The challenge of evangelization for today’s congregations
There is a cartoon that depicts a pastor at the church door motioning to someone passing by, saying “Come on in.” The bystander replies: “Come on out!” For too long the church has been pre-occupied with trying to find ways to get unchurched people in the front door of the church. The new paradigm shift is to go where the people are! It is to send out legions of disciples from our communities of faith to serve as front line missionaries and share the good news of Jesus.
In his book Borderland Churches: A Congregational Guide to Missional Living, Gary Nelson offers his vision of the church as a borderland people — living out their faith in the world as the “sent” people of God. He writes: “The borderland church understands that it is primarily a missional community of people being trained and equipped to live among the world as missionaries. Borderland Christians see their primary role as missionaries.”
This is in some ways the task of evangelization that precedes an invitation to join a particular faith community or congregation. The church is sent out into the world to partner in God’s mission of healing and redemption. Members of the faith community are called to engage their colleagues in the workplace and friends in the neighborhood while embodying a Christ-like spirit in their encounters with others. Some call this relational evangelism — naturally sharing one’s faith in word and deed with others.
The new paradigm for the church today is really a return to the Book of Acts where we understand that:
* Every member is a missionary.
* Every pastor is a mission director.
* Every congregation is a mission training center.
It is hoped that when those who are unchurched — perhaps spiritual seekers themselves — come in contact with these modern-day disciples and missionaries from borderland congregations, they will encounter the Risen Christ and a graceful God they may not even know they have yearned for. This becomes a pregnant moment when the invitation from congregants to “come and see” may be most compelling.
And how do these modern evangelists then invite the newcomer to experience an encounter with the Living Christ in our midst? It is here that the ancient/future model of faith formation called the catechumenate needs to be reclaimed as a gift from the early church. In the early centuries of the Christian church, as the faith spread rapidly, it was a four-fold movement — including scripture reflection and worship rituals — designed to prepare adults for the rite of initiation into the church (baptism).
Living as disciples
Today the catechumenal process has been expanded to include those within the community of faith who also yearn to go deeper in their faith walk and learn more about baptismal living — living in the covenant of God’s baptismal promise. In this post-denominational age, many pastors are discovering that more people are coming to church with little or no understanding of the Lutheran tradition. So those new to the Christian faith, as well as those new to a particular faith tradition, are invited to join together in a spiritual journey of making and becoming disciples of Jesus in today’s world.
Congregations that are serious about partnering with God in God’s mission of healing and redemption in the world are encouraged to make the paradigm shift from membership to discipleship. It is no longer enough to add members to our parish rolls, but rather to help nurture and empower disciples to serve as ministers in everyday life. This is what will make an impact in our communities and the larger world.
This is where the catechumenate can prove to be an invaluable tool. It is not just another adult education program, but rather an intentional process of discipling people in the faith so they can more fully live out the promises of baptism in their daily lives and relationships.
Discipleship training to come to the Twin Cities in May
The North American Association for the Catechumenate (NAAC) is an ecumenical organization dedicated to providing training and faith formation resources for congregations in the United States and Canada. In 2012, NAAC will offer four regional training events for pastors, seminarians, parish educators, and worship leaders, including one at the Oak Ridge Conference Center in the Minneapolis area May 18-20.
Jessicah Duckworth from Luther Seminary and Rick Rouse, Grand Canyon Synod ELCA staffperson are among the speakers. Music is provided by Tom Witt and Mary Preus of Bread for the Journey.
For registration and scholarship information, visit the NAAC website at www.catechumenate.org.
Tags: baptismal promise, Book of Acts, Borderland Churches, Bread for the Journey, catechumenal process, catechumenate, discipleship, disciplines, ELCA, Gary Nelson, Grand Canyon Synod, Jessicah Duckworth, Luther Seminary, Mary Preus, mission director, mission training center, missional community, missionaries, NAAC, North American Association for the Catechumenate, relational evangelism, Rick Rouse, seekers, Tom Witt, unchurched