This is a summary of a series of articles I found several years ago that summed up so much of my understanding of the Christian journey at that time:
Consider that Jesus’ first instruction to his disciples was Follow me! Jesus seems to imply that his disciples should embark on a lifelong journey with him. The early church was dynamic – it spread like yeast spores, penetrating increasingly diverse places, crossing ethnic and cultural boundaries. Only after several centuries did the church begin to position itself as the centre of society, government and culture. It would appear that the early dynamism dwindled and it became the static church – everyone and everything in society was expected to revolve around the church.
More recently government and society has rejected the idea of the church being the centre of all things. The church in general, has been forced to accept this new status, but has not shifted back to its original dynamic journeying role. Instead the church began to use ‘creative’ evangelistic programs to compete for a place in the life of the individual – by trying to attract non-believers to it. But the target audience, especially after World War II, has grown more resistant to the marketing employed by organised religion. No wonder that many of the promoters of the gospel end up discouraged and burnt out!
Matt 4.19 – ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men‘ – is taken by many Christians as an instruction to launch themselves enthusiastically into the sea of unbelief, asking God to bless their efforts to become increasingly successful ‘fishers of men’. But Jesus didn’t say ‘Go fish’, he said ‘Come follow’ – there is I suggest an enormous difference!
Could it be that in following Jesus on a journey (a dynamic approach), that He will cause us to be effective fishers of men. It has been suggested that the early Christians were a vibrant part of their communities who gossiped the gospel, and the joy of the journey with Jesus simply overflowed, impacting on those in their intimate community.
The church that Jesus founded was dynamic. They had no status, no grand institutions or facilities other than their homes. Could it be that it was Jesus living out of their daily lives that made them attractive to those around them? Do we have that same attractiveness?
Some research suggests that the primary means of the growth of the early church was by attachments and networks of intimate relationships – that conversions to new and deviant religious groups (as early Christians were viewed) occurred when attachments to the group became stronger than the attachments to non-members.
The early church grew because close friends and relatives of new Christians saw a transformation taking place in the lives of the believers. Maybe we need to consider ourselves as spiritual pilgrims while living a normal life, with relational attachments to our unconverted friends and loved ones. By getting away from the emphasis on evangelism (a term that seems to defy precise definition) we can instead become part of the priesthood of all believers (1Peter 2) – who offer spiritual sacrifices of love and quality time to our friends, relatives, neighbours and others with whom we have any sort of relationship.
If we consider this alternative way of looking at things (that takes us away from the idea of attracting people to an institution), it leads us to love and service. The growth of the church would then take care of itself because each new member increases the opportunities of creating new relationships.
Can we allow Jesus to lead us on the journey of transformation. It is when we let Jesus live his life in and through us, that we can become attractive to those who might have walked away from organised religion, but who might still be seeking to understand the purpose of life!