August 25, 2013

Church to go

Place an order at a fast food restaurant the order-taker will ask you, “Will that be for here or to go?” That is because a good bit of their business is to people who are in a hurry, going somewhere. If you go to the drive-through lane it is assumed your order is “to go.” They automatically package the order “to go” because you will take it and go.

Long before McDonald’s got the idea of having a “to go” lane, Jesus was already thinking in those terms. He was constantly moving, going, throughout his ministry. He had a home in Capernaum but he wasn’t there much, because he was always on the go.

Even after he was crucified, when the women came to the tomb that early Sunday morning, Jesus was already gone. They found the tomb open and two angels there to tell them Jesus gone ahead to Galilee, and the disciples could find him there.

When they caught up with him at the appointed mountain, they worshiped him. But some of them were hesitant and awkward, not sure what to do or how to act.

There on the mountain, which I believe is Mount Hermon, where Jesus was transfigured a few weeks before as Peter, James, and John watched, Jesus told them, “all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

I cannot help but think of the time, about three years before, when Satan took Jesus to a high mountain to overlook the kingdoms of the world. “All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me,” he had said. Now, as the eleven timidly approach Jesus in worship he has won authority without cutting a deal with the devil. He has conquered the world through the cross and subsequent resurrection.

Jesus then gets to their marching orders. The Greek text reads, “As you are going, make disciples.” Go, as we have it translated in the English texts, is actually an adverbial participle describing the real verb, make disciples. Instead of it being a command to go, it is assumed they will be going. It suggests ongoing movement. The disciple-making process will be accomplished on the go. In other words, church to go. It is as if they went to the drive-through and got their orders to go, to be accomplished on the go.

A process unfolds in Jesus commission. Making disciples involves gathering people into some kind of committed relationship where they learn something; where they are introduced to Jesus Christ. We are told by people who keep up with such things that 60% of new believers started to church because someone invited them to come. They became involved in some kind of learning relationship that introduced them to Jesus.

That in itself means people of faith were out and about, going into the community and into the world and engaging people with kindness and invitation. Jesus followers invite people to meet Jesus, as they are going.

By the way, the same keepers of church statistics also tell us very few come to Jesus because they happened into a church service or saw a television program. It works far better to go to them than it does to use gimmicks and entertainment to lure them to us.

Next in the process is baptizing. Initiating people into covenant with God through Jesus Christ in the grace of the Holy Spirit. At some point after we have invited others to meet Jesus the invited make a conscious decision to follow Christ, to leave their old ways and their old lives, and start fresh in the kingdom. Baptism is the covenant initiation into the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

The folks who measure church health tell us we need to be baptizing into the kingdom at least ten percent of our average worship attendance. So if our average attendance is 300, we need to be reaching enough people to baptize at least 30 adults into following Jesus through active church membership every year. This does not count infant baptisms.

Once these new Jesus-followers baptized into the church, Jesus said to be continually teaching them his commands. A curriculum of word and sacrament, teaching and formation, centered in the Gospel, needs to be implemented. Bible teaching and preaching; observance of sacraments and creeds; of the church; lyrics of hymns and songs and liturgies and prayers; all should resonate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is clear Jesus intended for his disciples-turned-apostles to head to the four corners of the earth with the good news of the kingdom. In fact, the word apostle has as its root the idea of one who is sent on a specific mission. The kingdom advances to redeem a fallen world through the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And go they did. Tradition has it that Andrew wound up in Greece and possibly what is now Russia. James went to Spain, while his brother John journeyed to Ephesus and wound up in the Roman prison at Patmos. Matthew reportedly traveled to Macedonia, Ethiopia, and Persia. Peter itinerated in Turkey before going to Rome where he was crucified. Thomas ventured to India. All of these men gave their lives to gather disciples for Jesus Christ. They went, baptized, and taught.

I am working on the rough draft of an evangelism plan that uses the discipline of the church year, an ancient tradition handed down to us by the early fathers, as a guide for disciple-making on the go in a regular, orderly pattern. Beginning at Pentecost we will hit the streets with targeted, intentional missions designed to gather people into discipleship. We will be on the go, focusing much on what we do outside the church in the community around. Then, beginning with Advent, we plan to tell the Gospel story through the church year as we follow the anticipation, birth, revelation, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus through the seasons and liturgies of the church year. Far from dead ritual, these are living reminders of God’s ongoing story: creation/fall--incarnation--re-creation. Constantly moving, constantly going, constantly advancing. The heart of the effort will be to bring people to baptism and instruction, getting them ready to go.

On that mountain in Galilee Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples – going, baptizing, teaching. He broadened the scope to reach all nations with the good news that God restores through the cross of Jesus and the grace of the Holy Spirit. They went. Now it is our turn. Let us be messengers of that good news. Let’s go!

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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