Connecting Evangelism and Discipleship
One of the bigger conflicts within any ministry of any size comes between the people representing church health (sometimes called discipleship) and those representing new church growth (sometimes called evangelism). Sometimes these conflicts hide under the guise of young vs old, and often things like worship music get dragged into this fight. If you’ve been in a church for more than a year, you’ve probably observed and perhaps participated in this conflict. Let’s be honest though… unless it is purely an issue of people fighting over personal preferences, the root of this problem lies in the value of care and discipling the church family and the value of care for the lost and those outside the family of faith.
The reason we struggle actually saying and believing that we can just do both is that we have a limited amount of resources. In bigger arenas we may squabble over money. I think the more subtle, yet prevalent conflicts arise over things like time, energy focus, sometimes even prayer.
How do we spend our time? If we have approximately 1 hour a week with most of our people on Sunday morning, how much of it is spent on discipleship and how much on evangelism? When we make plans with our property, do we do it for the sake of evangelism or discipleship… or perhaps neither one? When we pray, do we spend the majority of our time praying for the lost or praying for those who are already Christians? Some of these questions may seem silly, until you try flipping the priorities. What happens when you make getting your entire class to accept Christ as Lord and Savior the main purpose of your Sunday School lesson? Does it feel weird and out-of-place? What about doing an alter call, not for salvation, but as a call to tithe?
We fight among ourselves and sometimes within ourselves trying to put discipleship and evangelism in their appropriate boxes, but we rarely stay settled. One always seems to take the lead and the other gets put on the shelf. It doesn’t work… and it won’t work, because these two aspects of ministry were made to flow together.
You need Kingdom vision of a discipleship system. No, you don’t have to be an engineer to figure this out. You need to be a team player that understands how your own ministry affects the ministry of the others within your church. I think of it as a relay race (the way Hebrews may have described the Christian faith) where the two most important tasks a runner has is to:
- Run well
- Make good handoffs
Running well means knowing yourself and pushing yourself to the best of your abilities. Making good handoffs means knowing your partner and communicating well. You may think that this means the team that keeps their eyes on each other would make the best handoffs. This is not the case. Good handoffs involve cheering each other on, to be sure, but soon after the first runner heads off, the second runner gets into place and stops watching the other runners. They ready themselves and wait for the first runner to shout go, before the handoff so that the baton is passed between two runners going at full speed. The team that drop the batons suddenly into the laps of their teammates and then says go will lose every time because the momentum is lost. In a counterintuitive fashion, the team that wins follows their teammates words, not their actions, because they have trust that their actions will follow their words. They trust their teammates to tell them how to start their own race.
Discipleship and Evangelism were meant to work this way. Across the United Methodist Connection, and other denominations that practice Connection, churches young and old, can find ways to pass the baton to one another. In order to do this, both kinds of ministries must learn to make decisions for the purpose of the Kingdom and not merely their own survival. Older churches fear closing and younger churches fear never becoming self-sufficient, and both are legitimate fears, but we are not called to live by fear… we live by faith. We do not build trust by carefully screening our teammates, but by being trust-worthy ourselves.
So, part three of what I’ve been up to: I have been encouraging connection between the discipleship parts of our conference and the New Church Development work I have been doing. It has been a blessing to see how well-received that encouragement has been and watching those ministries team up together to help struggling churches find new opportunities for spiritual life and growth in their own communities. We are stronger, no only standing together, but working together in service to God.