What do you think a healthy church looks like? Well, I want to focus this afternoon on one absolutely vital characteristic of a healthy church. Are you ready for it?!
“A healthy church makes disciples of Jesus, and matures disciples of Jesus.”
Let me explain that sentence:
- A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. I assume you are all disciples here today!
- A healthy church makes disciples. A healthy church helps people to become followers of Jesus. A healthy church will be telling people about Jesus and calling them to put their faith in him.
- A healthy church also matures disciples. It helps followers of Jesus grow in their faith. A healthy church should be helping people walk with more closely with Jesus in every area of their life. Teaching and training people to be more confident of the truth of Christianity, more confident of its relevance to daily life, and more confident to share it with others.
You see, a healthy church is more than a social club, a welfare organisation or a local charity. Its more than just a place for people to sing hymns and “be religious” together. It should be making disciples and maturing disciples of Jesus.
This core mission of the church is famously summed up in Matthew 28, the ‘Great Commission’ that Jesus gave to the apostles before his ascension: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – that’s the first bit, making disciples.
And then Jesus said “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” That’s the second bit of the church’s mission – to grow disciples, to mature them.
We find the same two ingredients in Colossians 1:28 – a passage where the apostle Paul describes his ministry, his life’s work: “Christ we proclaim” he says, which means making disciples. Then he says “we admonish and teach with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ” – that’s the maturing bit, the growing disciples bit.
Our Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell has challenged every church to be a “School for disciples”. The Bible agrees, and so do I – St. Michael’s should be a school for disciples, that should be our vision. If we are to be a healthy church, our ministry should help people come to Christian faith and then grow in their faith.
- Making disciples: Telling people about Jesus!
So, firstly, if we want to be a school for disciples, we need to be a church that makes disciples. A church family that shares and spreads our Christian faith in Gidea Park and beyond. A church congregation that clearly presents the good news of the Gospel to all of our community, and invites people to respond.
Now there’s lots of ways we seek to do this already. Things like:
- Our Sunday services and sermons always seek to explain and proclaim the good news of Jesus (aimed at any non-Christians, non-disciples present).
- Our Christianity Explored courses are designed to introduce people to Jesus.
- Special evangelistic events, like our women’s wreath-making evening, which deliberately include an explanation of the Gospel message.
- Our parish magazine, which now goes through almost every door in the parish, always includes brief summary of the Gospel.
- And the money we give to mission agencies in the UK and overseas like Crosslinks, the Church Mission Society and Havering Graceworks.
But there is one way to make disciples that I don’t think we’re great at. Certainly I could be better at. And that’s personal sharing our faith one-to-one. Speaking to friends and family about Jesus. Sharing with them who he is, what he’s done for us and inviting them to follow him. In the jargon its called “personal evangelism”.
But we often find this hard, don’t we? There are lots of reasons why we are reluctant to share our faith:
- Fear of how people will react (ridicule, rejection, hostility) with affect on relationships/career/popularity etc.
- Lack of obvious opportunities
- Don’t know what to say
- Afraid of tricky questions
- Doubt/Lack of faith
- Lack of time
- Think its only the vicar’s job!
- Faith is a private matter, not to be shared. To go public is ‘politically incorrect’.
But the Gospel is too important to keep to ourselves. Just read a very helpful book by Rico Tice (who leads Christianity Explored), called “Honest evangelism”. Here’s the two main reasons he gives to share our faith:
- Love for Jesus: If we love him, we want to tell people about him. We want his church, his kingdom to grow, to give him glory. If we love him, we will want to obey his great commission to make dsiciples.
- Love for people: If we love our friends and family, we want them to know the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus alone offers. If you love people, you don’t want them to perish for their sin. Jesus talked about hell a lot – but he also offered the way to heaven – to God glorious kingdom for his forgiven people – for followers of Jesus. So if we love our non-Christian friends and family, we will want to tell them about Jesus. So much is at stake.
So if we love Jesus and love people, we must share our faith. But of course there are right and wrong ways of going about it. Here’s a video that shows a few wrong ways:
This man gets it all wrong, doesn’t he?! He’s talking to complete strangers, he’s too aggressive, he sounds insincere, uses jargon and his actions don’t show much love or grace!
So here are some top tips for sharing faith in the right way:
– Listen first, speak second! – build up a relationship with someone first. Learn about their life. Earn their respect, earn a hearing. Show you care before you share.
– Cross the pain barrier! Be brave, don’t be surpised or discouraged by hostility or apathy (Jesus warned of it and experienced it hmself). But also great hunger – some want hope, to be better people, to be free of guilt, to know God.
– Keep it simple! (Identity, mission, call: who Jesus is (God’s Son), why he came (To die & rise again to give us forgiveness & eternal life), What we gave to do (Repent and believe))
– Invite questions, don’t fear them! Do people understand or agree with the Gospel. Don’t need to answer every question straight away. Say you’ll come back to them.
– Follow up. Talk again. Answer questions. Invite to events, courses, lend a book, bring to church.
– Pray! God is in control – for opportunities, for courage, for words, for results!
Over next few days, think what opportunities do you have to share your faith? Who will you pray to come to faith?
- Maturing disciples
Ken and I treated ourselves to a Costa Coffee last month, and whilst sipping our latte’s we came up with our biblical definition of a mature Christian, a fully-grown disciple. (Let’s call him “Dan the Disciple”):
- A strong love for the Lord (Matt 22:37)
- Love and care for other people, especially fellow Christians (Matt 22:38, 25:40, Gal 6:10)
- Personal ethical holiness, guided by God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16)
- Attends church most weeks (Heb 10:25)
- A generous heart, including financial generosity (2 Cor 9:7)
- Daily personal prayer and Bible reading (Ps 1:2)
- A hunger to grow in their faith (Phil 3:10)
- A desire to share their faith – “a heart for the lost” (1 Cor 9:22)
- A willingness to serve our church – a player not a spectator, participant not consumer! (1 Cor 12:22)
Here are some of the things we already do that provide an opportunity for people to grow and mature as disciples:
- Sunday services, where the Bible is read, explained and applied.
- House groups
- Prayer meetings
- Providing opportunities to serve & give (rota gaps!)
- Other midweek & ad hoc events to serve/learn/be trained.
But people need to take advantage of these opportunities. Our personal growth as a disciple of Jesus is ultimately (under God) your responsibility (church can only help). No substitute for personal Bible reading, prayer, godliness. Can recommend some Bible study notes if you’d like some.
Returning to our church. To focus our minds, here are some targets that I think are “stretching but achieveable” over the next 12-18 months. Targets that would mean St.Michael’s was becoming more of a “School for Disciples”:
- 10% growth in Sunday morning attendance (i.e. 10 extra people pw) – this would be sustaining trend over last few years.
- One extra midweek House Group (i.e. 5-10 more people) – one extra a year to date.
- A 25% increase in congregational giving – to reduce the “subsidy” from our hall income.
- Double size of monthly prayer meeting. This is the spiritual powerhouse and heartbeat of church. God gives growth!
- Run at least one evangelistic course and one evangelistic event per term – CE in Autumn, Alpha in New Year, plus evangelistic events where Gospel shared (idea welcome!).
Here’s how we can hit those targets. It will take involvement by all of us!
- Start sharing your faith with friends
- Attend church more regularly yourself
- Invite a friend to church
- Join a house group or invite someone new
- Review (or start) your Standing Order
- Attend the monthly prayer meeting
- Invite a friend to Christianity Explored/Alpha or another evangelistic event (and come too!).
So we all have our part to play. We can all work to make St.Michael’s more of a school for disciples, where disciples are made and matured!