By Bill Te Winkle
"So, what do you think of the RCA's new mission statement?" I asked a colleague nearly a decade ago. My much wiser colleague, Vern, replied, "Oh, I don't worry about that. These statements come and go. Jesus gave us the only mission statement the church needs."
Fast forward to 2009. I pastor a church similar to many churches in our beloved denomination: smaller, poorer, more worried about the future than we were. My call is to lead change at Hope Church. While doing reading about the "missional church" and the "servant church," my colleague's comment resurfaced. Making disciples, I concluded, is really what our church needs to do. We need to change our focus from making numbers to making disciples. Transform disciples, and revitalization will follow.
The challenge is to define disciples in the 21st century Reformed context. Focusing on self-realization is not Reformed. Stanley Hauerwas captures the idea: "To become a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding, but rather to become a part of a different community" (as quoted in The Missional Leader, by Roxburgh and Romanuk).
As theologian John Mackay said, "The essential reality of the church is community..." A Reformed theology of discipleship is about becoming a community of disciples whose service declares the kerygma: "Jesus is Lord!"
Diana Butler Bass, among others, writes of the simplicity of the local church as pilgrims in community. In that vein Hope Church set its sights on catching up to the work of the Spirit as we seek to become a "Pilgrim Community of Hope." "Discipleship focus interviews" during worship reveal how God is using us in service to the kingdom community. With the help of the Regional Synod of Mid-America and the leadership of one very enthusiastic disciple, Doris, we set out to become a station for Kids Hope USA, an organization that connects schools and churches to establish mentoring relationships. We commissioned a group of disciples who now have a mission serving God in our city. By focusing on Christ's mission statement, we became a much more vital and effective church.
The purpose of the local church is not to bring salvation, but to encourage the kingdom community in its pilgrim journey toward the unspeakable joy of knowing God and salvation found in Christ alone. God alone elects, redeems, forgives, restores. God appoints the church to be a remnant community of disciples who together realize and display the benefits of the mystical union of heaven and earth, now present and yet to be revealed. In transforming disciples the church teaches not self-realization, but instead self-surrender, for by surrendering self we gain a life-giving awareness of our true selves.
Let's focus the RCA on Jesus' one thing--fulfilling the only mission statement the church ever needed: transforming disciples. Thanks for the advice, Vern. Thanks for the vision, Jesus.
Bill Te Winkle is pastor of Hope Reformed Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.