Each month we’ll be hearing from one of our Regional Ministers, to encourage us along the way as we continue empowering missional disciples in our communities across the West of England.
The pandemic has highlighted a whole number of things for the church across the UK, not least our strengths and weaknesses. I concur with Gavin Calver’s article, published in the Times 29.01.2022, when he says: ‘It’s woken so many of us up to what’s possible, who we should be among and why it is that we exist’.
Why do we exist as a network of churches? is a question we ask and reflect on regularly as a regional ministry team. My best answer is Empowering Missional Disciples.
Pre-pandemic we would never have argued this would not be among our priorities, but as we (hopefully this time) emerge out of the disruption and dislocation of the last two years, we must recognise that if we are not making this our number one priority, we shall continue to decline. I’m not talking about either reaching new people to become new disciples or growing existing people towards maturity ‘in Christ’, I’m seeing ‘making disciples’, as both/and. For that we need a church whose very environment nurtures people as followers of Jesus Christ. New ones, old ones, all of us together.
The climax of Matthew’s gospel records Jesus’ final commission to his disciples, we’ve come to call the great commission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matthew 28:18-20
These words form a bridge between the discipling role which Jesus had performed among his closest twelve disciples and their future role. Jesus proclaimed that the ultimate authority was his. In the light of this truth, he commissioned his disciples for their task of making disciples. The verb make disciples is in the imperative and it is the main verb of the sentence. Their calling and the task of the church was to make disciples. They were to make others into what they were themselves. These would not be their own disciples, but as they would continue to be themselves, disciples of Jesus. Others would freely choose to come under the authority of Jesus who had promised to be with them always. He would become their Lord, as well. The same Jesus Christ, and the twelve literally following by walking, talking and eating with, day in, day out. People like you and I stand in the wake and place of subsequent blessing as a result.
Empowering? Surely only God can do this? Exactly. We (the church across the UK) are in desperate need of a fresh spiritual renewal. As I read our recent history, I regard the church is at its lowest spiritual ebb for over a century. I was reflecting on something Augustine famously said recently: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” In my heart I am passionate for empowering others to live for Jesus and yet it is the one thing I can contribute to the least.
My conclusions: For myself: without you I am nothing, with you everything is possible.
For the church: without you we are a banging gong, with you we are God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
Throughout our history, as Baptists, we have taken individual, personal responsibility seriously and what is known as the Declaration of Principle, a form of words introduced initially in 1873, is rooted in the great commission, reflecting authority, baptism and personal evangelism. Regarding the latter: That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.
Missional? The discipling process Jesus modelled for his first disciples was centrifugal in focus. To make disciples of all nations it had to be. We’re all sent out. Called to be going out from the community of God’s people in service and mission to the world. It does not focus on personal growth for its own achievement, but in looking outward and serving others finds personal growth as a by-product. Now there’s a thought!
Disciples? To achieve an impossible goal requires everyone on board. Every Christian is called to be a participant. I loved the idea of calling a Christian conference Sentralized (sadly the ‘Z’ gives it away – the Americans thought of it, not us) because it emphasises precisely who’s called to the mission of God. Every one of us. Every disciple of Jesus is, by definition, one sent by God, as part of his great missional movement to a world of people. As then, so now.
With love in Jesus’ name
Regional Team Leader