Mission Australia holds fast to biblical roots, but open to all

Mission Australia (MA) – a large national charity with 2400 staff that supported 167,268 children, young people, adults and elderly people across 483 programs and services in 2019-20 – has reaffirmed its Christian identity.

Unpacking our Founding Purpose is a new charter of what it means for Mission Australia to be a Christian organisation, recently adopted by the board and presented to MA’s diverse staff.

Some Christian welfare organisations have adopted a secular identity or ethos – changing their names to lose their links to churches in some instances. But Mission Australia wants to hang on to the 160-year-old founding purpose: “Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God.”

“We know that it would be easy to lose Mission Australia’s Christian identity and biblical focus,” Ken Dean, president and chairman of the Mission Australia Board tells Eternity.

“We’ve seen that happen in other organisations, and sometimes even in churches, notwithstanding that they have had sound, historical creeds and confessions of faith as their bases, so it is obviously a real danger. It also tells us that even having our Unpacking document doesn’t of itself provide assurance against drifting from our biblical roots.  It needs constant vigilance. It is no doubt why the NT epistles give us warnings and exhortations to ‘stand firm’ (1 Corinthians 16:12-13, Ephesians 6:10-18, Galatians 5:1, etc).”

“Mission Australia’s founding purpose expresses a calling that remains as relevant as ever …”

Mission Australia’s leaders are keen that their founding purpose not be taken as a historic hangover. “Mission Australia’s founding purpose expresses a calling that remains as relevant as ever,” the Unpacking statement adopted by the board says. “It should not be read in a nostalgic way, nor as an historical artefact, but as an ongoing reality. The opening words call us to reflect on the person and work of Jesus as our source of purpose, strength and guidance. When we do this our Founding Purpose is enlivened from one generation to the next. As Christians, we are called to hold fast to foundational biblical principles. We acknowledge that the diligent use of spiritual disciplines including prayer and bible study will help bring those principles to life in our faith and actions at Mission Australia.”

While some Christian organisations seek to only employ Christians, Unpacking tackles how the Mission balances an inclusive staff and a Christian vision. A version of Unpacking for new staff explains, “Our people are from diverse backgrounds, and we value their dedication, giftedness and goodwill. We are Christians, people of other faiths, people on a faith journey, and people of no-faith – although Mission Australia expects every staff member to know and acknowledge Mission Australia’s commitment to its explicitly Christian identity and not act in any way which diminishes or undermines it.

“Our leaders, especially directors and executives, have a particular responsibility in commending the Christian faith by exhibiting the highest ethical and operational standards and in setting a collegial tone that is gracious, appreciative and non-judgmental towards others. We also prioritise the safety of our staff, clients and communities we serve.”

“As an organisation, Mission Australia is still ‘inspired by Jesus Christ’.” – Ken Dean

A Christian welfare organisation in a secular age has a different set of needs to meet than the old “city Missions” that came together to become Mission Australia. “We are pleased that governments now recognise and seek to meet those needs – much of the public sector funding of such programs today exists because of advocacy by Mission Australia and other Christian organisations like it,” Dean says.

“The fact that many of MA services are now funded, wholly or in part, by governments means there’s an even greater risk that as an organisation we lose the distinctive character and Christian motivation for what we do. As an organisation, Mission Australia is still ‘inspired by Jesus Christ’ – and we want everyone who works in MA, or with MA as a sponsor, or receives services from MA, to understand how that motivates and shapes what we do, and how we operate.”

Not every senior staff of MA is Christian, Dean explains to Eternity: “We firmly believe that every Christian, faithfully living out their faith in Christ in the workplace, has a ‘sanctifying’ influence on their organisation and the people in it.  And that’s not just in nominally ‘Christian’ organisations! But it is especially vital in an organisation that bears an explicitly Christian name and purpose. So yes – it is really important.

“Having said that, not all the executives or managers and staff in MA profess to be Christians. And that’s why documents that carefully and clearly unpack our Christian founding purpose are such important resources. It is why the documents have been written to enable and encourage people to dig further into them. They are ‘nested’ documents, with an overview or summary which talks in simple terms about each topic, and a more complete statement with links to bible passages to support the statements and to encourage further study. It is a resource that we pray will be well used in discussions and bible studies in MA offices and workgroups, often (but not necessarily) led by the MA chaplains.”

“Leaders have a particular responsibility in commending the Christian faith through their lived example in the workplace …”

Here’s how Unpacking describes a balance between recruiting widely and maintaining a Christian ethos in an organisation: “Mission Australia values the dedication, giftedness and goodwill of all our staff from their diverse backgrounds and we expect every staff member will know and acknowledge Mission Australia’s commitment to its explicitly Christian identity and not act in any way which diminishes or undermines it.

“Mission Australia will recruit all staff transparently on this basis, being clear about who we are. The role of induction and on-boarding have a particular relevance to Mission Australia given that every staff member will take their own part in its history as a Christian organisation of 160 years’ standing.

“Finally, the role of mature Christian leaders – especially directors and executives – as culture bearers is celebrated and affirmed within the life of Mission Australia. These leaders have a particular responsibility in commending the Christian faith through their lived example in the workplace, by exhibiting the highest ethical and operational standards, and in setting a collegial tone that is gracious, appreciative and non-judgemental towards others.”

Mission Australia’s Unpacking documents lists Bible references after each section – and it is reflected in the way the text is worded.

Here’s some examples of how Unpacking sets out how MA meets human need – and how it uses Scripture.

  • A focus on the disadvantaged and vulnerable: “Jesus interacted with people from all walks of life, but had a special concern for people living on the margins of society. (Matthew 5:3-12)
  • First Australians: “As an Australian services organisation, we recognise a particular responsibility to our First Nations peoples. We acknowledge that God has been present and active in our Indigenous communities since time immemorial … Jesus Christ by his life and saving death reconciles his people to God, (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Ephesians 2:13-22; Colossians 1:19-23) and calls us to be reconciled to one another. (Ecclesiastes 4:12; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27, 4:2; 1 Peter 3:8-9)
  • Evangelising: “Mission Australia bears an unashamedly Christian ‘brand’ but we are not an evangelistic association, and we do not engage in or support proselytism in the course of meeting human need. We believe that unconditional love and grace lie at the heart of the gospel, and we will therefore provide care and service to everyone without distinction. We will never insist on anyone engaging in discussions about Christian faith, or accepting Christian material or messages, in order to receive assistance or to work with Mission Australia. This type of behaviour does not promote the Christian gospel but diminishes it through manipulation. There is an added responsibility when the people we are dealing with have particular vulnerabilities. Consistent with those important caveats, Mission Australia is committed to spreading the knowledge of the love of God in a sensitive way, including having Christian literature readily available in our premises to anyone who wants it, in the hope that we may help build up, encourage and transform many lives. (1 Peter 3:15)
  • Building community: “All people are made in the image of God, and this is fundamentally an image of community. (Genesis 1:26-27) Father, Son and Holy Spirit subsist in relationships of mutuality, love, and service (Mark 9:37; John 8:16; 10:30,38; 12:44-45; 14:10; 15:23; 17:4-5,10-11,20-24; Acts 10:38) and this is the paradigm set for humans. (Romans 12:3-5; Philippians 2:5-8) Everyone is uniquely created and gifted and has a contribution to make for others. (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11) Meaning and purpose come from a broader sense of belonging and inter-connectedness, and this can be experienced both socially and spiritually. Part of our work at Mission Australia is to strengthen communities so that all people can flourish. For Mission Australia, an especially important community of belonging is the local church. (Romans 14:16-19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17)”