(Be Bold and Be Strong)
In my tradition, the United Methodist tradition, we have people in who fall way far to one side of discussions and people who fall way far to the other side. And then we have people all over the middle.
One of the beautiful things about The UMC, is that we are allowed, and even encouraged, to use Scripture as our primary way of seeking God’s will, followed by using our reasoning, our experiences and our traditions. We work hard to talk through difficult conversations.
It’s like how Bill and I approach our marriage. We have our moments, but divorce is not an option. We will never agree on everything, but leaving the relationship is off the table. We get frustrated and even angry with one another, but at the end of the day we love one another dearly and remain the best of friends – we live unity to its fullest.
When I listen to the holy conferencing of the Church, I understand the arguments on both sides of all of these conversations. I know what we are talking about. The challenge for me is that I often like pieces of both sides of the dialogue.
I like the social justice aspect of our tradition. I like that we respond to the call of God on our hearts through the work of our hands. I like that we are to make a difference in the world through our mission fields. I like that mission teams are an incredibly Methodist way of thinking. I like that we are empowered by the Church to go.
At the same time, I like that United Methodists are evangelical. Our own General Board of Discipleship says no ministry of the church is more vital than evangelism. “Evangelism involves several key actions: telling the Good News, announcing the kingdom (reign) of God, and bearing witness.” We are sent into the world to go and share the message that Jesus Christ has authority universally.
On Jesus Christ’s authority, we are given the Great Commission which is the number one reason for mission teams going out in the world AND the number one reason for sharing the gospel message out in the world.
This isn’t one or the other – This is “both and.” Working and sharing. Missional and evangelical. Actually you cannot have one without the other. It’s ONE call. Jesus Christ is calling us to be both.
And that’s where we get a little lost sometimes. We can label ourselves all day long, but for those of us taking a stand only on one side or the other, we are missing the big picture here. Look what Jesus is saying to us: Go therefore – get out of your seat, out of your daily grind, out of your comfort zone, and GO into action.
Go and make – more action – make disciples – bring more folks into the fold. Help other people understand what this Christianity, this following Jesus, is all about. And don’t stop there. Tell them what God is doing in your life. Spend some time thinking of your own personal stories and then tell people those stories. Live your life as a breathing example of who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in your life.
For some of us that means we need practice. For some of us it means watch what comes out of our mouth – or if I am on Facebook, out of my fingers. There are Christian folks who are not always great examples of what Jesus is doing in our lives. We post a lot of talk. We post a lot of things that just really aren’t helpful in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Raising awareness of problems in the world is necessary. I will agree with that all day long. We have to keep conversations going about what is needed in the world. We have to talk about injustice and oppression, hunger and poor, sick and hurting, and all the things I just mentioned a moment ago – that’s how we together discern God’s will for God’s people in God’s Church. However, raising awareness without the follow-up action or raising awareness in a way that never mentions Jesus Christ as the key to change is misunderstanding the Great Commission. Talking about the problems in the world isn’t the place we, as Christians, get to land. That’s only the starting point.
I said that in one of my previous churches, and my office had a line of angry people out the door telling me that I degraded them because they post pictures of their kids on Facebook without mentioning Jesus. That is NOT what I’m saying. I LOVE looking at your kids on Facebook I do not expect you to invoke the name of Jesus before every sentence you speak.
I’m talking about identifying a problem and then doing nothing about the problem I’m talking about leaving Jesus completely out of our equations. I’m saying that we are called to be people of action!
One of my favorite movie characters is named Thumper. Remember Thumper? The little bunny from the movie Bambi? Thumper was brutally honest in offering his opinion, but he had a way of pointing out the obvious in a very negative light. When he first met the brand newborn fawn, Bambi, who was trying to get up on his feet for the first time, Thumper didn’t offer helpful reassurance or hints on how to try to stand. He didn’t show Bambi what to do. He didn’t try to prop Bambi up. He didn’t set an example at all Thumper simply raised awareness of the problem and said: “He doesn’t walk very good does he?” There was nothing encouraging or engaging in his rhetoric. If Thumper had a Facebook page, it would probably resemble some that I have read. And what did Thumper’s parents teach him: “If you can’t say something nice, (pause) don’t say nuffin at all.” You see, there is no action in pointing out the problem.
Jesus named the problems; that part has already been done. We are always going to have the poor with us, he said – go and help them. Go visit in the prisons. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. And in the midst of your actions, tell the people about me and invite them to join you in believing in me. That’s what Jesus said. The two concepts are married. Mission and evangelism. Evangelism and mission.
You are to go to the people, and make disciples of the people of all nations. Wesley once said “The world is my parish.” That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here.
Go and make disciples of all nations – action that continues in verse 19: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice the use of the word name. One name. One God. Those who are baptized are brought in under one name and one baptism. Actually it is literally ‘into’ – baptizing them into the name of our one True God. We are baptized into the name of God and therefore belong to God – brought into the promise.
“And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Even more action. Teach, tell, explain. Communicate. And obey. Talk to the people, all people, about the things Jesus Christ has done. That’s evangelism. Evangelism is literally about personal commitment to Jesus. And while you are personally committing and talking to others about personally committing, put some work behind it. That’s mission.
This is not just an invitation to be nice to each other. Not just an invitation to go out and do good works. This isn’t actually an invitation at all. This is a commission. A command, a directive, an assignment. Our instructions are to go out into the world and make disciples!
Come and evangelize; go do mission. The Great Com-mission is both. Your job is to come and go as People of God!
Be bold and be strong. Banish fear and doubt. For the promise of your God is to bless your coming in and to bless your going out. Rejoice!