Five Marks of Mission: History, Theology, Critique

In recent years, many Anglicans have given new attention to what are known as the Five Marks of Mission. It’s a definition of mission first formulated by the Anglican Consultative Council in the 1980s but not taken into widespread use until the late 2000s when then Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used them repeatedly, including to structure her budget proposals and one of her books. At one point, the Episcopal Church even produced a Facebook quiz to let you figure out which mark of mission you were. In the Church of England, candidates for ordination are asked to evaluate themselves against these marks. At the 2016 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, there was an unsuccessful attempt to make them a fifth instrument of communion.

In teaching mission in Cambridge in the last few years, it felt obligatory to talk about these marks of mission. As I tried to do this I realized that little had been written about their origin or their theology. So I started doing my own research, which eventually resulted in a new article in The Journal of Anglican Studies, published last week.

You can read the entire article for yourself but here are some key themes:

  • The Five Marks of Mission were heavily influenced by non-western Anglican leaders, particularly African ones. People like David Gitari, a Kenyan bishop, and Benjamin Nwankiti, a Nigerian one, drew on their experience of mission in their own contexts to shape an approach to mission that Anglicans worldwide adopted. Mission thinking is a site of cross-cultural consensus-seeking in the Anglican Communion.
  • Gitari, Nwankiti, and others were heavily influenced by contemporaneous debates among evangelicals like John Stott and others about the nature of mission. Was mission solely about individual evangelism or did it also involve social action? The Anglican Consultative Council reports that gave birth to the Five Marks of Mission sometimes quote verbatim (and not always with citation) from these evangelical reports of the same era. Although it was non-evangelicals like Katharine Jefferts Schori who brought the Five Marks of Mission to wider Anglican attention, they are deeply rooted in the evangelical wing of the Anglican tradition.
  • For a long time, no one called this definition of mission the Five Marks of Mission. In fact, the definition sat on a shelf for at least a decade more or less undisturbed. The need to turn it into a slogan is part of a larger series of Anglican mission slogans, from Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the 1960s to Partners in Mission in the 1970s and 1980s, the Decade of Evangelism in the 1990s, the Millennium Development Goals in the 2000s, and the Five Marks of Mission today. (And if “Five Marks of Mission” is too long, the image above suggests they can be reduced to five words beginning with T.) In studying each of these slogans, it is possible to see how Communion-wide thinking about mission has shifted in the intervening half century.
  • The way in which the Five Marks of Mission are used now—as a check-list approach to mission and as a source of mission strategies—diverges from their original intention, which was as a definition of holistic mission. Lambeth Conferences, Anglican Consultative Councils, and other bodies have produced no shortage of mission reflection over the years, some of it quite good. We should ask ourselves why, of all that material, the Five Marks of Mission rose to such prominence, particularly when their shortcomings are readily apparent (something I wrote about many years ago and expanded in this article).
  • Anglican mission slogans have historically lasted about a decade. New leadership in the American church and in the Church of England is emphasizing other themes—the Jesus Movement, reconciliation, discipleship—and we should not expect the Five Marks of Mission to last much longer. But we can hope the process of cross-cultural consensus-seeking in thinking about mission continues.

As I say, you can read the entire paper I wrote by clicking on this link. Your feedback is welcome.

UPDATE: I’ve fixed the link to the .pdf version of the article so it should be possible for all readers to access now.

An odd couple, part II

Pope Francis must be reading this blog.

Two years ago, I suggested that the Pope should meet with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the Vatican. It sounds odd, I know, but no odder than when Paul VI first met Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey at the Vatican more than fifty years ago.

Today, Pope Francis met with the Archbishop of Sweden at the Vatican—and she’s a woman! There are some great pictures Antje Jackelén and Francis.

(There are some other great pictures on Archbishop Jackelén’s Facebook page. I’m grateful to a Twitter follower for pointing me in this direction.)

