And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”
Not only did Jesus issue an invitation to people to follow Him, but He also invited them to become His disciples. He chose and discipled 12, and they were changed. They went out, and as they disciple others, the world was changed. Like the miracle at Canaan, when He turned the water into wine, Jesus could have chosen many ways to do this, but He chose to extend an invitation to people to participate in the miracle. The servants had to fill the jar, which would have taken some time, a slow, labour-intensive process that required the participation of the servants for the miracle to take place. Was Jesus establishing a pattern here? He didn’t have to use the servants, but He did. And Jesus chose the slow, at times painful, messy process of discipleship to advance the Kingdom here on earth, a process that requires active participation by all those who have accepted the invitation to follow Him. He trained His followers to live the way He lived.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to make disciples who are capable of and determined to make more, to transform the world into the Kingdom. In this area of discipleship, the Church is failing.
“I think it is fair to say that in the Western Church, we have by and large lost the art of disciple-making. We have done so partly because we have reduced it to the intellectual assimilation of ideas, partly because of the abiding impact of cultural Christianity embedded in the Christendom understanding of the Church, and partly because of the phenomenon of consumerism in our own day pushes against a true following of Jesus.” (Hirsch, 2016)
We have neglected the five-fold ministry and reduced it down to two. We are great at coming up with mission statements such as “From Maintenance to Missional” or putting titles on our sermons like “Evangelise or Fossilise”, and as inspiring as they are, we leave our pews and put them on the back burner and ask of each other, “who is preaching next week?” With the major cultural changes in today’s world, expanding secularisation in the west and postmodern doctrine means that the Church has to rethink evangelism.
During the summer, I hit the streets of Youghal to enquire of people their thoughts on Church, and now armed with some extra questions courtesy of “Forge Ireland”, it was time to do it again. The response from unbelievers is that God was an excellent idea, yet a myth created many thousands of years ago. A sadist who actually enjoys pain and suffering. Religion is just a concept with no belief in an afterlife. Heaven and hell were made up concepts to control an unruly society. Yet most said it would be fantastic if it were true. As for spirituality, all for it in whatever form it takes. Some did believe that there was something out there far greater than any of us but had no idea what it was.
On Church, each to their own, a nice place, a hypocritical place. To those who believed in God but didn’t go to Church, I was taken back by the most common answer, “I am not worthy enough” I wouldn’t be as holy as they are”!
To sum up, this exercise, if one is to spend a couple of minutes talking to anyone not professing a Christian faith, I believe they will hear a list of complaints they have about Christians. I think this problem has been around for some time now. Was Mahatma Gandhi alone when he sadly said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”.
And I would tend to agree with Gandhi in what he said. We Christians are slow to reflect the life of Jesus outside of our church walls and at times deserve the criticism that comes our way from non-believers.
It is time for the Church to take a time out and re-evaluate its mission and ask of itself some tough questions, questions such as “what exactly is the message that we are putting across and want people to understand?”. And other questions such as, “are we fulfilling the great commission? are we reflecting the life of Jesus in our community” and answering them with honesty. Do we know the community in which we profess to serve? Do we know the poor? The sick? The lonely? The widow? The orphan? The prisoner? Perhaps we are unwilling to take up our cross and follow Him?
“We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy of the Church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” (Claiborne, 2016)
We must realise that “Christ died for all” (2 Cor 5) and that the gospel is the good news for everyone. We must come to understand that as followers of Jesus is 24/7, that we reflect Him wherever we are, not just for the 1 hour on a Sunday. People crave community, they enjoy singing with others and want to talk about morality; unfortunately, many want to leave God out of it and is bringing about the opening of more and more “Atheist” churches, “Beyonce Mass”, etc., which had all the trappings of a religious service. One reverend is quoted as saying,” Beyonce is a better theologian than many pastors and priests in our Church today”, or as one response to the question I put replied, “Take the manufactured religion out of it, and some would happily attend for the purpose of giving thanks and to sing along.”
Back to the great commission.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nation, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” Matthew 28:19-20
When Jesus spoke these words, the Roman Empire was in charge, yet by their lifestyle, the followers of Jesus (who became known as the Way) started to draw people into a better way of life by their lifestyle. Never once did they force change. It did not meet power with power; it responded to power with humility, grace and love. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I, too, lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:16-23)
Jesus took the same approach to Nicodemus; he talked about being born again, to the woman at the well, He spoke about living water. Jesus was adaptable, and Paul followed this example. Both did not have a rigid evangelistic method that was used in every situation. Paul didn’t take those new converts out from where they were; Jesus told the man who was possessed to go home to his own people and tell them how much the Lord had done for him. They preached the good news, disciple them, baptised them and then left it to the Holy Spirit in them to empower them to live their faith where they were.
On a recent trip home, I decided to go to an elderly neighbour’s weekly (roman catholic prayer meeting. I intentionally arrived late (and found myself the only man in a group of elderly women) as I was well aware the rosary would be said. However, it had not started by the time I arrived. Halfway through, I found a set of rosary beads being shoved into my hands and asked for an intention for the last decade. After the rosary, the homily from a local priest was read, which was on Bartimaeus. I was invited to share my thoughts and spent some time answering the many questions that were being asked. I left that place understanding what Paul had written to the Corinthians in that passage.
“If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the west, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing Kingdom of God.” (Hirsch, 2016)
With the Covid 19 pandemic, we have been handed another opportunity to close the gap between the world and the Church. The closure of the Church has led churches to explore new ways of staying open, and many have resisted. If all that we have learnt during this period is how to live stream services and online banking for our tithes will lose this opportune and decisive moment. This pandemic has shown us that the Church does not live within its buildings but within the people of God, who, through the Holy Spirit, long to reflect Jesus in the world. Some things in us have to die or be killed off in order to move forward so that we create room for something new to grow.
“Death is a necessary prelude to resurrection. To bear long-term fruit for Christ, we need to recognise that some things must die so something new can grow.” (Scazzero, 2015)
Jesus showed us how to do Church, and that is among the people. In undertaking this task, I have been challenged to get out more among the people, to find those areas of East Cork & West Waterford, to where Jesus would go (and I doubt it would be to any church building) and be a practical example of the gospel.
“In a postmodern world, people don’t want to know out truths until they have had a glimpse of our heart. It is love that changes everything: God’s love in sending His son; the love of Christ in His death and resurrection. In a world which is cynical, truth has to be bumped into” (Singlehurst, 2006)
We are called to represent Jesus and can do much better; let us remind ourselves daily that we are a sent people sent by Jesus to be a blessing to our communities, and the heart of it all is “Jesus is Lord” and be sure that He is with us always.
“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” (Chan, 2008)
God is moving in new, creative way to enlarge His Kingdom here. The Church is dead; long live the Church.