If you live long enough, you will observe major shifts in the focus of churches in North America. (I can’t speak for other continents.) When I was younger and working in Baptist churches the focus was on evangelism. Our denomination had a goal of making sure everyone on the planet had a chance to hear the gospel. We counted success by the number of baptisms.
Now the focus has shifted to discipleship. It seems like everything I hear these days is about making better followers of Jesus. Success is counted in different ways (ie. how are people growing in their faith). To hear folks talk today, especially those in the missional movement, you’d think evangelism is a dirty word!
Of course these are artificial distinctions. When Jesus said “Go and make disciples”, this obviously involved evangelism and discipleship. They are two parts of the same process.
These days Baptists are fighting over the differences in reform and non-reform theology. Thirty years ago it was over Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal practices. It seems we have a difficult time stating what we believe and what we value without pitting our beliefs and practices against those of other Christians.
I keep coming back to that quote form Jesus “Wisdom is justified by all of her children” (Luke 7.35). To me, this means that wisdom is not found in separating me from you because we practice our faith differently. But rather, wisdom is displayed when we embrace the truths we share together and work towards the common goal.
Looking at it in another way, Paul said that “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…” I think and act a lot more like an apostle than a pastor. (That’s why I do what I do for a living.) I’ve got friends who are wired to be prophets, others who are fantastic at sharing God’s story in an evangelistic way and still others who are great teachers. Paul’s point (if you read on in that passage) was that all of these people are important in building up the body of the church. If we only focus on our differences, all of the apostles would get together, all of the prophets, all of the evangelists, and etc. And the church would be totally dysfunctional.
So let’s work on getting rid of the “vs.” and replace it with an “and”.