Sometimes the Spirit uses a whisper, sometimes a megaphone to get our attention. My latest interaction with the Spirit emerged around the topic of evangelization. It started as a simple conversation with a church planning team. We were discussing the meaning of ministry words like outreach, evangelization and discipleship. What emerged was a need to clarify the meaning and expected outcomes of these ministry efforts.
As I began to research this topic during the next week, a regular e-zine that I read sent me this article: Missional Engagement: It's All About Relationships. Listen to the thoughts of the author, Junius Dotson,
“Outreach has traditionally taken two forms. It can be missional efforts. These are traditional helping ministries such as food and clothing drives, neighborhood clean-ups, and food pantries. There are some outreach efforts that are more evangelistic efforts. These include activities like attending a street festival and handing out invitations to church, or going to a park to pass out water bottles with the church’s information on it. … But real missional engagement entails the building of authentic, organic, and consistent relationships that lead to intentional discipleship. … When engagement is authentic, organic, and consistent, we create the space necessary for people to share their faith. It’s not a program. It is an ethos that is deeply rooted in a congregation’s understanding of intentional discipleship.”
In working with church staff & leaders, and in my research, I am seeing how our outward-focused ministries are moving through a continuum from social outreach ministries to evangelization and now to discipleship. This means that these ministries’ intended outcomes are evolving from a desire to help people in need (social outreach), to encouraging them to join our faith and our church (evangelization), and now to the idea that as church members we are called by God to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations (intentional discipleship).
It is about building relationships. In practice this might mean that church planners might reprioritize their efforts from focusing mainly on providing ministry to those in need, or to seeking new church members, to a focus on preparing our members to BE out in their worlds, building relationships and bringing the word of God into all aspects of their lives. It evolves from door-knocking evangelization concepts to intentionally being a Christian and modelling what that means in all areas of our life (family, workplace, neighborhood, schools, etc.) By living our lives guided by our Christian faith and being open to sharing our lives with others, we can support the Spirit-led journey of others as they discover and accept the love and wisdom of Christ.
The Spirit continued to pile on through another author I read during my weekly research. Listen to the words of Danah Himes in her article An Equipped, Sent Church,
“In a post-Christian context, we cannot rely solely on Sunday mornings to reach the lost. We can no longer “build it” and expect them “to come.” Remind your church members that they can be more effective missionaries in their workplaces and neighborhoods than any pastor, because they have the relationships and therefore the voice. Equip believers to communicate the gospel message and share their faith rather than just encouraging them to invite people to church.”
These perspectives are not intended to denigrate the wonderful outreach and evangelization ministries. What they are highlighting is the amazing opportunity that we have to prepare our church members to be intentional disciples in all areas of their lives. Our church involvement has helped us to understand what it means to be a mature Christian. Now the Spirit is saying to each one of us, go out into your world and model what it means to be a Christian. Form relationships that will attract others to know Christ and live this faith-filled lifestyle, whether or not they ever choose to be a member of your church.
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