Means, Ends, Impact, Mode

I’m working with a team in my congregation to build a mechanism for supporting “emerging experiments in mission and ministry” to “supplement our traditional outreach.” Our recent capital campaign raised the money for the mechanism; now it just needs built.

Somebody on that team pointed out that “traditional” for us is both a means and an end. I think he’s right in at least three ways:

There are traditional channels for our church’s outreach, mostly our denomination’s shared mission giving infrastructure and that constellation of local nonprofits and community projects that feed the hungry, tutor children, and house former inmates. So our mechanism needs to supplement those ends, not duplicate them.

But we also have an opportunity here to experience a very different means of being in mission with our community and the wider world. Our traditional means is biased toward longevity and an observable track record: how long has our church known the leadership and volunteers of our mission partners?

And yet an “experiment” is very likely to come from a leader or community we don’t already know. That’s an opportunity.

Tradition reaches beyond means and ends to impact and mode too. Impact has meant, supporting as many partners and projects as our budget can bear without a rigorous regard for the scope of each project’s mission. Homeless shelter? Yes. Urban agriculture? Yes. Clean water? Yes.

But the mechanism we’re now building may aim for both a smaller scale and scope. What if we honed in on a few particular experiments we cared deeply about, and what if we limited those experiments to issues or populations we feel present the most urgent need or opportunity?

Perhaps most important is mode. The mode of mission in many, many mainline congregations like ours has been sustained financial support through an annual budgeting process, supplemented by special appeals through events like mission fairs and alternative Christmas markets. It’s that giver/receiver dynamic that needs vigilant relational investment to avoid dysfunctional dynamics that undermine the work, not the least of which is the giver’s sense that mission means giving money and not face-to-face interactions with people in need.

So what if the experiments our mechanism supports are our own? Is this an opportunity to move from supporters to builders?

Just saying, this could be really good.


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