Nurture versus evangelism

Since the moment it drew its first breath, the Christian Church has been challenged, and its way of life shaped by the climactic mandate of Jesus, "Go and make disciples" . . . not proselytes or even converts, but disciples (Matt 28:19).

Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

Since the moment it drew its first breath, the Christian Church has been challenged, and its way of life shaped by the climactic mandate of Jesus, "Go and make disciples" . . . not proselytes or even converts, but disciples (Matt 28:19).

As the Church has matured and particularly as definable ministry specializations have unfolded, there has been a well-meaning tendency to assert distinctions between what we have come to know as "evangelism" and "nurture." Still more recently, this differentiation has been taken further to create what, in effect, amounts to a dubious separation of these two fundamental operations of the Church.

In some circles, nurture is assigned a significance that crowds out evangelism, while in others evangelism is championed as an activity superior to nurture, and as a form of ministry that is more representative of real Christianity.

It's time, I think, to decidedly assert that if we create a separation any separation in the well-matched marriage of these two great principles of Christian action, thus shouldering asunder what God has joined together, we seriously impair both, and injure the divinely designed, inclusive ministry of the Christian Church as it was so definitively modeled by Jesus Himself.

When we review the unsurpassable ministry of Jesus, we are immediately struck by the functionally holistic way in which He consistently combined nurture and evangelism in His approach to people. In Jesus' ministry, evangelism and nurture form a superbly tailored seamless robe. Jesus guilelessly blended healing, understanding, and encouraging people with His cogent, communicative teaching and preaching.

Along with the transcendent elements so ultimately present in Jesus, it was precisely the quality of Jesus' nurture of people that caused them to trust Him, and thus to believe more readily what He proclaimed. On top of that, what He preached and taught centered in the foundational reality of a God introduced by Jesus as "our Father" whose nature was "nurture," and the fabulous vision of creating a people of nurture and service in this world. A thoughtful, panoramic study of the apostles' ministry bears out the same kind of inseparable blending of evangelism and nurture.

The point for us, of course, is to cease promoting these false dichotomies between nurture and evangelism, whether the separation is advanced intentionally, or infiltrates by default; whether we dichotomize the two, coming from either the nurture or the evangelistic side of things.

What, after all, is more persuasive to the average person? Being the recipient of compassionate, consistent acts of kind assistance, healing, and succor, and in that context hearing the offer to drink the water of life, or merely being on the receiving end of the best evangelistic proclamation when it is done in a nurtureless vacuum?

When we look inside the church, public or "professional" evangelism crucial as it by all means is has traditionally had a certain intimidating effect upon the rank-and-file church member (along with many pastors), tending to divert them from doing any significant outreach. The impression has too often been given that public evangelistic meetings are the only unfeigned way of doing "real" evangelism, and that for pastors, at least, such outreach is the only worthwhile way for the church to share the gospel and all that goes with it.

Our congregations need to see that simple nurturing activities are highly legitimate and indispensable to the ministry of the Church, and that such ministry by all means contributes very significantly to the Church's evangelistic thrust. We could go so far as to say that well-directed nurture ministries may be in themselves highly effective forms of Christian evangelism.

Further, when actual pastoral nurture is sensitively done (in the way suggest ed, for instance, in this month's lead article by Larry Yeagley) with Spirit inspired disinterest, authenticity and accomplishment, we create an immensely important quality of trust in people. Because of this trust people are definitely more open to discerning that what we proclaim is by all means worthy of their attention and commitment.

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Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

July 2003

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