While he is at it, Pope Francis could—given his obvious enthusiasm for Lutherans—make it a North American trifecta and invite ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCiC National Bishop Susan Johnson to talk about ecumenical relations with two communions of churches that have made some progress on that front.

Or, given his key role in the recent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, he could invite Bishop Katharine and the Episcopal bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado. The possibilities are endless.

As Michael Ramsey and Paul VI showed, great things can happen when people look beyond differences—no matter how profoundly, honestly, and deeply held—and, for a brief, short moment, come together to pray, discuss, and reflect. In doing so, for the briefest of moments, they show forth something of the coming kingdom of God in our midst. That’s what I see in these pictures from the Vatican today.

UPDATE: Some commenters have helpfully pointed out that Bishop Cate Waynick met Pope Francis as part of a meeting at the Anglican Centre in Rome last November.


This is terrific and I’m grateful to read about this. But I’d still thinking about a personal tête-à-tête, a la Paul VI and Michael Ramsey.

The church’s mission: helping the world live with complexity

Last spring, I wrote a review essay of two books by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. In it, I found reason for praise and reason for critique. In the 1500 or so words, I tried to present a well-rounded understanding of what she had written, as well as make an argument about some of the current thinking about mission in the church.

An author for VirtueOnline, the premier source of conservative Anglican polemic, used my article to make an entirely different case:

The Christianity of liberal Pecusa leaders rings hollow as they not only violate the teachings of Scripture on human sexuality, but they do so on other fronts as well like not suing fellow Christians. Now, this injunction would only be a problem for liberal Pecusa leaders if they are, in fact, Christians. So, I ask you, what does their practice suggest about their standing with the Almighty?

This led to a string of comments about whether or not the presiding bishop was Christian, even though my review contained the sentence—conveniently overlooked by the author and his commenters—that “The reader is left in no doubt of Jefferts Schori’s strong, lucid, and passionate faith in God in Christ.”

I thought of that when I read this week Robert Hendrickson’s critique of the Presiding Bishop’s Christmas message. He takes her to task for not referring to Jesus often enough:

Whether it is time to consider the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the Presiding Bishop is consistent in her unwillingness to mention the person in whom our whole faith and hope rests.  It takes some effort to avoid using the name of Jesus in an Easter or Christmas message – multiple times.

He even offers a word cloud that shows the absence of the J-word.

Then, yesterday, I got my weekly update from the American Anglican Council, a conservative organization that has broken away from the Episcopal Church. The lead story was nothing more than a link to Robert’s post, the word cloud image, and this text:

Notice anything missing in the Presiding Bishops’ sermon? Jesus! How could a Christian leader forget to specifically mention Christ – especially at Christmas?

The author then carries on in a familiar vein for a bit longer. (Incidentally, I don’t particularly enjoy the AAC weekly updates but I started subscribing after they attacked me for my travels in Nigeria some time ago and it was only a kind stranger who brought it to my attention.)

What to make of all this?

First, the obvious: some people will read into your writing whatever they want to see, regardless of what is there.

Does that impose any obligations on those of us (and I think I can include Robert in this category) who are members of the Episcopal Church, not planning to go anywhere, but who, from time to time, feel it necessary to point out how we think things could be different? Does it impose an obligation on us to toe the party line?

I think not. As Robert himself says in a follow-up post, he loves the conversation his initial post generated. He sees it as characteristic of the church he loves. I appreciated the feedback some people sent me on my book review and the way they challenged me to explore further what I was arguing.

Perhaps the real lesson we can take away from this is that the Anglican world is not divided into sharp black and white camps, with the liberals on one side and the conservatives on the other. When the Presiding Bishop speaks, not every member of the church agrees with her, though places like Virtue Online and the AAC would love for you to think otherwise.

Likewise, when the primate of the Church of Nigeria speaks, not every member of his church agrees with him (as I demonstrate, incidentally, in case after case in my new book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion). Yet I know more than a few Episcopalians who have tried to argue precisely this.

