A series of essays exploring what the church, considering its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
As I have written in an earlier post. Congregations in the Reforming Church organize themselves to provide pastoral leadership. A Reforming Church congregation may call an Evangelist. The Evangelist would be called, sent and supported, in part or in full, by the sending congregation or congregations. The Evangelical model of ministry would follow the pattern of Jesus’ service, serving as Evangelist in relationship to the community of service and Teacher in relationship to the sending congregation.
The model of Jesus’ evangelical ministry was a faithful presence with the people as a healer and teacher. He challenged hypocrisy among the religious elite and the arrogance of those who governed. He was a friend of sinners calling them to repent, and for them, a deep source of mercy and forgiveness. He was an ally of the poor understanding their plight. And Jesus was in the synagogues on the Sabbath, and there called to read the scriptures and to preach. Jesus was a friend to all. In his ministry, he gathered to him a small core of followers – disciples – whom he taught, equipped and sent into the communities as a voice of hope and good news.
Evangelists are sent by the calling congregation/s to minister to the local community, deepening the commitment of the calling congregation/s to serve the community In their service, these Evangelists organize a few Followers of the Way from the sending congregation/s who will serve with them, being present in every aspect of the life of the community. The Evangelists work with a select group from the sending congregation/s preparing them and equipping them for service in the community. Together they provide the community, without cost, a healing presence, a moral compass, a voice of hope, compassion for the poor, mediation, encouraging mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.
Also, in their service as Teachers to their sending congregation/s, Evangelists serve to equip Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ to serve one another pastorally, providing for each other at times of sickness, and death, personal and family disorientation, as well as at times of passages of joy, including the accompanying rites of marriage and funeral rites.
Evangelists are teachers in their sending congregation/s. It is in this service that Followers of the Way are immersed in the foundations of faith and scripture. And even in this service, Evangelists are equipping Followers of the Way to also becoming teachers of faith and scripture, expanding the teaching ministry in Reforming Church congregations.
Evangelists are also to be present, ready to accept the invitation to preach, during the appointed times of worship as provided by the sending congregation/s.
When a congregation calls an Evangelist the service the Evangelist provides in no way substitutes for the service the congregation provides to the community. The Evangelist’s ministry is then in addition to the ministry of the sending congregation – a deepening of the sending congregation’s ministry in the community.
While Evangelists are called, sent and provided for by their sending congregation/s, they do not necessarily expect to rely fully on their sending congregation/s for financial support. While it is not altogether apparent in the Gospels how Jesus provided a means of livelihood for himself and his disciples, the Apostle Paul making a case that it was proper and right for congregations to support those who bring good news, and declared in at least one congregation that he did not desire that they should be saddled with the necessity of providing for his livelihood (1 Corinthians 9:18; The issue seems to have been to make no obstacle to his sincerity as in 2 Corinthians 2:17). And in one instance scripture indicates that he received some of his funding for his ministry from his livelihood as a tent-maker (Acts of the Apostles 18:3).
When a congregation makes a decision to call an Evangelist, the cost of that can be staggering, especially to a congregation that is meeting in the living room of a Follower of the Way. As I have said a few times before, while it doesn’t cost anything to be the church, congregations make decisions that are costly requiring an ongoing commitment. Calling an Evangelist is such a decision. For this reason, small congregations may collaborate to call an Evangelist together. The Followers of the Way in these congregations then covenant together to provide the funding, each Follower of the Way accepting responsibility as generously as possible to the extent of his or her means. And where a congregation is of ample size to call an Evangelist without further collaboration with other congregations, the covenant to support the Evangelist rests solely on the Followers of the Way of that congregation. By their intention, commitment and support, calling and sending an Evangelist becomes a congregation’s mission.
When Evangelists enter their context of service, hitting the ground running means taking the time necessary to be grafted to the community, being present and listening, seeking to understand the needs and challenges of and in the community. It is during this initial period that they are able to discern their service to the community.
The Reforming Church acknowledges that the mission field is open and fertile, beginning at the front door. The mission field is at the steps, figuratively, of the Reforming Church. The mission of the Reforming Church is, first of all, local for that is the context of service where the Followers of the Way find themselves. And because service is the responsibility of every Follower of the Way, in their service they find themselves in the community where they live already grafted into the culture. And as such, they are best equipped to bear a meaningful hope – a credible good news. Covenanting with other Followers of the Way to call an Evangelist becomes an extension of their service. It becomes their mission.
Next week, I will write concerning congregational organization, governance, and offices.