, social events, and they have invested a great deal of love, labor and resources in the same. But in spite of 50 years of the same our churches grow emptier and emptier.
But what I propose herein is true mission work, and even if no one is baptized, and becomes a full member of Christ's Body, the Church, the Word has been given, and it won't return without some blessing.