We’ve been exploring various aspects of the mission God has called us to and how Empowering Subjects seeks to incorporate those matters. Today we will consider variety. In the New Testament we see a variety of approaches to carrying out God’s mission and to equipping others for it. There is no one, single way of doing things. The message and mission remain unchanged, of course, as well as certain other principles we have considered in this series, such as trusting God, Christ-centeredness, practicing what we preach and many other matters. Still, there is room for variety of approach.
As to actually communicating the message, we see Jesus working as an itinerate teacher, engaging people with deeds and words. Some of the miracles were extremely private while others were quite public (feeding 5000). His words were sometimes spoken to a single individual, sometimes a group (in a synagogue), and sometimes a large crowd (Sermon on the Mount). Jesus also used a variety of teaching methods, including parables, didactic teaching, confrontation, object lessons, and a whole host of literary devices. Some of his speaking is better described as teaching and other is preaching. Concerning the latter, we must take care not to read our own modern assumptions about preaching back into the text. Jesus’ preaching was the announcement of the good news that God was establishing his kingdom, and this was done in a variety of settings—including in the synagogue and temple courts but also to individuals one on one, and groups beside the sea, in homes, or wherever else a crowd might gather.
Christ’s first followers in the church also advanced God’s mission through both deed and word. Some of those deeds were miraculous, and there were also many everyday good deeds done by many different believers. Some deeds were quite public while others seem more private. Their speaking was “both publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). There were apostles and evangelists who did a great deal of speaking but also “many others” who spoke the word (Acts 15:35), including all believers, to some degree (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:4-5). The various terms that are used to describe their speaking indicates they spoke in a variety of ways (speak, teach, proclaim, announce, tell good news, testify, convict, dialogue, speak boldly, persuade, and more).
As far as equipping others for the mission, Jesus chose and focused on twelve men for long term training. They watched him constantly, heard his teachings and received special explanations of those teachings. They had near constant access to him so that they received training in the spontaneous moments of daily life as well as more intentional occasions. Jesus also trained seventy-two others, though they did not have as much contact with him as the twelve. Jesus also equipped large groups of people, to some degree, as he taught in public. Paul followed some of the principles of equipping that Jesus used, including working with larger groups (churches) while also giving more attention to certain individuals (Timothy, Titus). Some of the latter accompanied Paul on missionary journeys, and then he also sent them on specific missions to churches or to stay and work with a church for a period of time.
The training of Empowering Subjects likewise contains much variety. It seeks to help people not only reach out to others but to understand the message clearly themselves and put it into practice in their own lives. Understanding and living the message are addressed in the seminar portion of Empowering Subjects, and since these topics are appropriate for everyone, the entire church is invited. The more focused training on actually reaching out to others is included primarily in the follow-up training which a smaller group of people usually decide to participate in. This follows the example of both Jesus and Paul in addressing large groups but then also giving focused attention to smaller groups.
In both the seminar and the follow-up training, a variety of methods are used. Some of these are an interactive learning game, didactic teaching, visual presentation (Prezi), note sheets, discussion, videos, active learning through reading and answering questions, small group interaction, and practical applications. The follow-up portion ends with a “capstone project” of focusing for several days on putting into practice everything one has learned. This will help people recognize ways they have grown as well as areas where growth is still needed. The entire group is also challenged to discuss and decide how they will continue to focus on the mission together in their setting once the follow-up training is completed.
Not only are a variety of approaches used in the training, the training also leaves room for people to act on the mission in a variety of ways. Everyone is encouraged to follow Jesus’ example of a balanced ministry that includes doing good deeds, telling good news, and giving good teaching, but there are no recommended amounts or percentages. No set method of reaching out is provide. Instead, the training encourages people to trust God, ask him for opportunities, and be ready to make the most of those opportunities when God grants them. Several examples of what that might look like are provided, but participants are encouraged to apply these principles in ways that fit them and their situation. Likewise, the training seeks to provide clarity about the essential message of the gospel that we are called to speak to others, but again, no set method of doing so is given. Rather, it is hoped that participants will come to truly understand the message and find ways of communicating it that fit them and those they are sharing the good news with. Instead of recommending a single method for engaging in God’s mission, it is hoped that this variety will encourage people to look to God and reach out in ways that make room for him to work as he sees fit. We should not limit him nor ourselves to any one way of doing things.
For more on how Empowering Subjects is seeking to train people for God’s work in the world, see here.