Ernest Boyer, in his book Finding God at Home, describes an event at which Mother Teresa was speaking to persons from all over the world who had come to meet her. Among them was a group of nuns from many of the North American religious orders. After Mother Teresa had finished, she asked if there were any questions.
“Yes, I have one,” a woman sitting near the front said. “As you know, most of the orders represented here have been losing members. It seems that more and more women are leaving all the time. And yet your order is attracting thousands upon thousands. What do you do?”
Without hesitating, Mother Teresa answered, “I give them Jesus.”
“Yes, I know,” said the woman. “But take habits, for example. Do your women object to wearing habits? And the rules of the order—how do you do it?”
“I give them Jesus,” Mother Teresa replied.
“Yes, I know, Mother,” said the woman, “but can you be more specific?”
“I give them Jesus,” Mother Teresa repeated.
“Mother,” said the woman, “we are all aware of your fine work. I want to know about something else.”
Mother Teresa said quietly, “I give them Jesus. There is nothing else.”
What does the church have to offer that the world can’t find anywhere else?
All we have is Jesus.
“Confidence in the Gospel”
Rev.Dr. Gary Nicolosi
Ed Stetzer, the President of Lifeway Research and a lifelong student of the mission of the church, says that one of the critical issues that the church is going to have to face as the 21st century unfolds is what he calls our “confidence in the Gospel.” The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans said that he was “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation” (1:16). The clarity and simplicity of this declaration by Paul of his absolute confidence in the Gospel stands in stark contrast to what the church says and does today. Derek Tiball, the former Principal of the London School of Theology, back in 2010 observed –
“Judging by the way the church in England behaves, we just don’t have much confidence in the Gospel.”
“I have been, over the years, to many conferences on evangelism that have reduced evangelism to marketing and suggested that, if we only get the right language, the right strapline, the right sound bite, the right techniques – if only we can tap enough into the culture, then of course it will be obvious, everyone will see the truth of the gospel and come to believe. But it doesn’t work like that. We are not selling cars or soap powder.”
“We very often want to keep the gospel back and to hook people by other messages first. But the plain, simple steady teaching and exposition of the gospel, the unpacking of the unsearchable riches of Christ, is surely still the most persuasive way of bringing people genuinely to a point of conversion and discipleship.”
The Evangelical Alliance in Great Britain – an organization with which Derek Tidball is associated – concluded after a thorough examination of what their member churches were doing, that while mission is clearly at the heart of British church life today, that talking about their faith as Christians is proving increasingly difficult.
It has been exciting to find so many churches with a passion for reaching their community. In fact it is getting harder to find a church that is just running Sunday services and house groups. Mission is clearly high on the agenda of most churches as we see many plugging into national initiatives like Foodbank, Street Pastors, and Christians Against Poverty as well as providing bespoke services for their communities. But despite the increased amount of community engagement, there is also an apparent decrease in our confidence and competence to verbally explain the good news (http://www.eauk.org).
The church at its best (see Acts 6:1-7 and the Mother Teresa story at the beginning of my blog) has always found ways to “combine both a passion for sharing the truth of the gospel and demonstrating the consequences of the gospel on the whole of life. William Wilberforce and the early abolitionists were keen to combine their passion for social justice with what they described as “a reformation of manners”, by which was meant a commitment to see the gospel bring personal and spiritual transformation to a person’s life. Sadly over the centuries we have seen pendulum swings that have emphasized one or the other of these two outreach strategies” (http://www.eauk.org).
A few years ago the Hartford Seminary’s Institute for Religious Research asked the question: “Do churches evangelize when they do social outreach?” Their “quick answer” was: “Some do and some don’t.” Their “longer answer” was: “Most churches sense a responsibility to reach out to the world outside their walls, but they respond to this call in different ways. Some churches focus on the spiritual dimension of human need, helping people to develop a relationship with God. Others emphasize people’s social and emotional well-being by providing services or advocating for justice. Still others attempt to blend these priorities. A recent study of Philadelphia congregations that provide social services to the community found five basic types of ways that churches integrate sharing faith and meeting social needs” (http://hirr.hartsem.edu).
1. Explicit evangelism is not a part of the church’s outreach mission.
“Evangelism is showing God’s love through example. We show our faith in God through our kindness to others.”
2. Evangelism is valued and practiced, but not in the context of social ministry.
“Revitalizing the community is a way to accent the reality of the Christian witness. … It’s Jesus, but it’s also Jesus and potatoes and greens, and Jesus and a good, decent house.
3. Evangelism and social ministry are integrated.
“The church has done evangelism and the church has done social ministry — but not always together. We must get excited about the whole gospel to minister to whole persons.”
4. Little conventional social ministry is present.
“Evangelism starts at the core. Once you change a person’s life you can also change their social position.”
5. No significant social action or evangelism
A final type of church has no active community outreach. They are not oriented toward the world outside the walls of the church. Their main focus is internal ministries of worship, fellowship, and discipleship.
So, how do you think the church should go about integrating sharing the faith and meeting social needs? And, what does your answer say about your confidence in the Gospel? DBS+