For many Christians, mission is why the church is here. For others, the word ‘mission’ has become tainted with ideas of colonialism or heavy-handed evangelism. And then there are many more people who are confused or indifferent.

It seems mission means different things to different people, and its meaning keeps changing through the years.

The aim of this study course is to provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at mission and what it could mean in the twenty-first century. To help us do this we will be exploring the Five Marks of Mission – a definition of mission adopted by Anglican Churches around the world – and we will gain a global perspective by looking at how the Church of Myanmar understands mission and puts it into practice.

We hope that, by the end of this short course, we will each have a fresh understanding of how mission has a place at the heart of our faith.

Working with the Five Marks of Mission

In the 1980s, opinion among Anglican Churches around the world was heavily divided between those who saw mission only in terms of personal salvation, and those who saw mission as being solely about development and social change.

The Anglican Consultative Council – an international body representing the Anglican Communion of churches – held a series of meetings to examine the meaning of mission.

The council recognised that neither evangelism alone nor development alone did justice to the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.’

Between 1984 and 1990, the council met many times to debate, study and pray together. In conclusion, the council identified what they called the Five Marks of Mission – five different ideas that they felt offered a comprehensive understanding of mission. In their most recent formulation, the five Marks are:

  1. To proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of Creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

One of the aims of this study course is to examine the five Marks and ask how they can strengthen our understanding of mission.

Focusing on mission since 1701

Mission has been at the heart of USPG since we were founded in 1701.

Back then we were called SPG – The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts – and our mission was mostly concerned with
encouraging those who emigrated from England to America to retain their
Church of England roots.

Throughout the following 300 years we have constantly learned new things
about mission, with an underpinning desire at every stage to serve and be
guided by God.

While building the church has always been vital to us, we have also maintained a passionate desire to bring education in its widest sense to

Over the decades our missionaries ventured into new territories – primarily
sub-Saharan Africa, India and other parts of Asia – setting up schools and
training local teachers.

At the same time, we were becoming increasingly concerned about issues of poverty, such as the urgent need for medical care in many communities. It could be argued that this was the dawn of an approach to mission that today we typically refer to as ‘development’. The emerging perspective was that mission had both practical and spiritual dimensions.

More recently, there has been another shift in understanding. Times have changed. New forms of transport and communication make the world a smaller place. Western Christianity is no longer dominant. Many churches
founded by missionaries now reflect on faith in their own cultures and contexts, and bring real challenges to Western Christianity. We all have something to share. We can all learn from each other.

For USPG, mission is at the heart of who we are and what we do – which
brings us directly to the topic of this study guide: What is mission and how
are we to understand it today?

A closer look at Anglicanism

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion is a global network of churches that originated with the Church of England. The Church of England was the first Anglican Church.

Anglican Churches, provinces and dioceses

There is no single worldwide ‘Anglican Church’, rather there is a self-governing Anglican Church for every province – a province is often a single country, but can be a group of countries. For example, the Anglican Church of Korea covers Korea only; the Anglican Church of Central Africa covers Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Each province is divided into dioceses. For example, there are 43 dioceses in
the Church of England (Diocese of Manchester, Diocese of Lincoln, etc). Each province is headed up by an archbishop (though the exact title may vary); each diocese is headed up by a bishop.

Anglicans worldwide

There are currently an estimated 80 million Anglicans in 44 Anglican Churches around the world.
The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The four Instruments of Communion

The Anglican Communion is given focus and direction by what are called the four ‘Instruments of Communion’. These instruments are: