LAKELAND, Fla. (PNS) From Alex Absalom’s opening assertion that discipleship and mission are completely intertwined to the Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes’s closing assurance that Jesus has given his disciples—then and now—the power to be his witnesses, the speakers on the opening day of The Fellowship Community National Gathering charged over 200 church leaders to more intentionally “live on mission” in order to make missional disciples.
The organization’s 2017 national event, themed “Deep & Wide: Making Missional Disciples,” is being held February 21–23 at the First Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida.
The Fellowship Community (TFC)—the result of a 2014 merger of the former Fellowship of Presbyterians and Presbyterians for Renewal—is “a network of churches and leaders called together to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by growing in Christ’s likeness, living by God’s word, and joining in God’s mission in the world.”
Absalom, the gathering’s main speaker, is a coach, speaker, and writer on the practicalities of transitioning churches into disciple-making cultures. In addition to Barnes—the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, who preached the opening worship on Feb. 21—others joining Absalom in leadership at the gathering are the Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, executive director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, Bible study leader; and preachers, the Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill, Manning, S.C.; the Rev. Dr. Carolos Emilio Ham, Matanzas, Cuba; and the Rev. Zachary McGowen, Lakeland, Florida.
Beginning with the question, “Why Missional Discipleship”—the title of his first plenary address—Absalom contended that “we hear and obey Jesus particularly in our place of mission, where Jesus places us.”
“We as followers of Jesus are called to go,” he said. “We can’t sustain discipleship in the abstract—it works best when we’re wrestling with the paradoxes of following Jesus in the real world, with our distant relatives, people at work…where God places us.”
Absalom said that there’s a worry for contemporary disciples as they continue to learn to follow Jesus,, namely, “how to represent and share the gospel in the context where God has placed us today.”
“What is good news going to look like to your neighbors or at the retirement home or at the gym,” he asked. “What does it look like? How do we incarnate this message of Jesus Christ in those specific places?”
In encountering people where they live and work, Absalom also urged his listeners to be “naturally supernatural” as they seek to make disciples, in other words, no matter their outreach, “unless Jesus turns up, we’re really in trouble.”
Referencing Jesus’ call of the first disciples in Matthew 4, Absalom said that in that well-known passage Jesus doesn’t promise his disciples that he will take away their problems or have the answers to all of their questions before he asks them to do something for him.
“’Go, live on mission,’ Jesus says,” said Absalom. “He’s modeling what the disciples should do. For Jesus, living on mission was central to how he made disciples. Throughout all that Jesus does, he’s equipping us. Discipleship is the engine of mission, and mission is the fuel for discipleship. We go on mission, and as we’re seeing our friends and our neighbors, we’re making disciples. As we are on mission, that feeds the disciple-making process.”