Missions and Evangelism
IS IT ALWAYS A GAME OF NUMBERS?
by Father Jason Dickey
A healthy Church will always possessed particular characteristics. In the Acts of the Apostles, prayer, worship, and fellowship was a part of their daily lives. The members of the Church also took great care of those in need both materially and spiritually. As a result, not only were 3,000 souls converted to Christ in a single day, but as the result of their devotion to the Great Commission, great numbers of people continued to devote their lives to Jesus Christ.
The Acts of the Apostles is a wonderful example of how the Church will grow. This I believe is important when we think about missions and evangelism - particularly when too often we think of missions as something confined the concept of "mission" to things like foreign missions, projects that we are too often disconnected from, and getting our "numbers up."
What about the conversion of our own hearts? Isn't our task to love one another as Christ has loved us so that the world will know that we are His disciples (John 15:12)? Doesn't God give us two loves - one for God, and one for our neighbor. And if we don't foster these loves within our heart, won't we not be saved (St. Kosmas)?
When we think about parish growth and what it means to succeed as "missionaries", and "evangelists" I wonder how many of us would prefer not to compare ourselves to the early Church, and the struggles of the saints. Why do I say this? Great numbers of people flocked to the Church. But, for example if you read beyond the early chapters of the Book of Acts, you’ll see that great numbers of people also suffered and died on behalf of the Good News of Salvation. The early Church was eager to devote themselves to “prayer and the apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). However, they were also willing to suffer great losses in order to grow in faith and love in Jesus Christ.
How does this compare to our desire to see an increase of numbers in our own pews, and in our Church budget without discerning our true need for spiritual health? If you want numbers, watch a sporting event! But, if you want to share the message of the Gospel, we must do so by working out our salvation. This is how God provides for those who seek the truth! Just remember, not a single person who has done so without struggling or suffering in the meantime! The spreading of the gospel goes hand and hand with good old fashioned struggle. Thanks be to God that what we do pays off!!! Why else would we do it? Why else would tell the the Apostles that they would become martys in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, unless they weren't given power from on high to do so?
As we assess our goals individually or as a parish, let us ask ourselves: Do we possess the resolve, sacrifice, and willingness to pick up our cross and follow our Lord so that we can be formed into the people that He wants us to become? The only true standard and measure is how Christ is growing in us. In the spirit of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, we will only see thousands be saved when we ourselves attain inner peace!