Posted on August 12, 2017 by Aaron Kauffman
“People don’t go to church on Sundays to support their pastors in their ministry. The pastor goes to church on Sunday to support the people in their ministry. And their ministry, the ministry that really counts as mission, is outside the walls of the church, in the world, being salt and light in the marketplace.” —Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People
A growing passion of mine is to help the church recover a commitment to training everyday believers to join God’s mission in their homes, neighborhoods, and places of work. Or, as our new mission statement puts it, “VMMissions equips the church to share new life in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far.”
This mobilization of all believers in mission is how the early church grew from a few thousand believers to roughly ten percent of the Roman Empire in its first three centuries. “According to the evidence at our disposal,” explains Alan Kreider in his book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, “the expansion of the churches was not organized, the product of a mission program; it simply happened.”
It’s not that they lacked leaders. According to missiologist Dana Robert, “Bishops ran social services, collected money for the poor, solved theological disputes, and were the first to be tortured and executed during waves of persecution.” (Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion)
But everyone practiced what you might call “lifestyle evangelism.” The early Christians stood out from their neighbors because they cared for the poor, rescued abandoned infants, practiced fidelity in marriage, refused to worship the emperor, and followed the Apostle Paul’s advice to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:6) And though they suffered for it, the movement grew.
Such courageous witness is also in the DNA of the Anabaptist movement, whose early adherents were incredibly missional. For example, in their book, Profiles of Anabaptist Women, Arnold Snyder and Linda Huebert Hecht tell the story of Margaret Hellwart of Beutelsbach. She was interrogated in 1608 for refusing to participate in the state-sponsored Lutheran faith, and instead espousing and promoting Anabaptism. She held fast to her convictions, and was subsequently chained to the floor of her house as punishment. Between 1610 and 1621 she escaped and was chained again no fewer than 21 times. She eventually persuaded her neighbor, Maria Niessmuller, to join the Anabaptist faith, and the two ministered together. Eventually, both were chained, yet the movement continued to grow.
Do we have the courage to live such radical lives of obedience to Jesus that we stand out from our culture, and perhaps even suffer for it? Do we have the humble confidence to bear witness to the gospel among our family members, neighbors, and coworkers? And do we have the patience to keep at it even when we do not immediately see “results”? It is my prayer that we can reclaim these vital missional qualities of our forerunners in the faith.