(The following is part 2 in a four part series:
In last week's blog, I talked about the discipleship pathway that Jesus described when he called his first followers. As he preached the message, "Repent and believe the gospel" far and wide, he specifically called disciples by saying, "Follow me - and I will make you become - fishers of men." This was a call to turn from their own ways, to be transformed by the power of Christ, and to multiply other disciples. These first followers of Jesus knew the basics of what they were getting into from the moment they were called. In fact, Christ's summons to follow even scared off some would-be disciples because Jesus urged them to count the cost (see Mark 10:21-22, Luke 9:57-62). The clear proclamation of Jesus defines the boundaries of who is in the Kingdom and who is not.
This is why "Proclaim Jesus" is the very first phrase in our mission statement and why "Proclamation" is the first phase in our discipleship pathway. Jesus must not be hidden in the background; he must have the spotlight in every facet of our lives and church.
Perhaps you find it hard to identify with the word "proclaim" as something you would do with your family, friends, and neighbors. You might think, "I talk and share and dialogue. But proclaim? That sounds sort of loud and obnoxious!"
Our society does not prefer that we "proclaim Jesus" because they think that faith is a personal matter. However, proclamation was the primary method of Jesus and his disciples because they knew that faith was the only matter. John the Baptist did not "appear baptizing in the wilderness, suggesting a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" - he appeared "proclaiming" it because the coming Christ was worthy of that repentance (see Mark 1:4). Jesus did not come into Galilee "sharing the gospel of God" as if it was a good opportunity for investors to get in on the ground level. Instead, he appeared proclaiming it because all needed to hear this good news (see Mark 1:14). Jesus astonished the culture of his day by breaking the mold and teaching as one who had authority, all the while demonstrating undeniable compassion (see Mark 1:22). This proclaiming King is the one we represent when we claim his name and introduce others to him.
While the culture may not prefer that we "proclaim Jesus" because they believe that faith is a personal matter, proclamation was the primary method of Jesus and his disciples because they knew that faith was the only matter.
Even in our highly individualistic culture, proclamation is still the preferred method to promote opinions we hold strongly, topics that make us passionate, or facts we determine are urgent. Many people are not afraid to proclaim the supremacy of their favorite sports team when they win a victory. Proud parents proclaim the achievements of their children when they make them proud. Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers both proclaim their opinions to anyone who will listen - and even to those who will not. As believers, the gospel ought to be the topic closest to our heart and the most urgent message we would want to make known. Believers understand that the gospel is not a private matter of minimal consequence but rather a universal matter of eternal significance.
While we do not necessarily promote standing on a street corner with a megaphone as a primary evangelistic approach, every person must be loud and clear regarding who Jesus is and what he has done. "Proclaim" is not as much a style or evangelistic method as it is a statement about the centrality of the clear message and incomparable person of Jesus. We lead with Jesus.
The specific name, "Jesus," is an intentional choice in our mission statement as well. We do not just want people to "believe in God" generally. They must believe in the one true God who is made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is essential to clarify that Jesus alone is our source of salvation. "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (see Acts 4:12).
Even more, we want to emphasize that we are not saved by faith in a general concept of God, but by a personal redeemer. We are not saved by ideas about God, but by God himself. Jesus is the only begotten eternal Son of God who really lived, really died, really rose again, really reigns, and is really coming again. He is not a collection of ideas to ponder - he is a real person to trust.
When we say that our mission is to "proclaim Jesus" or that our discipleship pathway starts with proclamation, it's because we could not tell the world a better message about a better Savior and Lord. We have nothing without Jesus, no cause for existence as a church apart from him, and therefore there is no one else we could proclaim. Further, there is no power to "take the next step" to experience true life transformation apart from Jesus. Whether we are talking to an unbeliever or believer, the good news of Jesus must be front and center.
Our Never-ending Need
To say that our discipleship pathway starts with proclamation is not to say that our need for proclamation ends when we enter the next "phase" of discipleship. We never grow out of needing Jesus. Jesus said that we bear much fruit by "abiding in" him, not moving beyond him (see John 15:1-11). Further, when we are sent as witnesses, we go in the power and presence of Jesus. In fact, the proclamation of Jesus is only enriched as we move on through the rest of the growth process of equipping and sending. Jesus becomes more brilliant to us the more we step out in faith as a servant and a witness for him because it is there that we learn to actively rely upon him.
However, if we do not begin our pathway with the clear proclamation of Jesus at the center, growth will be a constant vapor eluding our grasp. For those who are new to our church, it should be clear that this is not just a social club - this is a body who is serious about our head. This is a bride who desperately loves her bridegroom. This is a family who is guided by the head of our household, Jesus Christ.
"Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28 ESV).
Sunday Gatherings - a Place for Proclamation
Practically speaking, this is why we have designated Sunday Celebration Gatherings as our primary outlet for this type of proclamation. We proclaim Jesus in the songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the sermons we preach. We define the boundaries of the church through the proclamation of Jesus in baptism and the Lord's Supper. We proclaim Jesus for the sake of believers and unbelievers alike, realizing our common continual need. If you participate in one of our celebration gatherings and Jesus is not the centerpiece of the message, something is off.
We pray that this type of regular atmosphere of proclamation fosters a shared love for Christ that is deepened through the equipping and sending phases (and their corresponding environments of Gospel Communities, ministry service, and evangelism). We pray that we each hear Jesus proclaimed so often that it is easy for us to repeat what we have heard.
Jesus is the centerpiece of the scriptures. He is the focal point of the gospel. He sits on the throne of heaven and is the Lord over our church. Let's make him the loudest song we sing and the most frequent message we proclaim.