In being downtown Sarnia we have always said we never wanted to have an agenda. The idea stemmed from hardcore, door-to-door sales pitches for religious beliefs that we wanted to stay away from. Missionary dating, evangelism surveys, salvation cards, invite your friends to church for a chance to win a stereo Sundays and witnessing in your cworkplace are all part of the deeply disconnected culture of evangelism that we are reacting against. When you have to fake a relationship with someone (or why bother even faking at times?) then we thought there must be something wrong.
So in going downtown, to an environment completely unfamiliar to us, one of the things we were going to make sure we did, was erase all agendas. We had seen the dangers of what agendas could do, so we wanted to steer clear of them. We were not moving downtown to “save” the downtown. We were not moving there so we could better understand their culture and then eventually hit them in the head with Bible verses. We didn’t grab beers with store owners, join the Artwalk committee or go to the concerts so we could get them to come to the events we ran or to church on Sundays. Our sole purpose was going to be to move somewhere that was abandoned and build relationships with the people that are there with no expectation on them at all. So that’s what we did.
We’ve been here for three years now. I would say we’ve done pretty well at successfully integrating ourselves into the fabric of what is happening downtown. Besides a few special circumstances, we get along with many of the people downtown and I would call most of them friends. At this point, any good Christian would see this as a great opportunity to present the gospel as we know it and share it with as many as possible. The only problem is, it sort of feels that would negate the whole non-agenda clause that we established when we first started. So we continue to build relationships, and genuinely care about the people downtown.
I think my problem with agendas are, that they feel inconsistent with what the gospel really is. When somebody has an agenda in a relationship, they are really only nice to you or want to be your friend because they want something from you, or want you to do something for them. If we wanted to have everyone that lives downtown, attend theStory’s service on Sundays, and so we started integrating ourselves into the downtown core so we could start bringing people out to the service, then that would be an agenda. That isn’t why we are there. People showing up at our service really has very little to do what is going on.
However, as Christians, I think it is still crucial that we have a mission. A mission is different than an agenda. Agenda’s can be checked off as completed when the work is done or when I get what I want. Mission is about a commitment to a way of life, something that you bring into whatever happens around you no matter how people respond, if they respond at all. As Christians, we believe that the way we should live our lives is by loving God and loving others. Part of our mission is to do that to the best ability wherever we are. Since we are downtown, our mission is played out daily in our relationships with whoever we run into. Agenda’s come with expectations for the other, mission comes with duty for yourself.
There is a purpose I’m downtown but it isn’t to complete or follow an agenda. I will not be able to wake up tomorrow morning either disappointed or excited because the agenda worked. Mission doesn’t give such a clear picture of what the future looks like. Rather, it gives you an arrow in which direction to head. The other beautiful thing about mission is that it gives purpose that is based on what you should contribute rather than what you need to accomplish or how people must respond. In other words, with mission you aren’t scored and ranked, where with an agenda, you almost get marked with how closely you followed it and how people react to you.
So after three years we are beginning to see what this looks like. If we were following an agenda, we would have been disappointed long ago, since really no one from downtown is attending our Sunday services. However, that was never our goal. Our goal was to move into downtown, and love on downtown people. End of story. Whatever comes from that was awesome, but there will never be any expectation to exactly how that will play out, who will join us or what it will look like. We are constantly accomplishing our mission every day, it will never full be accomplished and that’s what I like about mission. It just gives you daily purpose for how you should live your life rather than mandating what everyone else has to do around you to fit into how you think things should be.
For this, I am grateful. I think throwing out an agenda was a good thing for us. It has allowed us to face into whatever came our way and not pre-determined exactly what we were going to look like. We allow our mission to shape our day to day activities and how we interact and go from there. I don’t feel stuck, and I do not feel like I have failed at anything because there is nothing to fail at. I am here and I love people and I love God. Mission being accomplished.