Category Archives: Church
What’s the role of an evangelist? What do they look like and how do they fit in to the church? These are some of the most pressing questions facing us. To the last one, some say “They don’t!”
Evangelism is a vital part – but only a part – of the mission entrusted to us. With the demise of the (usually evangelistic) Sunday evening service many sacred agents are relatively unpractised in corporate mission – mission where the whole church works together.
God has shaped us to play like a band. Some are guitarists, some are better at keyboards. The tone-deaf can be drummers, the shy can be roadies, the nerds can work the mixing desk.
Now a few are lead singers. These are the evangelists. They bring the words to the music. They don’t mind being up front, and they have knack to interact with the audience and lead them along.
For too long, however, we have sent the evangelists out like solo artists and expected them to play all the roles – one man bands. Some do OK, but it’s just not the set-up you see in the New Testament. Jesus never sent out individuals on mission, and nor did the early church.
What would it mean in your context to get the band back together? To identify an evangelist and integrate their words with the music (deeds) of the rest of the church? The band might need some practise, but what a show it has to put on!
There seems to be a painful divide between the actions-without-words mission and words-without-actions mission. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. But words speak clearer than actions. When you put the two together you can be heard loud and clear.
How about it Elroy? Let’s get the band back together. We’re on a mission from God. And if mission is the work of the whole church, then I need you, you, you…
Last century many Baptist churches offered two services each week – usually Sunday morning and Sunday night. The morning service was weighted towards nurturing believers (of all ages), and the evening service weighted towards evangelism (especially of youth). It balanced churches’ priorities: Get fed on Sunday morning, bring your friends Sunday night.
But with the demise of the second service the choice of nearly every church has been to retain ‘feeding the flock’ as a corporate practice, leaving evangelism as an individual one (perhaps with the exception of occasional courses such as Alpha). What would it look like if a church chose the other way?
The building up of believers would need to utilize mid-week meetings of big and/or small groups and individual spiritual disciplines to a greater extent. Believers wouldn’t be able to use Sunday services as a weekly Quiet Time!
But the big difference might be the opportunity for the church to witness corporately, bringing the whole combination of spiritual gifts of the body to the task. Jesus said “By this will everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:35 NIV) If this is such a key aspect of our witness, why do we gather in relative privacy, and do our public witness individually? Are we hiding our lamp under a bowl?
What might it look like to open our weekly meetings to the neighbourhood and send strong signals that visitors, seekers, doubters, explorers, everyone is invited, indeed expected? On the inside this might mean more testimonies and less in-house notices, more preaching to the back row and less preaching to the choir. On the outside it might mean flags, banners, A-frame signs and the like to say “We’re here, we’re on, we’re open and we’re expecting you.” You only need to look at businesses and other public buildings to see how that is standard signalling in our culture.
There’s so much to be said for corporate witness, and churches could do worse than to experiment with this by at least designating some Sundays or a season of Sundays as evangelistic. (Although regular, ongoing witness has many advantages over the one-hit event.) It takes time for a church to learn to do it well, and for the neighbourhood to notice, but might it not strike a better balance?
I need to exercise. Power walking, riding, exercises, weights, even (gasp!) running. Nearly all of us need to take time for exercise – and it’s become a huge industry. The most recent City to Bay Fun Run was entered by no less than 30,000 people. Have you ever wondered why our grandparents and great-great-grandparents didn’t do that sort of thing? No, it’s not because they’re really, really old.
It’s because they worked. Physical work. Standing up work. At least, a lot more than we do today. I need exercise because I spend so much of my time doing what I’m doing right now – sitting in front of a screen. I have machines to do hard labour for me. But exercise isn’t real work. It’s simulated work. It’s play-work.
I read with fascination an interview last year with Adelaide Crows fitness coach, Stephen Schwerdt. He attributed a plummet in the Crows’ injuries that season to a new approach to training. They spent less time isolating certain muscles on fitness machines and more time in general wrestling and boxing, to become more rounded athletes and more closely simulate their match-day work. In other words, they got real.
It got me thinking about churches. And mission. How much of what we do is real gospel work, and how much is exercise? Do we talk (and blog/read – look, right now you and I are equally guilty) about evangelism so much because we do it so little? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for planning, training, reading and debating. But it needs to be real. It has to be connected to real doing.
It’s one thing to be keen on fishing, to read fishing magazines, to buy fishing equipment, even to go fishing. It’s perhaps another thing to get good at getting fish. This may be true not just of evangelism, but also of our worship, our fellowship, our discipleship. Are we fit and strong for the real thing, and from the real thing, or just buff from exercises? Do we have the burns and scars from real-world mission, or just a spray-on tan from talking about it? Is play-working a way towards real work for us, or a way out of it?
It’s been 4 years since Kevin Rudd dropped the phrase “detailed programmatic specificity” to bamboozled translators in Berlin. But I still can’t get it out of my head – such an wonderfully incoherent call for clarity.
