Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:2-3
It is safe to say that every antagonist I’ve ever encountered in more than two decades of church ministry doesn’t understand his or her own call to be apostles. Because once we understand our personal call, it affects how we relate to our church community. Our personal understanding of our call gets imposed on our church community and our contribution to it. One who understands the church as “an organization to which I belong” contributes what he or she thinks is enough to keep the organization going. One who understands the church as a “movement to change the world” contributes more, because he or she understands that the message of salvation must go farther and farther. Just as the Lord wants the Church to succeed, the committed Christian wants the church to thrive and not just survive.
Understanding the mission of the church begets a vision for what the Church can and should be. Lack of understanding maintains the church as it is.
Mission begets a vision for what church can and should be. The Church is supposed to be many things. First, it is a place where we receive Christ in the Eucharist. We can experience Christ in prayer anywhere and at any time. Our contact with Him through prayer should not just be restricted to days of worship, which sadly is the case with many Christians. However, worship, specifically the Eucharist, is a way that we encounter Christ that is unique, special and vital to our lives as Christians. It is Christ, through the Eucharist, that sustains and grows our relationship with Him. Thus, the number one ministry in a Church community is the liturgical life, the ministry of worship. Heavy emphasis must be given to the Liturgical life and everything associated with it—the choir, the chanters, the altar boys, ushers, greeters, and most importantly, participating worshippers.
The next most important ministries are ministries of discipleship, which are primarily ministries of education. If disciples can’t become apostles without knowledge, then the church must educate disciples through Sunday school and adult catechism. GOYA (teenage ministry), JOY/HOPE (ministry to children and pre-teens), Young Adult Groups and College Groups assist in making disciples as well. Bible studies also contribute.
Just as the Christian life doesn’t end with a call to be disciples, so the Church does not end its work with just discipleship. The Christian and the Church must move to being apostles, which involves reaching beyond the community. Most churches put their festivals under outreach—they really belong as fundraisers, unless there is a concerted effort to reach out to festival patrons to expose them to the Orthodox faith and invite them to partake. Support of local charities is essential to our commission to be apostles. Witnessing for Christ through acts of charity is actually the most effective witness. Christ told His followers that they would be recognized as Christians because of love, not because of intelligence, food or anything else. So, the most powerful witness for Christ outside of the Church is acts of love and charity—THESE are the things that identify us as Christians, and ultimately are the things that will bring others to Christ, things that make Christianity attractive.
Orthodoxy 101 classes targeted toward people looking for a church home is an important part of the vision of the church. A welcoming environment is critical. If people feel welcome, they are likely to return. If they don’t, there are not likely to. We don’t necessarily have to go out into the public squares and shopping malls to pass out literature about Orthodoxy, but when someone walks through our doors on their own, they should be greeted, encouraged and made to feel welcome. Ministries for the greater community should be part of the church community programming. Support groups, men’s and women’s groups, and ministries to benefit the greater community will be keys to the future of our church. The Church does not need to bend with the times as far as its values, but it necessarily needs to fit the needs of contemporary people. People are yearning to belong, and yearning to serve. It is imperative that we make people feel welcome when they come to our church the first several months. We cannot afford to be stodgy or stuck up. We need to put Christ first. We shouldn’t have Him as a guest at the table, but He needs to be at the head of the table, at the forefront of all ministries.
The Apostles had a zeal for the faith. They understood the mission to spread it. They spoke with confidence and also with boldness. Each one had “group success” at the cost of individual “failure.” What does that mean? Each Apostle (except for John) and countless martyrs since the time of the Apostles was killed for their faith. From a faith perspective, that is individual success—to die for Christ guarantees eternal life with Him. But their lives were cut short because they chose to be good Apostles. Through their efforts, the faith has spread to all corners of the world.
You are not likely to get killed witnessing for Christ in anytown, America. But you are likely to be ridiculed. It will cost you some TV time. Giving sacrificially will affect your pocketbook. The benefit of spreading the message far outweighs the cost. Because the benefit is fulfilling the commission, bringing others to Christ, and lining up ourselves to inherit eternal life.
The mission and vision must agree. Once the mission is understood, then the proper vision naturally takes shape.
But Thou, O Lord, art enthroned forever; Thy name endures to all generations. Thou wilt arise and have pity on Zion; it is time to favor her; the appointed time has come. For Thy servants hold her stones dead, and have pity on her dust. The nations will fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth Thy glory. For the Lord will build up Zion, He will appear in His glory; He will regard the prayer of the destitute and will not despise their supplication. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord. That He looked down from His holy height, from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die; that men may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem His praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord. Psalm 102:12-22
Mission begets a vision of what the Church can and should be.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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