There is no shortage of polemical material in the world today. Just turn on the television or visit your favourite web sites. People don’t write to change other people’s minds but to make their point while brooking absolutely no dissent or uncertainty. Frankly, it all gets kind of boringly predictable after a while.

I wrote some months back about the increasing “Congressification of the church”—interestingly, in response to criticisms of another comment by the Presiding Bishop—and I still wonder if the church can help the world deal with complexity. Can we live in a world that doesn’t insist on a black-white, with-us-against-us model of thinking? It would be a powerful witness to the world.


The Congress-ification of the Church

Really, I’ve said other things in my life besides “wise Latina”

Do you remember when Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the Supreme Court? Within minutes of her appointment, there was a raging battle over a comment she had once made about a “wise Latina.” That phrase came to dominate much of the debate over her appointment—even though it was a single phrase uttered over the course of a lengthy career as a lawyer and judge. I remember thinking at the time, “Ummm… aren’t we missing the point here? Isn’t there so much more to talk about?”

Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings came to mind recently as I reflected on the blow-up over a sermon Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached in Venezuela in May. For about two sentences, she gave a reading of Paul’s actions in a passage in the Acts of the Apostles that was unusual. Although the rest of the sermon was about the glory of God—a deeply Biblical concept—conservative Anglicans pounced and used those few sentences as an opportunity to do one of their favourite things—beat up the Presiding Bishop.

There were some people in the world who were not going to support Sotomayor’s confirmation no matter what. By blowing the “wise Latina” comment out of proportion, they gave themselves cover to do what they were already going to do—and tried to bring a few others along with them.

Similarly, there are people in the church who will never find a single redeemable feature in the tenure of Jefferts Schori. So out of all the words and sentences and paragraphs the Presiding Bishop produces, they take a handful of sentences and blow them into an imbroglio of epic proportions—just to confirm themselves in the apparent rightness of what they already believe.

This is not to say that it is not worth debating either the “wise Latina” comment or the two sentences from the Presiding Bishop’s sermon. But it is to say that when conversation comes to focus so exclusively on these tiny portions, our common life suffers because we miss the much larger picture.

I’m not saying it’s not alright to disagree in the church. Nor I am saying it’s not alright to take issue with the Presiding Bishop—I’ve done it. What I am saying, however, is that artificially restricting our focus—as we have seen in this sermon “debate”—misses the point. And this is far from the only instance of this trend. We see something similar in the common view that the only salient feature of the “African church” is its views on sexuality. We end up arguing with caricatures of our opponents, instead of the real person God has created them to be.

Christians believe that honouring and valuing the whole of what someone has to offer—the whole of who God has created them to be—is a central theological virtue. In conversation and engagement with the whole of someone, we come to see what they have to offer to and receive from our common life together. Instead, most of the time, the church seems intent on spending all of its energy on manufactured and illusory controversies, thereby neatly avoiding substantive, honest, and mutually enriching conversation.

It’s one thing when Congress does this—but the church has a much deeper, broader, and exciting calling than that. We ignore it at our peril.

An odd couple: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori

Pope Francis and Justin Welby hung out at the Vatican today. It’s easy to miss the significance of this. Less than 50 years ago, then pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome. It was practically a revolution that the meeting should take place. Paul VI couldn’t really recognize Ramsey as a bishop—what with Apostolicae Curae declaring Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”—but he did famously give Ramsey his ring, a de facto acknowledgement of Ramsey’s position.

Really, Paul VI gave him the ring because he had dared Ramsey to wear the most ridiculous piece of headgear he could find.

Today, Welby wore that ring and Francis kept calling Welby “your grace,” a different way of acknowledging Welby’s position. No one is surprised by this anymore. Of course, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would get on. It’s just how it goes.

I’m as happy as anyone else that the two of them spent some time together and I hope there is more to come. But it doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Since that Paul-Ramsey meeting, there’s been a major change in Anglicanism—we ordain women on a regular basis, and some women are now bishops. As I’ve argued before, Anglicans should not see women’s ordination as an obstacle to unity, but as a gift to the relationship.

