Elders’ Mission Conference

Mission Conference

On a beautiful Saturday in May, elders from three congregations in Aberdeen gathered for a Mission Conference. It was led by me, the new Mission Development Officer, the Rev Dr Robert Smith.

We explored what mission is and thought about the 5 Marks of Mission that shape our Presbytery Plans. We then recognised the work already being done in congregations, considered what our missional shapes might be and then we dreamed big dreams for our congregations going forward.

During the day, we were led in worship by the Rev Keith Blackwood and the Rev Shuna Dicks. It was an encouraging and insightful day which saw all participants engaged and inspired in how we all understand and practice mission and discipleship. I’ve included in this posting some of the conference notes and a few pictures from the day.

I am very happy to provide a conference day or half-day for any kirk session or congregation who feel this might be of help going forward. Please just contact me and we will get something arranged.


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What is Mission?


There are many definitions of mission and that they are as varied as they can be complex.  As we look at mission in our congregations, it is important that we come to a helpful understanding of mission; an understanding that helps propel us forward towards more informed, more effective, more affirming, and more Christlike Mission.

So, to help us get our heads around that, I am going to share a few thoughts about what mission is not.

Mission is not 1 Size Fits All: Mission is contextual ; diverse people living in very different communities -  rural, urban, farming, fishing, tourist etc.

Mission is not a Tick Box Exercise: how we understand mission and how we practice it – should always be changing because  our world is always changing – that includes each of us!

Mission is not formulaic – involves bringing our ideas, passions and gifts to the ways we share God’s story with the community and wider world.

Mission comprises all the things we do as Christians that tell of the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ wherever we are.

“Mission is Living Jesus Into Life”

Mission is our relationships, conversations, worship, advocating for the poor, caring for creation, speaking out against injustice. Mission is making Jesus ‘come alive’ in people’s lives in different ways; both ordinary and profound. And each of the things we do to help tell God’s story are small miracles.

Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see”

The story of what God has done for us all through Jesus Christ is indeed a miracle. And we get to be a part of that miracle through mission, using our small letters to help others see the miraculous story God has given us all, but which others might not be able to see. The letters we have are our stories, our passions and gifts, our buildings, our people, our hands, our voices, our hearts - all our small letters - to help others see and know the love of God in Christ.

So, how do we discover the letters we have in our congregations?

Exploring Mission

Exploring Mission involves asking ourselves questions. Questions such as, “Who are we? Where are we? What does Mission look like in our church now? What are some things others are doing? What new things might we do? What resources do we have?

Questions can animate our faith and our thinking and help us to see ourselves and our world in important ways. Let’s ask good questions – not to get a ‘right answer’, but to stimulate our thinking and our acting in the world as Christians who have a miraculous story to share. Let’s ask ourselves, deliberately and consistently,  good questions.

In this way, I believe questions can help us discover the letters God has given us so we can help others see the miraculous story of God’s love in Christ.

The Five Marks of Mission

Our National Church has determined the primary principle at the heart of Planning and Ministry is Mission. This principle is reflected in the 5 Marks of Mission.

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform the unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of Creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

To help bring what we are doing mission right now in light of the 5 Marks, let’s start with a wee exercise. So far, we’ve thought about mission in a very broad way.  Now, let’s begin to bring all of that into sharper detail.

On these ‘trees’ in the front of the room, you will see that we’ve gathered the 5 Marks into 4 categories. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ve put the first 2 Marks together because they are so closely related. What we want you to do now is to take a few moments to think about the missional things your congregations are doing ‘right now’. [as many as you want]

Then place them on the tree under the Mark of Mission you feel it best relates to. These visuals will remain up throughout the day today so that at any time during the conference if something comes to you, you can add it. It is hoped that as you see the great variety of mission ministries going on in your churches now, you will be encouraged going forward.



Discovering our Missional Shape

Each congregation is different. They possess different gifts, passions and resources. They are placed within different communities.  They have different cultures and rhythms. Even as we acknowledge those differences, we also recognise that we are all called by God to be missional.

Theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued to think and write about faith even while locked up by the Nazis. In one of the letters he wrote from prison, he urged his readers to consider the importance of regarding Jesus not just as an historical figure, or even a biblical character, but as a living person in the world today.

Jesus’ teaching was always relevant and meaningful to his audience. He use metaphors and analogies which struck powerful and effective chords with those he was speaking to. Understanding this, Bonhoeffer suggested we ask ourselves a crucial question…” Who is Christ for us Today?”

This is a question whose answer will help us to see how we – as the body of Christ – will be as we live in this time and this culture. In this exercise, we hope to tease out some ways to understand our ‘mission shape’ by asking ourselves that question, “Who is Christ for us Today?”

Metaphors are useful for highlighting a particular aspect of a person or thing. The Bible uses them extensively to make its meaning clear and relevant to its audience at the time, and we can continue to use metaphors that make sense in our own context.

So, let’s begin with what I hope is a fun way to get our metaphorical thinking fired up. Think of the animal that you most resemble and why and then share that with someone near you. Let’s hear a few once you’re finished!

Now, in your groups (4-5?) let’s take about 15 minutes to look at the first section of our worksheet – the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus from John’s gospel. What point do you think Jesus might be making with each of those metaphors?

Since biblical times, societies have used other metaphors for Jesus. You will see some examples in the second part of the worksheet. Now, let’s spend some time listing others that you may be aware of.

Next, let’s consider our main question for this session, “Who is Christ for Us Today?” It may be one of the one of the names already mentioned, or something different. [What has the church been in danger of forgetting about Christ? What are the needs in our communities and what is it about Christ that may be a blessing to them? Is there a metaphor for Christ which might be helpful today that remains faithful to scripture?]

You will see that the last box in the final section of our worksheet asks the question, “So What?” This is the bit where we pull all of this together to help tease out what our missional shape looks like.

The bible uses the metaphor ‘the body of Christ’ to describe the church. If our neighbours are to meet Jesus through the life of his followers, what are the implications for us? Are there things we need to change, do more of, or stop altogether? How might these metaphors help us understand our shape as we move forward in mission?



Dreaming Dreams

In this last session, the thought about how we might dream big missional dreams. We used these four questions to get our dreaming started!

If you travelled forward in time by 2 or 3 years in Dr Who’s Tardis and the opens, what would you love to see in your church and/or community? 

Imagine it is 2027 and you see a newspaper headline, news feed, Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter (X) message regarding your church. What would you love to read?

Again, imagine it is 2027 and you are in the local post office or shop. You overhear a conversation about your church. What would you love to hear? 

In 5 years’ time how would you like your church to be known in the community – especially by those with no church connection?

After a bit of dreaming we then worked through how we might prioritise those dreams. This was very important as congregations decide which mission ministries to put in place now  or postpone or begin to build for the future.

Our conference ended with worship and communion.