Where there is no vision, the people perish
(Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
A Meadow Way Chapel that becomes more active in the areas of evangelism and discipleship: On the evangelism front, reaching out to those who are not (yet) saved; and on the discipleship front, being more active in helping those who are saved to become more and more like Jesus ... which is what discipleship is.
So: seeking and bringing the lost; aiming for conversions; growing us all deeper into discipleship. Can you catch and live into that vision?
Please note our use of the word more ... more active. Evangelism and discipleship are not new things being introduced to MW, they are not things that are not already happening at MW, and they are certainly not the only things that should happen in MW or in any church ... the Elders have simply sensed our Lord saying: "These are the things that I want you to focus on in the next stage of your marathon as you (in Paul's metaphor) continue to equip my sheep in their individual journeys towards their finish line.
Evangelism and discipleship: my task this Vision Sunday is to come and give some teaching, based on Scripture, on what these things are; your task is to come as well, which you have ... but please remember that you are invited to our Fellowship Lunch and our Fellowship meeting as well, if you are able. It is for each one of us, throughout Vision Sunday, to listen; right now it is listening to me, but over lunch, please let us all listen to each other, whatever the subject of conversation might be at the table. As Elders we are hoping that you will talk about these things and perhaps my teaching, during the time between 12 noon when we finish here and 2:30pm when our meeting starts. So, listening to each other ... but also listening to the Holy Spirit as He speaks ... often, through the other in our midst, but also as He speaks directly to us in our spirits. In the way our day is planned, the Elders in particular are going to be doing a great deal of listening which will be followed up with discernment as well ... what is the Spirit saying to us as we reflect and meditate on all that is said? Please hear this: we want you to know that it is our desire that you will leave this Vision Sunday knowing that you have been heard.
So, we come, we listen, ... and we respond. What responses are we looking for this Vision Sunday? We want to hear from you and the Spirit your responses to two main questions:
What does it mean to you for MWC to be more evangelistic in 2017?
What does it mean for MWC to embrace discipleship more in 2017?
To put it another way: What do you believe a more evangelistic and discipleship orientated MWC would look like?
We Elders put forward some ideas in this regard a few weeks ago when we indicated our intention to appoint a Welcome Coordinator to ensure that all the different things we do that make people feel welcome at MWC are done even better, in anticipation of our efforts at evangelism bearing the fruit of more visitors to our church on a Sunday(and this is one of the strengths identified by you to me earlier this year when I tried to meet you all in your homes and talk about MW's strengths and weaknesses); we also feel that a MWC more focused on evangelism would have more Alpha courses. There are of course many more suggestions to be made ... that is the response we are looking forward to. Now, there might very well be 100 different excellent responses and in the process of discernment we will look for threads of commonality that will then bind themselves into chords and in turn into the ropes of our evangelistic and discipleship endeavors.
Our understanding and endeavours in evangelism and discipleship must, in all things, be sourced in Scripture because:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Our ideas regarding evangelism and discipleship must arise from and be fully supported by Scripture and not by what we might think. Particularly as Evangelicals we take the following command seriously:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
So we come to the subjects of evangelism and discipleship, and if you've had a chance to read the material I gave you last week, you'll notice that the key verses for these subjects are from the end of Matthew's Gospel in what is called the Great Commission:
Then 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, baptising 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.’
Now, if you look it up, you'll get something like this as a definition of evangelism:
Evangelism is the preaching of the gospel or the practice of giving information about a particular doctrine or set of beliefs to others with the intention of converting others to the Christian faith.
That's really not enough, is it? Evangelism is the proclamation, the telling, the sharing of the truth that Jesus is Lord ... this means so much that there just isn't time to go into, but primarily it means He is master, He is king, He has ultimate authority, He is Messiah, He is Saviour. Evangelism is introducing folk to this Jesus and inviting them to submit to His authority and His way in their lives. Therefore this always begins with a confession and repentance that we have done wrong, sinned, by submitting to other authorities in our lives, we've leaned on our own understanding of how life should be lived; and the good news is that we just have to be sincerely sorry before God, confess our disobedience, express our heartfelt desire to turn from our sin, and believe that He has actually dealt with our sin on the Cross ... that we don't have to do anything other than truly believe that good news ... and He forgives and wipes the slate clean. By a step of faith people enter into the Kingdom of God, in other words the Lordship, the kingship, the authority of God ... this happens by faith alone. When they do this, Jesus, by His Spirit, enters into their hearts and they are born again. Jesus then asks them to submit to baptism in water as an opportunity to display publicly their commitment to Him and their willingness to obey Him.
