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.