“The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37)
A standing concern over the recent emphasis on housechurching, especially with its strong emphasis on the need for deeper fellowship and more authentic community, is that we might be once again concentrating too much on those already saved, fixated on catering to their emotional, social and edification needs, getting too ingrown, becoming less missional, and ignoring the enormity of the Great Commission and today’s harvest.
Some might even warn us, that the Scripture says to, “Pray to the Lord of the Harvest,” (Matthew 9:38) not, “Pray to the Lord of the Fellowship.” So, is there a sense of caution here about too much fellowship, too much navel gazing, too much community?
I don’t think that the emphasis on housechurching is a Great Commission problem if we constantly rethink the goal of fellowship, the goal of community. When we remind ourselves that purpose of gathering as believers is mutual edification (Hebrews 10:24, 25), and the exposure to the multi-faceted giftings of a local body then the exposure to true and authentic community actually can help produce happier and healthier saints. Who in turn are naturally more effective as living witnesses to their world.
I have wondered for a long time whether our classic emphasis on Matthew 28; Mark 16, Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1 and the Great Commission has been all that effective in motivating people to evangelize effectively. I do believe in a Great Commission, in The Great Commission, and I desire deeply an empowered, living community of faith that embodies and incarnates that message of Jesus to the world.
I just wonder how much of the power of that message comes through the latest evangelism trend, over-zealous evangelists or by being rightly related to our Heavenly Father and to His people; the body of Christ?
For years as a city pastor I attempted to do everything in my power to help create the kind of unity that would emulate Psalm 133 and fulfill Christ’s High-priestly prayer in John 17. Wondering all along if we would actually have a greater impact on our culture if we got caught truly in love with God and with each other?
Father And Me Then You And Me
A reread of Jesus’ prayer might reveal a different focal point, “that they all may be one, as You Father are in me,” (John 17:21). Is it possibly putting a greater emphasis on the relationship of intimacy and oneness between Jesus and His Father first, rather than the exclusive inference to the horizontal one of fellowship unity between you and I. First of all, with worldwide Christianity now boasting 37,000 denominations, what a daunting task this horizontal unity presents. I am simply thinking out loud as to whether we may have overstated the horizontal part of this unity and may have missed the greater vertical intimacy that will be followed by the fruit of the horizontal oneness. I do know this, that when the vertical relationship between my Father and I is intact, that automatically sheds light and dynamic on my horizontal relationship with others.
I also know that when my relationship of intimacy is broken with the Father it creates a very difficult environment for any true or meaningful fellowship with one another. I have come to call this the “sucking sound of fellowship.”
Get some Christians together who do not have a working personal history with God, and their need for community is out of proportion, out of balance, and it screams “community” when the actual need is for intimacy with their personal God to be restored. The migration Christians from fellowship to fellowship is more likely a pilgrimage or search for Him rather than for each other. As we pursue Him, our love, our patience, and our way of being with each other radically changes.
The Cadence of Christ
I guess what I am saying goes back to my past reference on the classic sequence of Jesus in His own personal ministry in Luke 6:12 – 19. It seems there was a very distinct purpose to the sequential priorities in the life of Christ. (1) He spent the night in solitude (intimacy) with the Father, (2) the morning in fellowship (community) with His friends, and then (3) the afternoon in healing and deliverance (evangelism) with the harvest.
I have experienced much inward turmoil over these priorities in my life. So much of my ministry life in the early days was spent in neglect of that Secret Place/Sacred Space with Poppa. Even my fellowship with others that was spotty at best. Much of that seasons was consumed with serving God by serving others, all under the guise of serving the needs of the institutional church.
In the end, I outwardly may have achieved the success of numerical growth, but inwardly I lacked a deep fellowship with God, and a deep friendship with others. I always seemed to muster adequate vision beyond me, giving myself to missions, and to outreach in it many forms, only finding the emptiness in doing without knowing the Father or being really known by my brothers and sisters.
Back to the sequence of Luke 6, or what I call the Cadence of Christ. When these priorities are in order, things seem to be different. So let me go even further than the just the concern for too much fellowship. I think the priorities are even different than that. First, we spend time, much time with the Father, then time, deep time, with our friends, not just doing church business, but living in healthy community. And the results of this living in God and with each other will make a far more effective influence on the Harvest field around us.
I do want to work harder at being more intentional in my inclusion of the lost in my daily life, but when the mission overrides my relationships with God and my brothers and sisters, I am destined for burnout or bitterness.
I am more and more convinced that the best outreach comes through a life that is fulfilled up in upreach (To God) satisfied in inreach (To the saints) and then released in outreach (To the lost).
Given that scenario, I want to jump into this new year, and this new season committed to pursuing a new generation of healthy sons and daughters and healthy brothers and sisters who can better reach a lost and drifting society.
Our need is not slicker, more media-savvy approaches to evangelism. The message of Jesus’ redemption is clear; the gospel is and always will be the Good News. The message will not change but it can be seen clearer and better and more distinct when we live it out with God and each other.
We are still “in this world,” we are still exhibit A, to make the message more believable by how we live.
Or as Daniel Oudshoorn writes,
“Therefore, if the western Church hopes to be missional, it must learn to speak Christianly in the midst of Babel. Instead of changing the gospel message the Church must proclaim the gospel in its original form and allow the way it lives to interpret that message. The Christian message cannot simply be employed to provide Christian living with cultural approval. Instead Christian living, coupled with faith in the Holy Spirit, ought to provide the content and meaning of the Christian message. When Christianity is proclaimed in this way then the Church will be equipped to reveal a radical new way of being human in the midst of a western culture.
It is the indwelling and embodiment of the Christian story that makes it comprehensible (and perhaps even appealing) to society. It is the actions of the Christian community that exegete the Christian message.”
A Prophetic Wanna-Be
I have always wanted to be more prophetic than I am, often desiring those laser-beam, precision, end-times words that everyone seems to be seeking. Especially today with the whole world in turmoil. So I am sorry, this is such a simple word.
Our finest hour is in front of us, and we will be up for it as we learn to take “baby steps,” in living out our faith. A simple return to the main and the plain of loving God and serving one another by meeting the most of basic of needs in front of us, will return us to the potency and power of our message.
Begin by returning to the Father, carving out huge chunks of time, just learning to sit and rest in His presence. Secondly, keep living a life that moves towards authentic community, spending good amounts of time in deeper fellowship with one another, enjoying life as family, as we learn to gather, to eat, to share, to laugh, to pray together, and to genuinely care for each other.
Guaranteed, when we do this, our souls will be filled, our lives will be enriched, and the message of Jesus Christ will gain a great credibility in the eyes and ears of our skeptical culture.
Gary Goodell is a former evangelist, pastor, college dean and instructor involved in ministry stuff for almost 50 years. He and his wife Jane live in San Diego, California USA and he is a father of two and grandfather of seven. As an author and consultant he is an itinerant mentor working with the international church planting movement known as Third Day Churches, that he and some friends founded in 2001. Third Day Churches now involves leadership and ministries in over 20 nations.
His two books, “Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century,” and “Where Would Jesus Lead?” are both available online.