The Wake-Up Call
This is the second consecutive year we see a decline in our church worship attendance. All pastors and delegates were impressed with this undesirable trend during the 2019 Annual Conference. Those who are sceptical of statistics tend to give all sorts of explanation merely to tell themselves that we are still doing fine. Yet there are others in a jitter with the worrying figures, frantically thinking of new methods to increase the numbers without looking at the root cause of such decline. Neither way is helpful.
The dipping graph should not be a surprise if we had examined the statistics for the past decade in more depth. Over the years, many pastors and leaders have barely been able to cope with the suffocation from the so many program-driven activities to attract new people and keep old members. If we still slumber on with the present status quo, we will face an inevitable impending crisis. Is this not a wake-up call?
In Partnership with God’s Mission
Have we ever wondered why advocating ‘The Church after God’s Own Heart’ for the past few years has not translated into church growth? How many of us have since shifted our mindset to God’s mission? Many sermons have been preached on the Great Commission. However, from our annual reports, the evidence of ‘after God’s own heart’ and disciple making according to Matt. 28:18-20 is not convincing enough.
The pressing question now is not “How do we grow our church?” Our primary quest should rather be how we embrace God’s mission as our mission. God is on a mission and our church is called to join Him. In other words, the mission is not ours; it is Missio Dei, the ‘Mission of God’ or the ‘sending of God,’ and we are called to be in partnership with Him. The Missio Dei is redemptive for the world. Have we been missing God’s mandate?
The church is the community of God’s people called out from the world and sent into the world as the disciples of Christ. The missional church is an expression of God’s heart. In the missional church, the people of God, partnering with God, is on a redemptive mission in the world.
We are Jesus’ disciples when we respond to His calling ‘Come, follow me.’ It is the responsibility of the church to develop followers of Christ, not members of an institution. We should also be transformed into missionaries, not merely encouraged to be faithful church goers. As Christ’s followers, we should be missional disciples. Philip Meadow stated during the recent Wesleyan Seminar that “Missional Discipleship means following Jesus, in the power of His Spirit, as whole-life disciples and everyday missionaries. We become more like Jesus by abiding deeply in God and living missionally in the world.”
Becoming A Whole-Life Disciple
A disciple is one who aspires to become and live like Christ. Discipleship is a lifestyle and a process of spiritual growth. It should be a life transforming journey aiming at being ‘fully mature in Christ’ (Col.1:28).
As Christ’s disciples, maturity in Christ means Christlikeness. It does not equate to church attendance or church activities, bible knowledge, spiritual zeal or giftedness. It is rooted in obedience to the word of God. Paul further emphasized the evidences of spiritual maturity in Col. 2:6-8 in terms of our walk with God, our gratitude towards Him and our spiritual stability. We must guard against the appealing ideologies of this era which has infiltrated our church and lured many towards spiritual compromise and complacency.
We must live as whole-life disciples. It means every day, in every aspect, in every circumstance, in every calling, in all our ways with all our heart. The sacred-secular dichotomy should not exist. Therefore, spiritual formation and discipleship are to be woven into the fabric of everyday living with an emphasis on the Great Commandment.
There is no short cut in whole-life discipleship. The Board of Laity has been encouraging everyone to cultivate the spiritual discipline of daily devotion. We recommend Daily Living Water because of its effective inductive approach. Besides, everyone needs a spiritual community. The best way in building discipleship is through small groups where disciples come together regularly to explore their faith and encourage one another in their discipleship journey. It must be relational. Is it not Jesus’ model? It is Wesleyan too. It is time to re-examine the frequently asked question: With all our efforts in running various courses and programs, why aren’t we producing the expected disciples?
‘Whole-life disciple’ and disciple maker as an ‘everyday missionary’ are one and the same identity. The former is the being and the latter, the doing, and it must be in that order.
Witnessing as Everyday Missionary
As Christ’s disciple, one cannot dislocate evangelism or disciple making from discipleship. A disciple also witnesses and serves through his character and life. We know only too well our shortcomings in committing “The Great Omission” as opposed to our obligations under The Great Commission.
Our overemphasis on the institutional expressions of the church in terms of buildings, attendance, activities and offerings have obscured our focus on God’s mission. It is not that these are irrelevant. We must understand that a church is not a building or a vendor of religious goods and services. A church is a faith community to belong to, a family to be part of, bringing the kingdom of God into a lost world. It is time for us to reverse the entrenched mind-set that the church exists primarily for church members rather than for the community. As Christ’s disciples, we are sent into the world on His mission. We are called to be everyday missionaries!
Church is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who.’ As we describe the church in terms of people, a missional church is characterized by its organic expressions. This means wherever missional disciples are, the church is. There our mission field is, be it at home, at school, at workplace, in the neighbourhood, at the park, at the hospital or at the airport. Taking family as a context for evangelism, parents are the first missionaries and the living Gospel examples our children observe every day.
A missional activist points out that, “Every disciple is to be an agent of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God unto every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.”
The Needed Missional Shift
How shall we reboot our ministry after God’s own heart? Reggie McNeal, in his book Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, stated the three shifts, both in our thinking and in our behaviour: From internal to external in terms of ministry focus, from program development to people development in terms of core activity and from church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda.
As a church, we need to recapture the Mission of God as the mission of our church. We hope to exhibit the missional experience in our transition as we reset our compass. How shall we move on from here after the wake-up call?
In fact, our President in his address during the 2019 Annual Conference has provided the answer. Fundamentally, we must hold on to the Sufficiency and Jurisdiction of Scripture. We need to revamp our Church Discipleship and initiate the neglected Family Discipleship. Church and family are the two contexts which God created for the expansion of His kingdom. We must connect the two effectively.
We shall not just be advocating “The Church After God’s Own Heart” and “The Family After God’s Own Heart.” We must be practitioners in partnership with Him. God is on mission and we are called as His agents and instruments. Are you willing to be a part of it?