In my last post I told you about hundreds of FM churches that saw no new followers of Jesus in a year's time. I thought I would follow up over the next while with why these stats should stun us.
To begin, what else are we here for and what else are we doing? Will someone say, "duh" out there? John Wesley, forefather of our branch of the world wide community of Christ-followers, said, "you have nothing to do but to save souls." I know, he meant more than most evangelicals in the U.S. have meant by this. I know that often we have focused on winning "souls" as if it's only important to guarantee a safe transition from this world to the next, especially for the soul-part of us. Most of us know how reductionist that is, how we are whole people, and how ministry must target all dimensions of our humanity.
Most of us know Wesley had much more in mind than the church has sometimes meant. No question Wesley meant more. But that is NOT to say he meant less, that having absolutely zip new followers over the course of a year is anything other than incredibly out of the norm for a people earnest in following Jesus.
Because to follow Jesus earnestly is to join Jesus in inviting, welcoming and encouraging others to join us in following. The two always go together. All of this reminds me of some basic elements of Wesleyan theology that makes my jaw drop in dumbfounded-ness at the thought of a whole year passing in the life of a church with no one new joining them.
Wesleyans believe that all people may be "saved." God created all people, and longs for all people, just the way we do for our children. Out of his longing, God mobilizes numerous efforts to reach toward people who have yet to come home to him. He seeks to woo and win people. He sent Jesus in the first place. He gave his Spirit to his followers. and now he sends the church. All the time he is at work, all around us, with great urgency.
That's why he sent Phillip across the path of the Ethiopian official (Acts 8). That's also why he sent Peter to the home of a Cornelius (Acts 10). And, that's why most of us could tell stories of times when we were in just the right place at just the right time to assist someone searching for Jesus. It is literally true that Jesus is always afoot, reaching toward people, arranging opportunities, and doing so through his people even without their knowing it. Yet, a whole year goes by and no one even "trips" over Jesus? How can that be?
Wesleyans believe that all people may be saved completely. That is, as much as we humans have messed up and been messed up–God determines to make it up. Where sin abounds and has a Field-Day, grace super-abounds and brings home the prize. Think of all the ways people can be messed up and in need. Think of the church as Jesus calls us to be: Full service providers of just about everything in a sea of people who need just about everything. And still in a whole year, not one new followers! I can hardly believe that!
There is something stunningly wrong with this picture! More later …