Just waiting for that invitation, Francis

So the pictures of Pope Francis and Justin Welby are great, but here’s the picture I want to see: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori praying together, him in his white and her in a purple cassock. It would be as significant a moment as Paul VI giving Ramsey his ring. (I’d settle for any other woman bishop out there, actually. If Francis wanted to stay in the British Isles, he could go with Jana Jeruma Grinberga, whom Welby highlighted at his enthronement.)

You bet! It’s in the mail.

What Paul VI seemed to understand is that sometimes the rules and regulations are a bit outdated. You might not be able to change them, but you can, you know, circumvent them to acknowledge a present reality. I wonder if Pope Francis can see the same thing about women’s ordination.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this pope has been full of surprises. Maybe he has one more up his sleeve…

The Power of Establishment

On Monday, I did something I rarely do: I read The Daily Mail, one of England’s leading newspapers (by sales). It’s a tabloid that makes it money by plastering screaming (and arguably distorting) headlines across its pages.

I read the paper because a) it was in a waiting-room I was in and b) the front-page headline was about Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, and a letter he (and about 40 other bishops) signed opposing the government’s proposed changes to welfare. The article (and the accompanying op-ed column) was not positive about the archbishop’s move. Welby himself thoughtfully responded on his blog.

Leaving aside the merits of the dispute (which, as a non-voter in this country, I don’t entirely understand but on the surface it seems Welby et al. have a point), let’s talk about the media coverage. England is supposed to be an ever-increasingly secularized country, with fewer and fewer people attending church and fewer and fewer people believing in God. So why all the attention for a letter the archbishop signed?

For me, it’s a reminder of the power of Establishment: no matter what people might think about religion in England, the Church of England still has a privileged role. When its leaders speak, they get attention. Not always, and not as much as they would like, I am sure, but attention nonetheless. As I read about this debate, I am reminded of bishops in some African countries I’ve visited, whose public utterances are closely watched. When I was in Nigeria, bishops (of a number of different denominations) regularly featured in news reports. Ditto for South Sudan.

At the same time as this flare-up over the bishops’ poverty letter in England, the American House of Bishops released a letter about gun violence. Also this week, some faith leaders—including Episcopalians—have spoken out against the proposed Republican budget. I will be stunned if any of these statements makes the cover of any major newspaper in the United States, or is even mentioned. That’s not how the media market works in the United States. Katharine Jefferts Schori and American Episcopal bishops are not media figures in the way English bishops are. (A few have succeeded in getting into the news cycle with statements about same-sex marriage, but these are exceptions that prove the rule.)

All of which is to say what I’ve said many times on this blog in one way or another: context matters. Anglicans around the world minister in a huge variety of contexts that shapes their actions and statements. We do well to remember that.

A collegial episcopacy

One interesting aspect of the dispute between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina is that it has largely been conducted between two people: Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop, and Mark Lawrence, the once and current bishop of South Carolina. Sure, Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina has been involved as well, but it all seemed to revolve around two people.

That may be what the canons call for (and it may not—like everything else in this mess, canonical process is in dispute) but it seems like a mistake. One of the gifts the Anglican/Episcopal churches have given to the catholic church is a collegial understanding of the ministry of bishops. Bishops make decisions best when they make them together. (Notice that doesn’t mean all the decisions bishops make are right.) This is why things like the Lambeth Conference and the various houses of bishops of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion are important. This collegiality of bishops is part of the larger process of synodical governance, in which bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people come together to discern where God is leading the church.

Events in South Carolina have moved so quickly that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has not had a chance to weigh in. Bishops last met in July and won’t meet again until the late winter. But surely, given the contested theological, ecclesiological, and canonical issues, their thinking is important. Instead, the actions of essentially two people have resulted in a major Episcopal Diocese losing the majority of its members.