That is evangelism in the Great Commission: it is the go, teach (well, part of) and baptise part.
Now, later on today, while you can comment on this definition, we want you to bring your thoughts on how we continue to do this, in a way that is relevant to where God has placed us. Our various workers have, in their reports, suggested how they might do this in 2017, now it's your turn to help us see ... vision ... other possibilities. What does it mean to you for MWC to be more evangelistic in 2017?
But there is more to the Great Commission. When you become a Christian, when you are born again, when you are saved ... these things are all a beginning, they mark a change ... things do not remain the same when the creator and King of the Universe takes up residence in your heart. Very soon Donald Trump will take up residence in the White House ... things will not be the same. When Jesus, at your personal invitation, takes up residence in your heart ... things will never be the same again ... that is the discipleship part of the Great Commission.
Once again, you can look up a definition of disciple and you will get something like this;
A disciple is a follower and student of a mentor, teacher, or other figure.
That's a good definition, but it says too little. For a good definition of disciple we must go to the Bible more than to contemporary writers because as you will have seen from the material I gave you last week, contemporary evangelicalism is and has been in decline for a long time.
What is a disciple in the Bible at the time of Jesus? A disciple was someone who was attracted to a particular teacher (rabbi) and who wanted to be like the teacher. Disciples want to be like their teacher, they copy and emulate their teacher. The teacher taught by example, equipped and then sent out, but on the condition the follower/student return and report back ... where there was assessment, affirmation, correction and rebuke ... in other words ... accountability. We see this principle at work in the record of Jesus and the 12, Jesus and the 72, Paul and the leaders of the churches he planted, John and the churches in Revelation; Paul and some of his more personal relationships with Timothy and Philemon. In all these we see that there is the element of accountability ... and it is that element that has been lost in modern Western Christianity. Let me give you an example of how discipleship works: We come here on a Sunday ... last Sunday, for example, and we hear a sermon (from David) which, all folk I've spoken to agree, really challenged us on several fronts. In a discipleship culture, some would meet and say "Wow, I was really challenged on Sunday." Another would hopefully say: "How were you challenged and how is it going to change your behaviour from now?" "He asked when last I did something for God outside of my comfort zone and I realised I haven't for quite some time. I'm doing things I've been comfortable doing for a long time." "What do you think God might be calling you to do now and are you prepared to do it? Do you need some help or teaching? Can we/I ask you next week how it's progressing in this area?"
Discipleship is the environment where we are held accountable to let the challenges become life changing opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Satan doesn't mind if we're challenged by good preaching, but he shudders when we create environments where we become accountable to taking up the challenges ... because it is then and only then that the Kingdom of God advances because the Word is being preached and obedience encouraged.
Jesus told the people who had faith in him, “If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples." John 7:16
So discipleship in the Bible encourages and therefore develops obedience, which, as any of us who have walked for a long time in the Christian walk know, doesn't come naturally.
There's more to say, but this is too important to be left out. Jesus says:
...go and make disciples...
Disciples make disciples. Pastors don't make disciples ... lead elders don't make disciples ... elders don't make disciples ... good preachers don't make disciples.... home group leaders don't make disciples! Disciples make disciples.
None of the above people save ... only Jesus saves. Disciples don't save, only Jesus saves! But only disciples make disciples, which is why Jesus says to His disciples: ...go and make disciples...
Last thing on NT discipleship: Disciples say, with Paul:
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)
So, discipleship, like evangelism, is intentional ... it doesn't just happen naturally in evangelized people. It is intentional ... it doesn't naturally just happen in home groups or any other groups in a church. It is intentional: evangelised folk reach a point where they want to become more like Jesus; discipled folk in the church and in all humility offer themselves as living sacrifices and say Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ and then a group of 12 or so like minded folk walk together and become disciples.
What does it mean for MWC to embrace discipleship more in 2017?
Let us pray.