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A dynamic way of being Church

Matthew 10.40-42

Today congregations from all denominations are having to rethink what it means to be church. The old model is no longer working. Perhaps it never did, and perhaps our failure to adopt the right model helps to explain the gradual decline of organised Christianity in the West. 

The prevailing model for the last 150 years has been congregations gathering together primarily for worship. Whether worship means having a good sing, or sharing communal prayers, or gathering around the table to share Holy Communion, it’s been focused on honouring and praying to God. 

But does God need our songs of praise? Do we really need to gather together to draw God's attention to the world's problems? And what are we expecting to achieve by meeting Christ in bread and wine at the table of the Lord?

In chapter 10, as we’ve seen before, Matthew uses the way Jesus and his disciples engaged in mission to suggest another way of being church - an alternative model which might be more appropriate to small and struggling churches or to groups of churches - like Methodist circuits and clusters - when we’re trying to reinvigorate our mission.

Perhaps traditional church services, focused on worship, are no longer sustainable. Perhaps they never really were. Perhaps, in putting up all our church buildings our ancestors set us up to fail, to let them down, to be the ones who can’t keep the tradition going. 

So what is Matthew’s alternative model? He suggests a way of being church that’s based not on being, on coming together, on worshipping, but on doing - out in the community, on being welcomed by the people around us. Here disciples go out instead of coming together and Jesus goes with them to meet people where they are. The focus is on mission, on what each one is called to be and do in their own corner of the  world. If they're ordained they’re more like friars or travelling preachers than parish priests, and - if they're lay people - their calling is to live in and change their own community, whether it be their neighbourhood, their office, their factory, their shop or their school, not to build a church. And those who receive them, receive Jesus. 

When they come together their reason for meeting isn't for worship, although they may begin with worship, but instead - says the discipleship expert John Leach - it's to 'celebrate what they've seen God doing among them, to receive further [instruction] about how to do it better, and then to go out [again] to see what more God will do.[1] 

Verse 42 says enigmatically that even those who give a cup of cold water to one of Jesus’ apprentice missionaries in the name of a disciple will be rewarded. What does that mean - that the apprentices are calling themselves disciples? In his translation Nicholas King says it means that they're rewarded for helping someone ‘just because they’re a disciple.’[2]

This dynamic,'says Leach, 'of coming and going, learning and doing, sharing and receiving, is [the] prevalent [way in which] Jesus [discipled] his first followers. And if this was the model adopted by Jesus, shouldn’t it be our primary way of being Church today?

[1] Based on ideas by John Leach in Guidelines, July 2017, Bible Reading Fellowship

[2] The New Testament Freshly Translated, Nicholas King, 2004


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