Category Archives: Douglas

A good conversation

This past week, Doug wrote a guest post here that received extensive comments resulting in a quality dialogue about the identity of the church. I thought I would post a few excerpts here:

I think the concept of outreach versus inreach itself strikes a dissonant chord in me. When I read through the gospels, I find no striking characteristics that necessarily made someone in or out. There are those who are in, who are also out (Judas) and those considered most definitely out, who are ultimately elevated to kin-relationship with Jesus (woman with hemorrhage). Yet even those who are healed and want to follow him are not always given “disciple” status. Troubling!

Before you became a monk/nun you participated alongside the brothers/sisters in their work. Even those who didn’t intend to join were still welcome to participate. Some things were explained outright, other things were left for later explanation when they would actually make sense. Our consumerist mentality demands getting things right now and lacks patience in learning – thus it challenges this type of learning and undercuts any type of successful mentoring. Recently I read that those working toward baptism into the faith community in the first couple centuries had a three year process. For one year they studied Mark – nothing else. For the next year they studied Matthew – nothing else. For a third year they studied Luke/Acts – nothing else. And at the conclusion of that year they were offered (or not offered, mind you) baptism into the community. Then, only after baptism, they were given the gospel of John.

I think the way outreach is conducted is crucial. Without a clear ‘mentoring’ and ‘discipling’ focus that makes use of vigorous outreach as the crucible for growth right from day one, I think ‘delivery systems’ do little to help people mature.

Seems like Jesus developed the disciples ‘on the fly’ and ‘in the midst of mission’ because He used their experiences together in mission as an opportunity to intentionally teach and develop folks.

I think the primary goal should always be out, not in. If the purpose of outreach is ultimately to get people in, then we still have the wrong focus. It is the very fact that we don’t see our purpose as going out that those who are “with us” never become devoted apprentices.

Outreach isn’t just for those who are especially gifted in evangelism. Unless we see our primary identity as disciples sent into the world, we will never reach some imaginary moment of maturity and enlightenment wherein we will be compelled out to the world.

The focus of discipleship is going out, not plugging in.

Check out the entire conversation here.

to what end?

First, thank you, Erika, my lovely bride, for providing a platform for these comments. As part of a class I am taking at Fuller, I must present several public writings that come from my interaction with the course materials. These will be short, incomplete, and perhaps even unsatisfactory ‘snapshots’ of the bigger picture. They are thoughts from a much broader conversation. My hope remains that they will provoke, inspire, prod, whatever, and that you will be willing to jump in.

We have read A LOT about culture, the ‘missional’ corrective, education (particularly regarding the religious educator), and more recently the role of the pastor.

I have been left wondering one thing: what is the point? To what end for all of this? From my position at the seminary, I have a front-row view of the recent trends in theological education (in so much as they have reared themselves at my institution): ‘classical training,’ ‘homogenous church growth,’ ‘healthy church growth,’ ‘natural church development,’ and now ‘missional’ and ‘emerging church.’ To (over)simplify the conversation, these trends fall into two categories: “how to get people in (attractional) and plugged in to getting people in” and “how to get people in by going out (missional) to get them in and then plugged in to go out to get people in.” Delivery systems – not development. Does anyone know what to do with people when they are got? Into what are people coming and how? Or should the question be: what are people becoming and how?

Dallas Willard offers us this:

“It is, I gently suggest, a serious error to make “outreach” a primary goal of the local congregation, and especially so when those who are already “with us” have not become clear-headed and devoted apprentices of Jesus, and are not, for the most part, solidly progressing along the path. Outreach is one essential task of Christ’s people, and among them there will always be those especially gifted for evangelism. But the most successful work of outreach would be the work of inreach that turns people, wherever they are, into lights in the darkened world.”