This past Wednesday morning I was listening to National Public Radio as they were discussing the acquisition of Chicagoland craft beer Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch three years ago. The point of the discussion was whether Goose Island lost some of its uniqueness in being acquired. The discussion quickly led into other the acquisition of other small food brands and the impact that it has on the quality of the product – such as Kashi Foods and their being acquired by Kellogg’s.
Quality is a significant concern as local food brands are gobbled up by larger corporations in order to increase their market base. It seems that increasing market share, increasing financial gains for the original developers is part and parcel with what it means to create local business in the United States. We have become so inured by the philosophy that we need to make loads of money for what we develop – the more money the better – that we do not question what we are losing in the process. When we focus on increasing our financial yield – the basis of how we view business in North America, that we have lost sight of how creating businesses benefits the lifestyle of local residents, to provide a means for people to live, to buy a home, to send their kids to college, to go on vacation – in short to have a life. Somewhere, the goals of business in North America became making money, rather than creating opportunities for people to work and live whole lives.
More locally, in the Chicago area, has been the closing of Dominick’s Foods. Dominick’s began as a local grocery stores providing food for people in the neighborhood. Somewhere along the way this vision was lost and Safeway Corp. bought them out. With the focus on making money, Dominick’s lost its connection with the community – and so over the years Dominick’s lost touch with the community it sought to serve. Interestingly, Mariano’s Food has bought a number of shuttered Dominick’s stores in order to re-establish locally-focused grocery stores seeking to meet the food needs of people in their neighborhoods. Mariano’s philosophy is that they have only one grocery store – each store is focused on supplying the food needs of the neighborhoods in which they sit. They seek to be locally focused.
Mission requires the same kind of local focus if mission is to have an impact. Prevalent still in North America is the franchising of mission – and in many ways it is still on the increase as particular styles of churches franchise themselves through multiple campuses. The focus is more so on providing a brand of worship rather than being sensitive to what ministry and mission need to take place in a particular neighborhood. There is a need for mission to become much more locally focused – and an eschewing of a franchise mentality.
With a franchise mentality, we are apt to come with our programs and create marketing strategies to connect with the people we are trying to reach. However, with a locally-focused perspective on ministry and mission, we seek to come into a community and be shaped by the community to which the Spirit of God has sent us. This, then, is not so much a focus on our programs, but calls for us to be connected to the people whom God notices, for us to notice them as well, to focus not on what we have to offer, but to discover, discern, what God is doing in their lives, where they are struggling, where they are hurting – so that we might relate to people within a neighborhood the way Jesus Christ would if he walked with them day by day.
In fact, that is who we are – who we are called to be. We are the living presence of Christ among the people to whom we have been sent. We are called to be incarnational in their contexts, rather than importing some franchised style of ministry along with programs developed somewhere else in order for us to be successful in ministry – i.e., more campuses, more religious products. We are called to come into a neighborhood to partner with what God is already up to – ministering alongside the mission that the Spirit of God is enacting. In this way, we are perceived by the community as coming alongside, to walk with them, to be agents of healing and wholeness in the midst of their struggles, because their struggles are now our struggles – we become one with them. We are not apart from them, yet in being with them, we demonstrate the life-giving reality of Christ being present with us – who has also come to be present with them. This is mission, then, that grows up from the contexts in which we find ourselves, rather than mission which is franchised and brought in from the outside.
The success of such mission is not seen in the building of large ministries and churches, no success is seen as people’s lives are touched and transformed in the neighborhoods to which we are sent. May we seek to remain community-centered in exploring mission – because in so doing, we are indeed faithful to God’s mission of making all things new.
May we think about mission differently as we enter into this new year.