I don’t put much faith in petitions but there’s a new one floating around online about the South Carolina situation that laments the situation and calls for it to be resolved without litigation. The reason I signed it is that I was attracted by this line:

We furthermore implore the House of Bishops – as guardians of our faith and common life – to take counsel with one another as a body; to seek, alongside other leaders of our Church, a new application of the discipline of this Church that will build up the body of Christ in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church.

I’m not saying that the input of the House of Bishops will “fix” things. I may be completely overstating the significance of collegiality. But I like the way it echoes Jesus’ teaching on conflict resolution in Matthew 16. And given the warm feelings everyone seemed to have at last summer’s General Convention and how everyone was getting along, surely the wisdom of this body might be of use in this situation?

So read the petition. And then think about signing it.

Gasp! He talks about Jesus!

One of the things I noticed about Archbishop of Canterbury-select Justin Welby is that in his announcement tour on Friday, he talked about Jesus a lot. There were multiple references in the press conference and various interviews to “the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Now, to point out that a bishop talks about Jesus might not seem like the most noteworthy event. But it’s striking how frequently it has been mentioned in the press accounts. For instance, the Guardian:

Constitutional convention also mostly stops archbishops from talking about Jesus in public. No one seems to have told this one.

The Mail—not admittedly the best source—had a similar sentiment in a headline:

Not your average Archbish! Not only does he actually believe in God, but the new Archbishop of Canterbury is the son of a bootlegger who was Vanessa Redgrave’s lover

(This is more than modestly unfair to the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who believes deeply in God and talks a lot about Jesus. Sometimes, though, it take a little while to realize that’s who he’s talking about.)

One thing I am learning in the Church of England is that there is actual debate about how overt clergy can be about their faith—that is, how much they can talk about Jesus. At a meeting I was at the other day, one priest said that in her marriage preparation, she didn’t want to give the couple anything that was “too Christian.” This came as a bit of a shock to me and is, perhaps, a sign of the ways in which Britain is farther down the secularization path than the United States is. (I’ve been chronicling some of those points in my Death of Christian Britain series of posts.)

On the other hand, back in April, I was noting the ways in which the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church went a whole interview without mentioning Jesus.

In every market, competitors are always on the lookout for the thing that will distinguish them from their competitors and make them stand out. Our world has a pretty crowded marketplace of ideas right now. Call me silly, but I think talking about Jesus—the one idea that Christians have that no one else does—is one way to stand out. We still need to answer the question of what the good news is. But for now, I’ll be content with an archbishop who can talk about Jesus—even if it is depressing that that alone is noteworthy.

Tick Tock in South Carolina

After a big news event, reporters will sometimes reconstruct the timeline of events that led up to it. This is called the “tick tock.” (You can see an example of it in this reporting on the announcement of the Paul Ryan selection in August.) Sometimes, the tick tock is only to satisfy the truly voracious news hounds. Other times, it can be revealing.

As I’ve been sitting with the news of the inhibition of Mark Lawrence, the bishop of South Carolina, I’ve been puzzled by the timeline of events that led up to it. So I thought I’d try to reconstruct it and see if we can learn anything from it. Here’s what I’ve come up with, based on publicly-available documents.

September 18: The Disciplinary Board of Bishops writes a letter saying they’ve concluded Bishop Lawrence has abandoned the Episcopal Church.

September 18: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina meets. The bishop is apparently asked a series of questions by the standing committee.

October 2: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina passes a motion that they will disassociate with the Episcopal Church if anything happens to their bishop. This, apparently, is based on answers to their questions they received from the bishop.

October 3: The Presiding Bishop, Bishop Lawrence, and Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina meet to discuss their differences and seek some sort of workable plan for the future.

October 10: The Presiding Bishop is notified—via a letter in the mail—of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision.

October 15: The Presiding Bishop calls Bishop Lawrence and tells him he’s being inhibited.

