The Five Marks of Mission: the Cosmo edition

I’ve said in the past that the Five Marks of Mission—apparently the framework by which the Episcopal Church spends its money—don’t really do it for me. To my mind, the Five Marks are in a long tradition of Anglican and Episcopal slogans, none of which have proven to have much staying power and only demonstrate our inability to engage in serious and honest theological discussion.

It’s possible the Five Marks of Mission have now—finally and officially—”jumped the shark.” There’s a Facebook app (produced by our own Episcopal Church; your pledge dollars at work) that lets you determine what is your Mark of Mission. (When you’re finished with the quiz, I encourage you to take the quizzes available at Cosmo: “Are you good-girl hot or bad-girl hot?” and “Are you way too good for him?“)

Leaving aside the fact that everyone who talks about the Five Marks of Mission talks about how they are integrated and one cannot stand without the other, isn’t there something just a little bit debasing about reducing the Five Marks of Mission to something you’d find in a Cosmo quiz?

Moreover, mission is a transcultural process by which all of God’s children are reconciled to God and one another. The quiz is culturally bound in the worst way—you have to recognize the names of American reality TV shows and vacation destinations available only to those with certain incomes.

Next up: which Millennium Development Goal are you?

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5 thoughts on “The Five Marks of Mission: the Cosmo edition

  1. Susan Snook

    Jumping the shark is a good way to describe this app. I find this quiz head-scratching puzzling. (For the TV show, I picked the one show of the five that I had actually seen. Once.) However, though the Marks of Mission have some flaws, I find them a reasonably useful framework for the work we do in the church. They are something we can agree on, because they have official Anglican sanction, without having to sit down and work our way through all the possible components of mission, argue over wording, tussle over priorities, etc. They do include a fairly complete list of the various aspects of mission that are found in some prominent biblical passages on mission, such as Matthew 28 and Luke 4. So, if I were going to start over, I might frame “mission” in different terms. But then you might not agree with me, and we would be diverted into questions of semantics and hermeneutics. I don’t think we have time to argue about stuff like that. Let’s find a way to do it, not spend time talking about it.

    1. Jesse Zink

      Thanks for the comment, Susan. It sounds from your comment like you think mission is something that appears in certain verses of the Bible. I think I see mission as God’s action throughout the Bible—beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation—to do the same thing: restore all people to unity with God and one another through Christ. Rather than pointing to individual verses, I’d rather point to this over-arching narrative. I think the Five Marks encourage this verse-by-verse look at the Bible and lose the sense of the broad picture of God’s loving action.

  2. Susan Snook

    OK, Jesse, but there are many different aspects of God’s mission that appear with different emphases in different places in the Bible. And I think these different emphases are important for us to understand and act on. It would be incomplete to focus on evangelism at the expense of service, or on reconciliation at the expense of prophecy, etc. As members of the Body of Christ, we have different gifts and callings, but the church as a whole is called to join God in all the aspects of mission. There are particular verses of the Bible that express various components particularly well or completely (Matthew 28 emphasizes proclamation and teaching; Luke 4 emphasizes service and advocacy). By doing all these things, the church joins God in God’s action to restore the world. The Five Marks, whatever their weaknesses, do remind us that mission is broad and encompassing. I find that many conversations about “mission” run aground when we discover that the conversation partners have completely different things in mind when they use the word (service vs. evangelism, for instance). Spelling it out in terms of the Marks helps us to remember that “mission” is not just one action – it is many actions and many ministries – many ways we join with God in God’s mission.

  3. Thanks for this Jesse. As I commented at the Cafe, I think we’ve come to confuse the corporal works of mercy with “mission” — it seems to me that “marks” 3-5 are not missional, though good and proper things to do. But anyone can do them, including an atheist. There is nothing particularly Christian about recycling or working for justice. I sense we’ve lost sight of the Christian angle on mission — being sent by Christ — but not just to do the “good things” we should do even if we were not sent by Christ, but to do them as organs or agents OF Christ.

  4. Pingback: Five Marks of Mission: History, Theology, Critique – Jesse Zink

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