Why we should have an eccentric Missionary Society

Susan Osborne, our keen archivist recently handed me an A4 piece of paper, discoloured with age. On it were three theses, written by Brian Smith. It struck me that his words are as pertinent today as when he first penned them several decades ago. This is published with Brian’s permission. Enjoy.

- Andrew Page

(Note: eccentric, from the Greek ɛk = out of, and κέντρο = centre)

THESIS 1: Mission is the essential nature of the Church. Thus missionary work is not just one of its activities, but the criterion for all its activities.

THESIS 2: Although mission is its essential nature, in practice Church would rather do (and does) anything else except mission. Thus while Mission is the essence of the Church, it is also awkward, strange, unnatural, and alien.

Mission belongs at the centre, but because it is a misfit it tends to get pushed to the edge. This ‘strangeness’ of mission can be seen historically. Again and again the Church loses mission and has to be reminded and recalled to its ‘strange work’. For this reason the modern missionary movement (Carey et.al.) had to begin as an illegitimate child of the Church. Much of this still continues today and will always be so because of the double-edged nature of mission: ...central but uncomfortable.

In the light of Theses 1 and 2 we now face the problem of how we handle this problem child structurally.

If we make mission a department this takes away its radical and uncomfortable nature. It becomes normalized. It is now just one activity amongst a whole lot of activities. It no longer challenges the rest, but rather as a department becomes subject to some other principle that determines the whole.

THESIS 3: Because of its peculiar nature we should work very hard to recognise the eccentricity of mission in our structure. We should so organize the structure that the right of mission to challenge everything else is somehow recognized. Structurally mission should be a continual thorn in our side.

Something of this is achieved in the present structure where the Missionary Society is
independent of and of equal standing with the Union. In this structure, precisely
because it is not a department of the Union, it retains something of its radical and
uncomfortable nature.

Two important notes:

a: All the above applies equally of course to home mission. They are two sides of the one coin.

b: We must beware of the trap of calling every Christian activity ‘mission’. When everything is mission nothing is mission. We not only lose any significant meaning for the word ‘mission’, but much more importantly, we no longer have any radical and challenging principle in the Church. Everything is democratically on the same level. Thus mission is neutralized.

- Brian K. Smith


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