...Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." (Mark 1:14-16)
Should a church be focused on proclaiming God's Word or organizing and promoting ministries of interpersonal mentoring and discipleship? The goal of this short post is simply to reject the false dilemma this question poses.
"Is your congregation discipleship-based or pulpit-centered?" Perhaps, like most pastors, a friend has asked you a similar question. There's a lot behind that question. Sometimes the friend simply wants to know if there are opportunities to be personally helped in the church or if it's all about the pastor's sermon. Sometimes the friend might be coming from a certain theological position and is seeing if your congregation is up to their standards.
In the tiny world of the reformed church, there's an undercurrent of an idea that each congregation can be pigeon-holed into being a preaching-heavy, pulpit-centered church or a church with a lot of ways designed to help individuals and families grow in the Lord. To make matters worse, there are often internet-grenades-of-love lobbed at those perceived to be on the other side. It's time for us to reject the choice and choose instead the model of Jesus' ministries.
Here in Mark 1, Jesus sets the pattern for us at the very beginning of his public ministry. Of course Jesus proclaimed the gospel! In Mark's view, it was the main purpose of his brief ministry. Any congregation that doesn't prioritize the preaching of God's Word can't claim to be following the pattern of our Savior.
And of course Jesus sought and made disciples, going out of his way to personally invest in men and women who would help to serve and lead the church in his absence! Any congregation that doesn't prioritize the personal ministries of discipleship likewise cannot claim to be following Jesus' pattern of ministry.
Any concept of the church that requires a choice between the centrality of preaching and the importance of interpersonal discipleship ministry needs to be rejected out of hand. This certainly isn't to say that various congregations can't have their own personalities and emphases. But it is to reject the subtle pressures to become unbalanced from Christ's pattern of ministry.
I hear things about our congregation. Sometimes through the grapevine, sometimes more directly. Some have called us a preaching-heavy church. Others call us a discipleship-type of church. Usually neither comment is meant to imply a compliment. But at the end of the day, I hope we continue to reject the choice of deciding between two things that go so well together.