Mission and Evangelism: Patience in Action
When considering what is needed for outreach and mission in the Churchwe can say that that it begins with the personal effort of the faithful in each congregation as they strive to become what God created them to be. In that process of reaching out to God in love, to Christ in faith, to the Holy Spirit in hope, faithful believers become lights to those around them and draw others to Christ through the light of the love granted to them by Godís grace. The problem with this "method" of evangelization is that it takes patience.
It does not exclude a more Ďaggressiveí effort to share oneís faith with others out of love and concern for them. By Ďaggressiveí I mean taking the thought and putting it into action when it occurs to one to share times of faith with a neighbor not attending church, risking the reaction for doing so, and being a persistent but gentle friend who doesnít forget in prayer about what was started. Even mission research has shown that the most effective "method" of bringing someone new into the church was by personal invitation by a friend.
Back to the patience. Sometimes we want to see big advances quickly, to see the perfection in our church and all its systems and visible characteristics that we feel belong to a true Christian Church. We become impatient with our parishes, our priesthood and our parish members when they fail to measure up to the standards we feel describe "Christian standards", whether according to Holy Scripture or Canons. We want to see correction, spiritual growth, sacrificial lives dedicated fully to Christ and His Church, strong Church discipline and perfect execution of the spiritual laws described in the Scriptures and Canons. When there is failure in any of these areas we become discouraged and impatient with the whole experience of Orthodox Church - as if the failures are the focal point of our Church life.
Our society teaches us to change things when things donít suit us, to do something that will make a difference, to make it happen now or as quickly as possible.
Looking at the history of the Orthodox Church I think one sees the opposite. One sees long periods of confusion, uncertainty and persecution on the outward aspect of the life of the Church. Yet one sees a great patience, hope, and faith in the provision of God to bring the strengthening of faith. The Church grew in spite of the imperfections of the Church situations. There were heresies, divisions, internal strife, apostasies and rebellions of faith. We see individuals remaining faithful to the Lord with the desire to do so as much as they were enabled by God, and in doing so making spots of difference with their lives of faith.
I think we are called to do the same, perhaps not in the exact same situations nor using the same evangelism methods necessarily. But, toward the same end....using the present within the framework of the ever same faith in Christ to constantly recreate oneís sphere of living (doing, working, loving in action, making faith visible) according to the will of God.
Isnít a Christianís priority to ever increase their participation in the life of Christ with praise and thanksgiving? Doesnít doing this bring a Christian into a situation where he/she can become an instrument of God for His glory and the good of others around them? Isnít that then what mission and evangelism is based upon?
That brings us back to the striving for the ideal: becoming able to love our neighbor to the extent that we have no choice but to use that love to bring him/her to the One True Christ-God and His Temple of worship and healing. I think that the Mission and Outreach programs aim at ways available for doing that. I think that a Church's Department of Missions can supply a variety of means and support materials that can be used to help believers express their love of neighbour. But I donít think that any of the Ďmethodsí will succeed if the love of Christ is not there in them, flowing out of them and supporting the methods. The love comes through the faithful who participate in the actions of evangelism.
What happens when the ideal doesnít appear to be visible? For one, difficulties and setbacks can become a blessing, to keep us from running ahead of ourselves and what God has intended for us. We have a tendency to rush things while God has His own timeframe. Another new lesson in patience, God is in control.
For another, the great need for the ideal Church reveals to us the natural instinct that we have for what is God blessed and holy, for Godís will and Godís way. We need to remember not to confuse our desire for Godís perfection with our judgment of the sin we think we see in others, the state of being less than perfect. It is easy to criticize hierarchy or clergy or laity or theological schools for lack of spiritual zeal and/or purity while not recognizing the areas of our own lives where that same spiritual zeal and/or purity is lacking.
I think the Orthodox Church teaches that it is the better way to concentrate on critiquing oneís own behavior before God as a way of helping to strengthen the spiritual condition of oneís own parish, jurisdiction, etc. We need to become more impatient with our own lacks and weaknesses than with those that we see around us. One can do something about oneís own lacks and weaknesses. The only action that is offered to us for the lacks and weaknesses in otherís that we think we see is to pray quietly and not in the manner of the Pharisee, but in the manner of the Publican.
A resource list of mission and evangelism methods is helpful, having evangelism-minded and -actioned hierarchy is helpful, but it is not the whole answer to building new parishes or strengthening old or dying ones. It all boils down to the individual faith of each faithful believer working out their faith individually and corporately to bring about successful evangelism. Those who disrupt the faithful life of the parish become obstacles. Even that can be overcome by the faith and love of those who bear with patience the imperfections that they see around them.
Learning to walk the talk where we live before we are ready to go out to Ďdo great things for Godí takes patience and humility. I think that there is an attitude prevalent that sees doing routine things in harmony as Ďnot doing great things for Godí while campaigning, criticizing and contributing to strife over implementing programs the parish is not ready to accept is seen Ďas doing a work for Godí. May our Lord God have mercy on each of us as we strive to work together to build His Church!
- A sister in Christ