Some years ago in a Church I attended, I inadvertently caused offence when I said the Church should examine all of the outward-facing activities that we engaged in as a Church, and be prepared to ask ourselves in what way those activities could be said to fulfil the Great Commission. I went on to say that if those outward-facing activities did not fulfil the Great Commission in some way, we should review those activities very carefully and seek to make some changes.
Let me be clear – I was not in any way trying to devalue, undermine or diminish the work and efforts of all the volunteers involved in those groups. I was seeking to encourage people to reflect upon WHY we do WHAT we do because it is all too easy for a Church to be so focussed on the ‘doing’ that we lose sight of the ‘being’ – our purpose and mandate. I also believe that there must surely be a difference between a secular organisation and a Church involved in similar activities? Yes, a social Gospel may have a social focus, but it is still the Gospel, nonetheless! When Jesus encountered people in his earthly ministry, he frequently said: “go and sin no more” and that relates to a life being changed and transformed.
For us as a Church, is not about us simply doing things for others for moral or ethical reasons, or to satisfy some socio-political values, as important as they might be. For me, there are two key words which help bring insight and perspective: intentionality and discipleship. Any Church should be intentional about what it does and why, have pathways of discipleship through provision of nurture courses like the Start! Course, the Alpha Course, Christianity Explored or Pilgrim, and through provision of house groups. We may “disciple” one other but have the privilege and often the opportunity to disciple those at the fringe of Church. Discipleship involves us seeking to follow Jesus and knowing change and transformation in our lives. Discipleship involves us being of one mind, living in peace, loving one another, encouraging one another and being restored to all that we are created to be in Christ. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
All of us are called to engage in mission; taking advantage of all opportunities to make God known, sharing the Good News, and giving an account of the hope that we profess. One of the most compelling things I have heard is when a number of you shared your testimony – how you came to faith and what difference God being in your life makes. It was inspiring, encouraging and humbling. We have opportunities to share in the conversations we have with family, friends, neighbours, and people we might meet in our community; and I know that many of you have exactly those kinds of conversation. It can also involve the way we engage with social media and as a Church have a “social presence”. It can involve the opportunities we have to share the Gospel at school through acts of Christian worship, teaching and prayer. It can involve how we live and demonstrate those Kingdom values at our places of work. Let us remind ourselves that the Gospel is God’s power to save all who believe (Romans 1:16; 10:13). Thank God for that.
We do this because as we draw closer to God, we are constantly reminded of what for me is central to the Gospel – the astonishing love he has for us, a love that is beyond measure and have a growing awareness of the fullness of his grace all demonstrated by Jesus Christ. We are invited to love God and to love our neighbour (Matthew 22:33-40). In loving God, we quite naturally would want follow Jesus, to walk in his footsteps and obey Him and to bring him glory. In loving our neighbour, we would want to show compassion and invite them to share the love that we know, and the hope that we profess. It is healthy for us to reflect on who our neighbour is, since the context suggests not simply the person who happens to live next door but the wider people in our community, society, and nation. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8b)
The Anglican priest and missionary Henry Martyn said “The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” I recently mentioned the 3 P’s: Prayer, Presence, and Proclamation. In general, churches tend to be reasonably ok at prayer, and often have an established presence. A frequent challenge is to consider in what ways we have an opportunity to proclaim the Good News and become “more intensely missionary”. In this it is helpful to turn once again to the words of the Great Commission “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not alone. Not only do we have each other, warts and all, but Jesus himself has promised to be with us always, to the very end of the age and all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Let us be prepared with intentionality and purpose to prayerfully reflect upon WHY we do WHAT we do too and pray earnestly for people we might know on the fringe to have opportunities to become disciples and know the fullness of God’s love.