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The Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission: an introduction

Posted on: February 4, 2020 10:30 AM
Photo Credit: James Coleman

The Anglican Communion loves its jargon – key words and buzz phrases that spring up in conversations, sermons, and speeches. One of these phrases is “the Five Marks of Mission”. The Anglican Communion News Service has commissioned a series of articles looking at each of the Five Marks and we will publish these in the coming weeks. In this article, Gavin Drake explores their background and history.

The Anglican Communion has no central authority or decision-making body. It is a family of 40 – soon to be 41 – independent but interdependent Churches. The Anglican Communion’s four Instruments of Communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council – have no right to impose policies or initiatives on those autonomous member churches.

But they can come up with ideas which they propose to the Churches. These ideas may gain acceptance in some churches but not in others; or they may be rejected by most churches, or they may gain wide acceptance. This process is often referred to as “reception” – it is a way of testing whether the proposals by the Instruments have been received by the Churches.

Once such proposal which has been universally accepted by the Churches of the Communion is the Five Marks of Mission. Some member Churches will have debated these in their provincial synods or councils, others will have just adopted them through usage. The Five Marks of Mission are such an important resource that Churches outside the Anglican Communion often reflect on them too. But what are they?

The Five Marks of Mission began life as a mission statement – an organisational statement about the purpose of the Anglican Communion. Being mission-focused, this organisational statement was more “mission”-minded than most organisation’s mission statements.

In 1984, meeting in Badagry, Nigeria, the Anglican Consultative Council adopted Four Marks of Mission (the fifth was to be added later). The official Report of report the meeting makes clear their origins in the Gospels: “The Gospel according to St John puts the Great Commission in these simple words; ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I sent you’ (John 20:21)”, the report said. “Deliberately and precisely Jesus made his mission the model of our mission to the world. For this reason, our understanding of the Church’s mission must be deduced from our understanding of what Jesus considered his mission to be.”

The four Marks of Mission were summarised in four headings: evangelism, response and initiation, Christian nurture and teaching, and service and transformation. In addition to adopting the Marks, the Council asked all local churches, deaneries, archdeaconries, dioceses and provinces to carry out a mission audit to measure how effective they were under the four headings.

In 1990, at its meeting in Wales, the Anglican Consultative Council added a fifth Mark of Mission, saying in its official report: “There has been a consistent view of mission repeated by the ACC, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and others in recent years, which defines mission in a four-fold way. . . We now feel that our understanding of the ecological crisis, and indeed of the threats to the unity of all creation, mean that we have to add a fifth affirmation” – to safeguard the integrity of creation.

The Five Marks of Mission should not be seen as a never-changing creed. At its 2012 meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, the ACC said that they should be understood as dynamic and should be reviewed regularly. At this meeting, the Council revised the wording of the fourth Mark of Mission, adding the phrase “to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation” to the pre-existing text “to seek to transform the unjust structures of society”.

The Five Marks of Mission are more than a mission statement for the Anglican Communion. They are lived out every day in the provinces and Churches of the Communion. In the coming weeks, we will publish a series of articles, each written by an expert in their field, which will unpack each of the Marks and how they are being lived out throughout the Anglican Communion.

The Five Marks of Mission

The mission of the Church is the mission of Christ