This week’s lectionary texts focus on the salvation of the lost to restore them back to God’s original purpose: to worship God, not self. The early Jewish church found out soon that the Gospel was not just for Israel, but for the world, beginning with the Roman centurion Cornelius' household and friends. It took a vision to convince Peter to get out of his inwardly-focused priority directed at fellow Jews to go out to reach the Gentiles (outsiders). From that point onward, the Gospel has gone out of Judea & Samaria right to the end of the world. The word “Go” is embedded in the word “Gospel” and the church is a community sent on a mission to bring home the lost sons and daughters of God, not just to indulge in their own personal and self-focused edification “ministries”. One of the texts for this Sunday is Revelation 21:1-6 which reveals to us the final destiny of all who are saved: the new heaven and new earth which is the Bridegroom and Bride’s final resting place--the new Garden of Eden 2.0.
The apostles were confronted with their first pastoral crisis in Acts 6 because some Hellenist (Greek-speaking) widows felt disadvantaged in the distribution of food compared to the Hebraic (Hebrew-speaking) widows. They immediately addressed the issue by appointing seven men to oversee this distribution. However, they never allowed this issue to take priority over the “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). But the ministry of prayer and the Word was not directed inward but outward: “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). The prayer and word ministry was not directed towards insiders but outsiders, leading to many more converts added to the church. The priority of the NT church ministry was to bring God’s word to the lost, not to the saved. Pastoral care is not the end of ministry but the means to the greater end—seeking and saving the lost. We equip and edify in order to evangelize.
The church has slipped into the pastoral paradigm because of Western missionaries who after they had evangelized the locals imposed the European “Christendom” model of pastoral paradigm with its theology, systems and structures. The pastoral paradigm focuses ministry inwardly towards the edification of believers as the goal. But that was never the goal of the NT church. The fact that there will be multitudes in heaven coming from every nation tells us that the church has been called from the word go to “Go into the world, to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The ministry of the word is the gospel that must be proclaimed to the lost.
About 300 church pastors and lay leaders from all over Asia were in KL last week to learn about Alpha through the “Experiencing Alpha” week hosted by Holy Trinity Bukit Bintang (HTBB), a church plant of the Alpha mother church HTB in London. The vicar (senior pastor) of HTBB, Rev. Miles said the greatest threat to church growth is the word “consolidation”. The word suggests stop going out to the lost in order to conserve the fruits. HTBB was started 18 months ago in KL with a core group of 50 Alpha hosts & converts. Today the church averages about 800 members in attendance, most of whom are converts from their Alpha runs. Rev. Miles said he has banned the word “consolidation” from HTBB. And I fully agree with him, because when a church says “consolidation”, they are essentially saying, “let's focus back on insiders”. When a church starts to “consolidate” it will stagnate and decline.
There was a church which I helped years ago to start Alpha. By the third run, the church had more converts than they were mentally prepared to assimilate. One lay leader actually called for a halt to the Alpha ministry because "we have too many new converts". Thankfully his call was ignored and the church went on to run Alpha. Today their attendance has since doubled. The word "consolidation" reflects the pastoral paradigm of inwardly-focused priority. In fact, the word I believe God is putting in our hearts for 2017 is not “consolidate” but “accelerate”. We are looking to run Alpha not twice but three times a year, starting 2017. There are still many lost people here in Singapore (80% which translates to 4 millions). We are hardly scratching the surface. If heaven is to be populated with saints, we have to start working at it now.
The church is called to be a missional community—by that I mean more than just sending mission teams oversea once a year or sending missionaries oversea. By missional community, I mean the church's priority ministry should be seeking and saving the lost right at our door-steps. When I was a new believer, I read this slogan somewhere: “Every Christian a missionary. Every non-Christian a mission field.” You don’t need to go far: the mission field is at your door-steps: it is your neighbours, your colleagues and your family members.
May God open our eyes and deliver us from the bondage to self-centred priority in ministry.
Father, help us to become the kind of church we are meant to be—not inwardly focused, but outwardly focused, because the word “go” is embedded in Your Gospel. Thank You that through Alpha, we are empowered to become a missional church. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.