Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism as Discipleship: Implications for Theological Education and Leadership Formation

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism as Discipleship: Implications for Theological Education and Leadership Formation

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article gives attention to the challenges that the missional and conversational relationship of the church poses in the intercourse between evangelism, discipleship, theological education and leadership formation in its ministry and mission. This multifaceted and complex process brings together competing interests with different agendas that, in a number of contexts, have resulted in mis-evangelization. This has called into question issues about human dignity and respect and the need for reciprocity to inform all missional response of the churches. The article argues that an appropriate model of theological education is needed to equip leaders for effective witness to the gospel. This necessitates the recruitment and mentoring of emerging leaders who have had a life-changing encounter with the life-giving Spirit of Jesus that controls their identity, vocation and witness. Some experiences of formal and informal theological education and formation within the Anglo-Caribbean context were identified that disconnected and disorientated leaders from the Church's missional task of bearing effective witness to the gospel. This article calls for an overhaul of seminary- and university-based theological education careerism, because they serve as an encumbrance to nurturing effective contextual witness of churches. The article argues that if Jesus calls and makes us into his disciples, then faithfulness in discipleship necessitates that (1) authentic evangelism must be grounded in humility and respect for all, (2) leadership formation must be infectiously relational, and (3) the gospel must be communicated through genuine interpersonal and community-affirming relationships.

The article ends with an invitation to all churches to embrace a missional model of witnessing that invests in living with, learning from and sharing with people in communities depending on the Spirit of God in Christ to lead and bear fruit in God's time.

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Evangelism is mission activity which makes explicit and unambiguous the centrality of the incarnation, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus Christ without setting limits to the saving grace of God.--Together towards Life, para. 80

An eminent ecumenist, Philip Potter, the third general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), claimed that "Evangelism (euangelion in Greek) is the test of true ecumenism." (1) The witnessing vocation of the church and Christians constitutes a non-negotiable mandate that was given by the resurrected Christ to his disciples: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NIV). Witnessing to the good news of the gospel is described as a "response to the activity of the Holy Spirit." (2)

This article seeks to develop a conversation between four key missional assets that impact on the capacity of the church to engage effectively in ministry and mission. Rooted in this perspective is the role of worshipping congregations. It is the followers of Jesus in these faith communities who have been called and sent to bear witness. Therefore the equipping of all to participate in the apostolic mandate of the congregation is an imperative. Arising out of this concern is the key question on leadership formation: What is the model of theological education that can best equip leaders for effective witness?

Too often, evangelism and discipleship are presented as programmes that are designed like easy-fit custom furniture that can be assembled by dummies. I beg to differ, because my personal experiences and theological reflections seem to suggest that it is a messy affair fraught with challenges because there is no one-size-fits-all plan for evangelism and discipleship. At their core, evangelism and discipleship are about building genuine relationships with people who are seeking fullness of life that is mirrored in the life of Jesus. …

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