Safety nets or fishing nets (Dave Male)

Monday, 13 July, 2009

Dave MaleDave Male asks whether we are using fishing nets or safety nets.

I feel I have to respond to Paul Roberts' Share blog of 27th April entitled, What is missional?, Paul argues that a church he is involved in can be missional without 'a proven and primary capacity to bring unbelievers to faith and discipleship'. He adds that 'full-on intentional evangelism work is still on the back foot'.

Sorry Paul, but that's not missional! It may well be important and necessary work, but it's not missional. But I do think Paul highlights an important discussion concerning what we mean by 'missional'. The danger I find is that with many emerging churches, everything is missional but mention evangelism at your peril.

Yet David Bosch, whose work on the Missio Dei is at the heart of our missional language, writes: 'Evangelism is the core, heart or centre of mission. We do not believe that the central dimension of evangelism, as calling people to faith and new life can ever be relinquished. I have called evangelism the heart of mission. With evangelism cut out, mission dies: it ceases to be mission' (Evangelism: Theological Currents and Cross-Currents Today).

Now, I am not suggesting that evangelism and mission are synonymous, but I do believe that evangelism is at the very heart of mission. We do not help the fresh expression movement if we are not enabling unchurched people to become transformed and transforming disciples of Jesus. As I have written elsewhere, we have too many safety nets and not enough fishing nets.

With many emerging churches, everything is missional but mention evangelism at your peril

We also do evangelism a disservice when we divorce it from discipleship. As Graham Cray says in the June 2009 edition of the e-xpressions newsletter, we need both quantity and quality. It is about winning people to Christ, but it is also about the qualities of discipleship that we are seeing developed in new converts and their communities.

The danger is we reject evangelism because our present (or past) models are deficient for this age. But that's no reason to excuse ourselves from the work of evangelism. The need is great today and so we must to do the hard work of seeking out and developing good, faithful and relevant models of evangelism. (There is no one model!)

Scott McKnight, the American theologian, in a recent article in Christianity Magazine (April 2009) on the emerging church, put it most bluntly and starkly when he wrote, 'Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord.'

About the author: 

Dave Male is involved in training pioneers in two Anglican theological colleges in Cambridge and is planting a church to connect with sports people, called Relay.


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