Wasn’t it just yesterday when we were looking forward to a new millennium and bracing ourselves for the Y2K bug? When the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000, the world erupted in a global celebration, as if all of humanity, for an instant, joined in common expression of anticipatory hope that the next 1,000 years might be better than the previous. Yet, the wars and violence and greed and corruption did not fade, and it seems that we are affronted by ubiquitous reminders of our depravity. Likewise, conflict, schism, and decline in membership continue to plague the Church.
The Office of Evangelism and Church Growth in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is an office that, to borrow a phrase from President Barack Obama, has the audacity to hope. We hold fast to hope that “springs eternal,” hope “built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and his righteousness.” We refuse to believe that the church is hope-less, that the church is dead or dying or irrelevant. To descend into apathy is to deny the hope we Christians proclaim in the crucified and risen Christ. Instead, we believe to hope scandalously and radically that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the PC(USA). In our work and conversations, we see small but significant signs that our churches are growing.
But let’s be honest: we have a lot of work to do regarding evangelism and discipleship. Neglected and despised for many decades, will this be the decade of reversal and renewal of attitudes towards discipleship and evangelism in the PC(USA)? Our hope is that, during the next ten years, Presbyterians will relearn what it means to be followers of Jesus and lovers of evangelism. But what does that mean to find renewal in the PC(USA) for the work of evangelism? Can we teach evangelism? Is it the work of a committee or can a program do evangelism for us? Is our denomination destined to continue losing members and fading into irrelevancy? If we depend on ourselves, yes, it’s an impossible task. With God, however, all things are possible. With God, we have Hope.
So what can we do?
The first and foremost thing we can do is fall in love with Jesus once again. We must ignite (or re-ignite) a passion within the hearts of our members, pastors, and churches for Jesus! Our love for Jesus and the desire to be in a relationship with him and be willing to follow his example and his call to servanthood, is the heart of all that we do. This kind of “discipleship” fuels our common life, our worship life, and engages our community.
There are many things and people we love. We love our church. We love our pastors. We love our issues, and we love the way we have always done things. But where is our love for Jesus and is it greater than the love we have for all those other things? When and only when we can as individuals and as a denomination say unequivocally “YES!” to Jesus, will we reverse decades-old pattern of infighting and decline. Our hope for evangelism in the next decade rests on our ability to reclaim this passion. If we can do this, the other things we hope for may begin to become a reality.
We have hope:
»That our churches will focus on making disciples rather than merely members of a church;
»That churches will focus more on sending than gathering;
»The church will see evangelism and social justice as interdependent on one another;
»That churches will become apostolic and start new faith communities that will reach those for whom God’s heart breaks;
»That by 2020, churches will have a worshiping congregation that reflects the cultures and ethnicity of the neighborhood;
Making these hopes a reality rests on the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray that what we see as the work to be done in the next decade is the work God has called us to do and not merely what we think should be done. It’s not up to God to support what we want to do — it’s really the other way around. We are called to support God’s mission. Let us then as a church ask, “God, what are you up to in our church and our community and how can we join you in your work?”
That is our hope.
ERIC HOEY is director, RAY JONES is coordinator of evangelism, and PHILIP LOTSPEICH is coordinator of church growth and ministry support, PC(USA) Office of Evangelism and Church. Growth.