Question: can you train a whole church or student group in mission? I used to think the answer to that was "yes". In fact it was my job as a student evangelism trainer.
Now I think the answer is "sometimes."
Why the change? I used to think that mission was a primarily matter of technique. Of arranging good events, speaking persuasively and winningly about the Lord, being able to give clear reasons for faith and the reasonableness of faith, having a clear view on how to help someone explore the Bible's claims for themself for the first time.
Don't mishear me, I still think that all of those are very important. Just not the most important. The missing piece is that mission is a by-product of joyful, Christ-centred discipleship. Mission has at its heart loving God, loving others and building God's community of grace where his love is so clearly manifested that everyone looking on is amazed. Jesus said "by this will all know that you are my disciples - that you love one another."
It was possible to do all the matters of technique but miss this crucial core. In fact for them to replace the crucial core because it is easier to teach people to arrange a good event than it is to teach them to love well. I used to think that mission-mindedness could be developed even if I wasn't sure the person's heart was in it. Now I don't. Mission is the overflow of joy in God, or it is useless.
If you get a group that is delighted with Christ, enjoying the Word, full of the Holy Spirit, passionate to get into the things that God is passionate about, they will be irrepressible in mission. And if they aren't like that you can do all the skills training you like but the result will be impoverished and guilt-driven. I have lost count of the number of students I have seen do evangelism out of peer pressure, or feeling that it just goes with the territory. The nasty bit I have to do so I can get on with the nice stuff afterwards.
If you are thinking about how to help members of a small group be passionate about mission, I suggest you ask these questions about them, or to them:
- Am I excited about what God is doing in my life at the moment?
- Is God the most precious person to me at the moment? Am I cherishing him?
- When I talk about being a Christian, are other people likely to think I am excited about it? Why, or why not?