Rector's Reflections - 19 April

Rector’s Reflections   

Friday 19th April 2024

21st Century Church: Mission, Evangelism, Discipleship

Over the last two weeks, I have been sharing some reflections on three words which are at the heart of current thinking about the nature and activity of the Church: Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship.  These three words dominate contemporary thinking about the Church, at least within the Church of England. However, as we have seen, there are other ways of looking at Church life as well,  and these retain their validity. For example, we can see Church life in terms of sharing in the life of the Risen Lord Jesus through the Sacraments, or we might focus on furthering the Kingdom of God, remembering Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:  “strive first for the Kingdom of God”.

So what might one say by way of conclusion? Here are three personal reflections.

To start with, I think the priority is to ask ourselves the following question : how are we focussing on God, as He has revealed himself to us through His Son Jesus Christ?  What is God saying to us in our particular context?  Are we actually listening to God, or simply following someone else’s agenda in the hope that this will magically fill our pews with a new generation of eager Christians?

My second thought follows on from this. I don’t think merely listening to God is enough. We need to surrender ourselves to God’s leading, and be prepared to go where God wants to take us. This might be in accordance with our well-laid plans, but it might not be. The Church belongs to God, not to us. We need to let God work in and through his Church.  So often, we are too frightened to let this happen. We want the Church to be what we want it to be. We want it to remain more or less the same. But  what if God wishes to transform the Church into something quite different?  What if God wants to release His Church from the shackles of power, wealth and pride?

Finally, I think we need to look honestly at our own lives as Christians. One problem with “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship” is  that it tends to be all about what we need to do to other people, so that others can become Christians and better Christians at that.  But surely “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship” needs to begin with ourselves. How are we committing our lives to Jesus?  How are we growing in our own discipleship?  Looking with compassion and honesty at our own Christian lives will give us the insight and humility we need to help others in their own spiritual lives.

I would add that I think the most effective “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship”  is not something we do  to other people, however gifted we are and however well-resourced. It is something we do with other people. I believe that the best “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship” is as much about receiving as it is about giving – it is as much about listening to what others have to say, as it is about telling others about Jesus.

In sum, I think the key focus for the 21st Century Church should be on God Himself, as he has revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ. What is God saying to us in our particular time and context?  That’s the question we should be thinking and praying about. Whether we use phrases such as “Mission, Evangelism and Discipleship” is actually neither here nor there. What matters is whether  we are truly focussed on God, and willing to serve Him with all our heart and soul and mind.

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