Deep and wide: Marrying discipleship and evangelism

As a child, I used to sing a course in children’s church. It had some fun motions that went along with it:

Deep and wide,

Deep and wide

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

Don’t get hung up on the meaning of the words. I’m not sure what the “fountain” was, perhaps a reference to William Cowper’s creepy lyric: “There is fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.”

Yet as ironically shallow as “Deep and Wide” seems in retrospect, it’s a good description of what the church ought to be. If we’re only “wide” (and not deep), people will go elsewhere. On the other hand, if we’re only “deep” (and not wide), we may end up as the church of “us four and no more,” as if being small in number somehow makes us holier. The challenge is to be good at both, inviting people in and taking them to the next level in their walk with Christ.

Doug Hardy of Nazarene Theological Seminary addresses this topic in a thoughtful blog entitled “Reflections at the Intersection of Mission and Spiritual Formation”:

Our ecclesiology might be too thin. The Church of the Nazarene as a denomination emerged from a movement that did not originally consider itself a full-fledged church. The Holiness and Pentecostal revivals led to associations that sponsored missional activities in addition to the functions carried out by the established churches. It was significant, therefore, when the Church of the Nazarene finally added to its Articles of Faith in 1989 a statement on “The Church”—an affirmation of the importance of ecclesiology—and significant also that it took so long to do so—a reflection of an assumed understanding of church that was mostly defined over-and-against other churches. Much more could be said about this, but let me draw attention to one feature of District and General Church gatherings that might expose a thinness in our ecclesiology attributable to a failure to take into account the implications of full formation in Christ: the emphasis on starting new works and planting new churches. It’s not so much the initiatives in-and-of-themselves that are problematic—they are strategic for ongoing church growth and renewal. Rather, it is the way these initiatives rise to the top of our value system to the neglect of other, equally as important and necessary initiatives.

Read the entire post here.

If I could sum up Dr. Hardy’s thoughts in a sentence, it would be this:

Don’t forget spiritual formation!

Even a quick read of Hardy’s essay shows that he and I are on the same page. He’s not setting up a choice between discipleship and evangelism, as if the church could only do one and not the other. Yet the challenge remains: How do we put them together? How can we as a people be both “deep and wide”?

In the dialogue between those who saw what we used to call “soul winning” as our priority and those who resonate with the call to alleviate suffering, someone coined the term “compassionate evangelism.” I wonder whether we need a similar marriage of words when it comes to discipleship and evangelism. We already have a good start with the mission statement of the Church of the Nazarene:

Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations

But what term can bring together our dual commitment to grow deeper in our faith and our desire to see the lost come to Christ? The old term “holiness movement” comes close. The term “holiness” captures the objective, i.e. righteousness of heart and life, while the word “movement” evokes a swelling tide of people joining a triumphal procession. “Holiness evangelism” is another possibility.

Discussion

1) When it comes to discipleship and evangelism, what term would you suggest that can “unite the two so long divided”? 2) How can an evangelistic element be added to discipleship groups?

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Photo credits:

Upper : Gate of the City Ministry

Lower: Langham Partnership Australia

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