Rector's Reflections - 12 April

Rector’s Reflections    

Friday 12th April 2024

21st Century Church: Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship

Over the last few days, we have been considering three words which are generally considered to be at the heart of the contemporary Church : Mission, Evangelism, and Discipleship.  There is no agreement as to what these words actually mean, but they are nonetheless in general use, especially among Church leaders.  They are often used to judge the health of a particular Church community: does the Church community engage in mission?  Does it do evangelism? Does it grow disciples?

There are certainly pros to this approach; there are cons as well, but today I will consider the advantages of the contemporary focus on Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship.

The first advantage is that it helps a Church community to prioritise its activities.  Time and resources are always limited, so the time and resources available within a Church community need to be focussed on what is most important.   We might agree or disagree as to whether Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship should be the number one criteria by which everything else is being judged, but at least they constitute a widely-used yardstick which a Church community can use to assess its own activity.  It helps a Church to reflect, and that’s a good thing.

The second advantage is that it encourages a spirit of accountability. Church communities can sometimes assume that they are world unto themselves, and are accountable to no one other than God. This is an unhelpful attitude, which can both encourage arrogance and also lead to irrelevance. Focussing on Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship reminds an individual Church congregation that it is accountable to the wider community in which it is placed, and that it is also accountable to the Church as a whole.

Finally, the focus on Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship provides a useful health-check on the spiritual well-being of a Church community. There are several spiritual diseases which can harm and even kill a Church community, and the sooner they are detected, the sooner remedial action can be taken. 

Many Church of England congregations assume that people should simply come to a Church service held in the Church building. Sometimes people do indeed come along  to the Church, of their own initiative or because they have seen some publicity. But how about the idea of the Church going out to where people are? How about the idea that the Church should go to the people, rather than waiting in hope for the people to come to the Church?  This spiritual disease is countered by thinking seriously about the need to be engaged in Mission. It’s about looking outwards rather than inwards.

Another spiritual disease is our reluctance to talk to others about Jesus. We are so hesitant about sharing the Good News , even in a Church context. So it is good for us to think seriously about Evangelism. Of course, Evangelism can be done in many different ways. It doesn’t mean that we have to spend our time asking people probing questions about the state of their soul- although perhaps we would all be much the better if we did.

And finally there is the classic disease of contemporary Anglicanism. It is often assumed that Christianity is basically about going to church on a Sunday, and the more people who attend, the more successful the church.  Attending public worship is important, but surely as if not more important is the way we put Christian teaching into practice in our everyday lives. Are we trying to live Christian lives? Hence the newfound emphasis on Discipleship.

So there is much to be said for the contemporary emphasis on Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship. However, this approach is not without its drawbacks, and we will consider some of these in next week’s reflections.



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