October 17: Everything becomes public. The rest of us find out.

(The Diocese of South Carolina has also issued its own timeline.)

What is unclear to me is the meeting on October 3. Did Bishop Lawrence know that his Standing Committee had passed the automatic withdrawal motion? (Presumably he was at the meeting: there’s been nothing to indicate otherwise.) Did the Presiding Bishop know of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision in that meeting? (For that matter, when the Standing Committee passed the motion did they know of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision?)

Although I want to take everyone at their word, it strains credulity to think given this age of instant, always-on communication, not to mention the magnitude of the charges the Disciplinary Board of Bishops was preparing to make public, that at the October 3 meeting, neither the Presiding Bishop nor Bishop Lawrence had a hint of what was coming.

The resulting picture of that meeting is not that pretty. The Presiding Bishop and Bishop Lawrence get together to seek reconciliation. At least one—Bishop Lawrence—if not both have in their back pocket an “out” card. If this doesn’t go my way, each could say, I have the means to end this conversation, either by quitting the church or inhibiting. It’s like two gunfighters circling each other, each saying to the other, “Go ahead: make my day.”

And that, needless to say, is not how reconciliation works.

Search for a Gospel that is both Good and New

Let’s say I’m a twenty-something with a college degree, living in Brooklyn. I kind of have a job but no benefits. I get by with money but I have lots of debt. I don’t see what the big deal is about gay marriage and it’s obvious that the earth is getting warmer. My parents dragged me to church a few times when I was growing up so I know something about all that religion stuff, but now my knowledge of religion is mostly based on people like Rick Santorum. I just don’t see the point of faith and I certainly don’t see the need for it in my life. I’m part of the “Rise of the Nones.”

Now let’s say that one day I’m surfing around the Internet and I come across the interview Katharine Jefferts Schori recently gave to the Huffington Post. The words “female” and “bishop” are so rarely connected in my mind that I click on the link to see what she has to say.

Stepping out of the Brooklyn millennial conceit, here’s the question I want to pose: as our fictional twenty-something peruses the interview, does he find anything that is genuinely Good News? That is to say, does he find any of the life-altering, world-changing, drop-everything-and-follow gospel of Christ Jesus?

(Let’s note, of course, all the provisos. Of course, she was responding to questions, of course the interviewers wanted to ask her about hot-button subjects—sex, creation, Scripture—and of course an interview is not a sermon.)

I think the answer to this question about the Good News is no. Our fictional Brooklyn resident wouldn’t find much to disagree with. Bishop Katharine is in sync on same-gender marriage. Good. The church wants to respond to the poverty of the world. Good. She calls it “God’s mission,” but whatever. We agree.

The thing is, while our fictional millennial may think what Bishop Katharine has to say is Good, none of it is New. He already believes all this stuff already. The church is arriving late to the party. Glad to have you here but you’re old news. You do your thing, Bishop Katharine, and I’ll do mine. None of what Bishop Katharine has to say would, I think, make our millennial think, “Wow, I’ve got to learn more about Jesus and get myself into church!” In fact, by my count, the presiding bishop is quoted mentioning General Convention (once), more than she mentions Jesus (none).

Again, all my earlier provisos apply and nothing in this post is a comment on the presiding bishop herself. This interview, I’m sure you will agree, well represents the dominant working theology in the Episcopal Church in the early twenty-first century.

If you read the Gospels or Acts, it is clear that when people heard the proclamation of the Good News, their lives were transformed. Not just adjusted or modified but completely reoriented towards Christ. The fact that the gospel had such an impact is, to my mind, one of the best confirmations of its truth.

What is the Gospel message in the twenty-first century that is both authentically Good and authentically New, the proclamation that seizes the attention of the hearer and brings about dramatic life change?

How do we preach the unique witness of Jesus Christ in a way that makes people who’ve never heard about Jesus want to devote their whole lives to following in the Way he first showed to us?

That, it seems, are questions we still need to answer.