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A couple weeks ago, Smith Valley UMC hosted a Vision & Values workshop to begin the conversation on who we are and what it is that we are called to do/be as a church.  We have a mission statement that is more than a few words on paper.  It helps to shape us, but now it’s time to take some more steps forward.

I invited Ann Handschu to lead the workshop.  Ann has done a fantastic job helping churches all over Indiana, and was gracious enough to work with us in this process.  Before the workshop, she and I had a great conversation on discipleship.  And one of the things we talked about was how everything we do should be about making disciples.  After all, that’s what Jesus tells us, right?  “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Fair warning – I’m going to geek out for a minute here – in the Greek of that text, there is something important that we don’t necessarily catch in the English.  How many verbs do you see there?  If you said four – go, make disciples, baptizing, teaching – you would be mostly right.  What if I told you that “make disciples” is only one word – μαθητεύσατε (matheteusate), and the rest of the verbs are modifiers of that verb?  Does that change your understanding of what Jesus is saying?

Essentially, to make disciples, we have to go, baptize and teach.  That is what the disciple-making process looks like, according to what Jesus says in Matthew 28.  So, how does this translate to the local church?  If it’s all about discipleship, then everything we do should fall into those categories.  But it should also reframe how we see what we do.

For example, at Smith Valley, we have a couple of big outreach events each year.  We’ve done each of them three times now, so it’s not like we are the experts on how to make this happen, but we are trying to learn.  Our Trunk or Treat at the end of October and our Easter Celebration have been some of the largest events we’ve done as a church.  The conditions were perfect for our second Trunk or Treat, and we actually had over 600 people show up that night.  We are a church that averages 85 in worship right now.  As you can imagine, it was a crazy night, and it was awesome.

Our Easter Celebration doesn’t draw quite as many people, but it is still a good-sized event.  Just last week, we had over 100 people show up – even though it was about 45 and raining outside.  We had to call an audible and do it inside, but we made it work.  Most of those 100 that showed up were kids, who were excited about the Easter egg hunt.

But here’s where we have a problem: inevitably, the comment comes from a well-meaning person that it would be nice if we could get some of these people to come to church on Sunday.  And, they’re right.  It would be nice.  However, some maybe less well-meaning people have criticized these events in the past, referring to them as a waste of time and resources because it doesn’t draw people to church on Sunday morning.  This is where I have a problem.

It’s all about discipleship.  Even big, community-oriented outreach events are about discipleship.  It’s not about roping people in; it’s about serving our community.  Service does not come with conditions.  Now, we do try to follow up with people who attend these events.  Some of them even ask for information on the church, and some people have come to worship because of these events.  And that’s awesome.  But what should our mindset be when we do these events?  Should we be focused on getting them in to worship on Sunday morning, or should we focus more on being obedient to God’s call to reach out to our community?  If it’s about discipleship, then the latter should be where we focus our attention.

If nobody comes to worship on Sunday morning, but we are being faithful – connecting with those who come, serving selflessly and following Jesus in what we do – then it was a win.  Anybody who does come as a result is a great joy and bonus.  But they don’t come because of our efforts; they come because the Holy Spirit prompts them.

In everything that we do as followers of Christ, we need to be thinking about ways to make it about discipleship.  And in doing so, we are faithful to God’s call in our lives.  Discipleship is a lifelong journey, and we just need to take a couple steps at a time.  As long as we are following Jesus, the rest will happen as it will.

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