Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Evangelism - It Is Not The Priority

I am big on evangelism, in fact that is my focus in my congregation, so it may be surprising to hear from me that evangelism is not the priority of the church. It is in fact, a priority. The church exists for two reasons to feed the sheep that Christ has already called to himself and to make new disciples. These two priorities should be maintained in balance. If they are not maintained in balance the church will suffer.

The two overarching priorities of the church are both interrelated and opposing at the same time. A paradox if you will. They are related in that they are both based in the Gospel. They are opposed because they are aimed at people with different needs. Those already called into Christ need to be feed with increasingly solid food. Whereas, the lost need to be nursed on milk often given in the guise of food they think they need or want. At the same time we expect a certain high level of conduct from Christ's sheep, uniformity in doctrine and practice for example. We cannot expect the same from the lost or new to the faith; they are not that far along the path of faith. So while we need to minimize roadblocks for the lost we need to maintain certain expectations for those in the faith. Maintaining this balance is very hard to do. In fact, you will often find books saying you need to focus on one or the other or you will fail. I refuse to accept that. We are not called to be half a church. So, accepting a half measure such as this is unacceptable even if the maintenance of both is near impossible. Are we not supposed to reflect Christ in our lives? Was he only half perfect? No, and neither should we settle for less because it is hard.

We must maintain balance. This means we need in place measures to help people along in faith. We need to help people move from breast milk to prime rib. We cannot expect people to instantaneously appreciate the rich liturgical traditions of the Lutheran Church. We may have to go with a theologically light but orthodox service to bring them in, but we should not satisfy ourselves with leaving them there as we so often do. We need to think of ways to move them along in their faith walk so that they are drawn into the more theologically rich traditions. We must maintain that balance seeking the lost and feeding the sheep.

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