Many a sacred agent could really use some… …let’s just say DPS. The mission of God is such a vast, vast adventure that anyone who tries to narrow it down sounds like a heretic. God loves all people, everywhere, all the time. But we can’t. We’re not called to. So narrowing down is a must. Although a captain in a war does not understand the global strategy, still s/he is responsible to get a clear sense of local orders and tactics and be able to report of specific progress. This is my mission. This is what I’ve attempted. This is how it’s going. This is what needs to change. This is what’s needed going forward.
I’ve attended many church meetings in my years and barely ever has there failed to be a finance report. It’s unacceptable for a treasurer to stand up and say “Our finances are OK. They’d be better if we all gave more and spent less.” No. We want the details – printed reports detailed to the last cent are standard. But to what extent do we report on our mission as a church? And if so, do we ever get past generalized motherhood statements about us all needing to pray more and to shine the love of Jesus everywhere?
A sub-conscious avoidance of accountability is often behind a lack of specificity. If we don’t clearly define any goals, or report on any particular activity, we can’t be seen as failures. Just try that in the world of finance or in the army! Yet we sacred agents are entrusted with a mission that far outweighs that of bankers or soldiers.
Might we not learn to communicate as specifically as possible our sense of calling – “particularly to these 1500 people”, our current endeavours – “this year we have been trying this” and to be open and frank with one another about our success or otherwise? Or in fairness could we relieve our treasurers from counting cents if we won’t count souls?
Some Christians have been thrown to the lions. Some disciples have been burned at the stake. Some sacred agents have been imprisoned unjustly for years. And some … some have had it suggested to them that their small group might multiply.
Why is it that multiplying small groups causes so much division? I’ve had some great conversations with leaders about this recently and many find the process long, hard, and very painful. Is it really worth the agony?
Yes! If you’re a mature believer there’s approximately 100% chance that a significant part of your spiritual formation has developed through participation in small groups. I think I’m yet to meet a strong believer for whom this isn’t true. So here’s my question: If small groups are absolutely essential for making disciples, how can we possibly multiply disciples if we don’t multiply small groups? That’s right, we can’t. We either put more believers into existing groups, making them no longer small, or we must multiply the groups.
Why is smallness important? It can, I think, be boiled down to this: With a microphone, you can speak to 10,000 people at a time. But we don’t have the technology to listen to 10,000 people at a time. We can only listen to one at a time. It’s a key part of disciple-making and can readily be seen in the practices of Jesus himself. He too had a small group … that multiplied.
What can we do, then, to ease the pain? Well, a fair bit of the grief, pain and resistance is necessary. Group multiplication is a key occasion for stretching and growing, and that hurts a bit. But what we can do better is to normalise the process so that it comes as less of a shock and that groups become less entrenched in the first place. Keep reminding small groups that fruitfulness (literally) means reproduction and that the pain of reproduction is worth it. Prepare groups earlier – from their start if possible – for multiplication. Don’t wait for groups to hit ‘full’ before having ‘the talk’. And finally, it’s a myth that groups divide perfectly in two. More often it works best when the leader hands over leadership and takes just a few others to go and commence a new group.
What’s your experience been? Easy? Painful? Worth it?
The mission of God is, wonderfully, a team sport. Jesus is never recorded as sending out his disciples individually. And yet somehow so many sacred agents feel like they are going it alone. What have we forgotten?
Mission is the work of the whole body. Our mission, to multiply disciples of Jesus, is something that the whole church is called to, together. Each of us is endowed by God’s Spirit with different gifts and capacities; none of us are equipped to continue the ministry of Jesus solo. There’s an enormous amount of stress felt by agents who want to be missionaries but feel unable to live up to the mythical image of the lone ranger evangelist. Yet the work of the evangelist is just one (vital) part of mission. Only some are gifted for it, and they – desperately – need everyone else to be playing their part in turn.
In an army only a minority hold guns and work on the front line. Behind them are a host of cooks, drivers, nurses, even librarians. But crucially, all see themselves as being part of the army and part of the campaign; all are trained for basic front line service if needed; and the rear serves and resources the front, not just itself.
Teamwork is itself a witness. Jesus said “By this will all people know that you are my agents – if you love one another.” When we do mission individually, we give people no chance to observe Christian community in operation. We work at expressing love for the people of our context, and of course that’s essential, but Jesus said that our love for one another would have profound influence in the world. What opportunities do the people you’re sent to have to see rich Christian fellowship in practice?
Teammates keep you on track. A group of like-minded friends is essential to sustain persevering, fruitful mission. Mission teams make time to rest, pray, plan, reflect, celebrate, and train. Members of great mission teams have the strength and grace to speak the truth to one another in love, enabling constant sharpening and deepening.
How can we drop the lone ranger myth and find ways to build and strengthen effective missional communities?