The Person is the Mission: How the Church Missions, Matters

By the Reverend Daniel Tatarnic

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-May, 1976, my relationship with the Church was sealed: prophet, priest, and king. They’re called charisms — gifts, seals of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” 

Now, we talk a lot about mission in the Church these days. But what is mission? Is it an idea, a strategy, a statement? Or is mission something more than clear and distinct ideas? Saint Paul implies that mission is personal: we are the mission(s). I am the gift, you are the gift: gifts, given for the life of the world. 

Gifts of the Spirit are a burden and a source of freedom. Being the Church isn’t always easy; we don’t get to choose the persons God gifts to us, a person is called, a person is given. When we pray, at ordinations, “Carry out in tranquility your plan of salvation,” we ought to be careful about what we are asking: God will send us that person!

My point is that God calls persons into ministry; God does not call clear and distinct ideas into ministry. And when the Church missions, when the Church forms people, the Church is participating in the missioning activity of the Holy Spirit to generate saints. We need to take this seriously: how the Church missions, matters. 

Each person is the embodiment of a spiritual gift (charism). Each baptized person is a saint, and every saint has a mission. Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says that you are the mission! Where is God at work in the world? That’s easy — you! You are the saint; you are the flesh and blood arena where God is at work in the world. 

So, if we’re serious about mission, we would do well by looking at the saints around us. Take a look at the people who have said ‘yes’ to God; admittedly, it’s a bit of a rogue’s gallery. And it’s filled with people that I find highly irritating, and who, I’m sure, find me equally as disagreeable. But hey, what can you do? Prophet, priest, and king; like it or not. I like to say that people of good will, on a shoe-string budget, will change the world. Throw some grace into that equation and we might have a fighting chance. 

I’ve failed many times in life to be competent, and no failure to be competent has ever resulted in my being cut off from God’s grace. As a matter of fact, I failed my grade twelve religion class. I’ll never forget my teacher’s parting shot at graduation, “you’re a delinquent, and you’ll never amount to anything.” 

The scriptures provide us with a very compelling and inconvenient picture of [leadership] in the Church. In the biblical witness, it is God who graces, “that some should be.” The gift of a person is always in proportion to the world’s need. When God’s people need a prophet, they get a prophet. When God’s people need a teacher, the teacher appears. God always sends the right person, at the right time. What a miracle! What an inconvenience! 

Hans Urs von Balthasar, the twentieth-century Swiss theologian, reinforces this holy inconvenience when he writes: “The Spirit meets the burning questions of the age with an utterance that is the keyword, the answer to a riddle. Never in the form of an abstract statement (that being something that is man’s business to draw up); almost always in the form of a new, concrete supernatural mission: the creation of a new saint whose life is a presentation to his own age of the message that heaven is sending to it, a [person] who is, here and now, the right and relevant interpretation of the Gospel.” 

As we stretch out to receive the outpouring of spiritual gifts in this season of Pentecost, we should find both consolation and warning: the faithful Christian is called to be a saint. And that is both a miracle of grace, and a holy-inconvenience; sin boldly!