Rector's Reflections - 18 April

Rector’s Reflections 

Thursday 17th April 2024

21st Century Church: Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship

In the current series of reflections, I have been considering three ideas which lie at the heart of current thinking about the nature and activity of the Church : Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship.  There is much to be said for focussing on these three activities, but at the same time there are many other ways of looking at the Church. We have looked at three  of these different approaches, and in today’s reflections I wish to share some thoughts on one further approach: the approach which sees Church life in terms of furthering the Kingdom of God. 

According to the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Kingdom of God was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. You may remember the following passage in chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent , and believe in the good news”.  In the course of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to “strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew, chapter 6, verse 33).  And at the start of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us that after His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles for forty days, during which he was “speaking about the Kingdom of God”.

The Kingdom of God clearly mattered to Jesus. He did not tell his followers to “strive first for Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship”. He told them “to strive first the Kingdom of God”. If the focus on the Kingdom was good enough for Jesus, why isn’t it good enough for His Church?

Of course, there are is an argument for saying that “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship”  is simply another way of talking about “the Kingdom of God”. But is this actually the case?  The Kingdom of God is about recognising, celebrating and furthering the reign and rule of God.  In practice, the aim of much “missional” and “evangelistic” activity  in the contemporary Church is to try and get more people to attend church services and so to grow the congregations.   “Mission” and “Evangelism” have been equated with a strategy for growing the Church in numerical terms, and “Discipleship” has been equated with a strategy for growing the Church in terms of the faith and commitment of individual Christians.  Of course, bigger and more committed congregations mean more volunteers to run the church, and more money to pay the bills. Both results are highly desirable. But striving for bigger congregations is not the same as striving for the Kingdom of God. Building the Kingdom of God is not limited to what goes on within the walls of a Church building. The Kingdom of God extends to every aspect of the life of our communities and our world.

So where does this leave us in terms of thinking about the priorities for the contemporary Church?  There is clearly much to be said for focusing on “Mission, Evangelism, and Discipleship”.  However, there is also much to be said for other approaches to Church life, which, while unfashionable, are equally scriptural and equally effective in ensuring healthy and growing church communities. I will share some final thoughts on all this in tomorrow’ reflections, which will bring the current series to an end.


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