God so loved the world: and God invites us to invest in the world as disciples.
There are many challenges that Dwight Zscheile issues in his book, People of the Way, but the one that stands out most for me is the challenge to move from membership to discipleship.
In many ways membership can be seen as reinforcing the role of the church as the “establishment”– which as Dwight points out several times in his book, is no longer the case. Discipleship invites us to explore the essence and mystery of our faith; and to live it out in the world in creative ways. “To be a disciple is to be a learner, and church life in twenty-first century America must focus on learning new ways of being God’s people in a strange new land.” (Page 118.)
“God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). That love continues. God so loves the world. All of it – and all of us. God’s love for the world caused God to give his Son to the world – which is an extraordinary investment in the world. That investment has indeed transformed the world. This Gospel witness invites us to take the commitment and passion with which we care for our members (and which we do with grace and skill) and bring it to the world – which not only reflects God’s love for the world but also deepens our love for the world and marks us as disciples.
There are many ways we might participate in God’s love for the world. I want to mention two. Every church I visit takes great care in praying for members of the congregation – and their families and friends, in the prayers of the people. That is more or less a membership prayer list. It is important. It binds the church community together in the web of God’s love. A discipleship prayer list would, in addition to the membership prayer list, include situations in the community that warrant our prayer – an upcoming school play, a family that was recently burned out, a local concern that is generating tension and conflict. These additional prayerful intentions bind the church to the neighborhood, manifest God’s love for the world – and quicken our hearts as disciples in the world (where we spend most of our time).
Most every church I visit has a line item in its budget for outreach. Usually, the money goes to an institutional ministry or program – an organization(s) that the congregation has determined is worthy of financial support. But for the most part it is a transactional process: money is given; a ministry or program benefits. That is important. It is good stewardship. A discipleship model of giving would establish an amount in the budget that would be invested in the community. It doesn’t have to be much; and it doesn’t have to be for a specific purpose – yet. The money is put in the budget with the intention that an opportunity may emerge for the church to express God’s love for the world – in the local community. It could be a community fair or a dinner – or some event that engages the church with the community and establishes – or deepens a relationship.
Dwight’s work and witness have generated lots of reflection and many ideas. His words are anchored in the genius of our Anglican tradition – and launch us forward into a rapidly changing world. He has opened my eyes as to how we as a church and as individuals might reflect God’s love for the world. I invite us to continue the conversation, reflection –in the hope that we will invest more of our ministry in the world.
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