7 Circumstances at the Heart of Mission

My friend and colleague the Rev. David Owen O’Quill frames mission with the question “Who does your heart break for?” This is the beginning of finding both a personal and congregational mission. Since I first heard this, I’ve considered it the foundational question for mission, ministry and life. Answering this question gives you a “why”, a reason behind all that you do. Answering this question is about articulating motivation and purpose. Once you have an answer to this question, you have a reference point, a marker and stimulus to action. When you know who your heart breaks for, transformation can happen. In serving others you transform them through your service and in the process you are transformed. Service teaches you as much about yourself as the people you serve, usually more. Just about anyone who ministers, teaches, does social work, health care or volunteering can testify to the fact you get as much or more out serving than you provide for those you serve. frequently in the act of ministering to others, we find ourselves being the beneficiary of the relationship in ways we never imagined. Service is a powerful transformer.

After determining who your heart breaks for, I encourage you to ask follow up questions. These questions can further assist the transformation of both server and served. Let me offer these questions to assist you in narrowing your mission and effectively caring it out.

What song does your heart sing?
When does your heart open widest?
Where can you live out your heart’s desire?
Why does your heart hesitate?
In what way is your heart helping others?
By what means does your heart seek it’s core purpose?

Some of these questions help you refine who you are and the people or cause yo that breaks your heart to the point of taking action. Some of the questions assist with then”How?” questions of accomplishing your mission.

These questions are based on the seven circumstances for finding the loci of an issue set forth by first century Greek rhetorician Hermagoras of Temnos: who, what, when, where, why, in what way, and by what means. Answering the questions amounts to diligent spiritual reporting as the seven circumstances the journalistic 5 W’s:

Who is it about?
What happened?
When did it take place?
Where did it take place?
Why did it happen?

The questions “What song does your heart sing?” and “When does your heart open widest?” help us connect who we are to the people and causes that break our hearts. These are discernment questions. some of may be able to answer these questions immediately and find our answers have been guiding our lives and work for a long. Some people may need to spend time doing serious reflection, perhaps with the help of a minister, spiritual director or counselor, in order to pinpoint the place where their heart is most open or to hear the song they are singing.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten how it goes.”

The questions “Where can you live out your heart’s desire?” and “Why does your heart hesitate?” help us face the fact that mission is not easy. Frequently, serving the people our hearts break for will require physically relocating. The relocation may be changing a work or employment situation, or discerning a ministerial call to a new place. The relocation may require moving to a new place to live. Following the Rev. Dr. John Perkins three R’s of Christian Community Development, I agree that communities can only be transformed from the inside by members of the community. Some people need to move to a new neighborhood or state or even country and become a part of the community where those who break your heart live. Relocating is a huge decision. The spirit may be willing, but the brain may be against it? Fear, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt about a host of things will rise up to block the way. These fears and cautions need to faced, and answered fully or your mission is on rocky ground. However, any mission worth having needs to be one you can fail at and undertaking any journey worth going on comes with an explicit warning that safety is not guaranteed. Courage is always a requirement.

The questions “In what way is your heart helping others?” and “By what means does your heart seek it’s core purpose?” are “How?” questions. Once you have decided who breaks your heart and why you are called to these people, then and only then can you tackle the “How?” questions. These questions are about strategic options, best practices, practical application. The “How?” questions come last. All too often we attempt to answer these “How?” questions before we have a “Why?”.

So, Who does your heart break for and what are you gonna do about it?

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