Many of us who have grown up in the church or who have attended a church for a while probably have a list of expectations about what “church” ought to be like – how we worship, how we teach or preach, how we make disciples, how we are organized, and so on. For many of us, most of what the church is supposed to do is supposed to happen in the church building on a Sunday morning, and much of what is supposed to be done is supposed to be done by the guy behind the pulpit.
However, ministry isn’t always what you might expect. In their book Lost in America: How Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door, ministers and church-growth experts Tom Clegg and Warren Bird wrote, “In America, it takes the combined effort of eighty-five Christians working over an entire year to produce one convert” (page 29). While Clegg and Bird point out that the average American church is largely ineffective in its primary task – making disicples – one thing that we should take from their statement is that most of what the church is supposed to do actually happens outside the walls of the church building and is most often done by someone other than the minister.
This simple fact remains: every one of us is called to make disciples; that’s what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, 20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Even though we read about the leadership of Jesus’ disciples throughout the New Testament, much of the work of the early church was done from day to day by the early Christians. Following the death of Stephen in Acts 7, we can read in Acts 8:1, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria,” and then in Acts 8:4 it says, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
The early Christians made disciples by preaching the word, but they also influenced the people around them through their daily lives. Tabitha, known to most of us as Dorcas, was a great example of this; Acts 9:36 tells us that she was a disciple “who was always doing good and helping the poor.” This should show us that not only do we share the Gospel through preaching and teaching, but we can also share it by what we do because of our faith. That’s why James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” and then in James 2:18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Again, ministry isn’t always what you might expect. One of the greatest opportunities for ministering to the community of Athens is through our preschool. It’s unfortunate that even within our church we seem to forget that the preschool is a ministry of Athens Church of Christ and not another organization that uses the building. Not only does the preschool provide a service of preparing children to enter kindergarten, but they also teach lessons from the Bible and demonstrate God’s love not only to the children but to their families. And because many of the children are from international families, the preschool’s influence goes beyond our community and into the world. If you have an opportunity to visit the preschool, check out one of our most successful ministries. Also, be sure to thank the director, Denise Gregory; the treasurer, Toni Llewellyn; and board members Bev Guider, Penny Stout, and Dick Grinstead for their leadership in this ministry.
But more than that, find your own ministry, and remember that it doesn’t have to happen here in the building. If you need some ideas of where you can help, consider holding babies in the nursery, visiting folks who are unable to attend regularly, reading to children in the preschool, or helping with community meals on Tuesdays. There’s a lot of work to be done to make disciples in this community, and we need to work together to get it done.