Maybe it’s time to mothball two of the church’s favorite terms: evangelism and discipleship.
The current meaning of these terms has deteriorated into something far afield from the original intent.
Let’s start with evangelism. For most churches, evangelism boils down to one of two activities:
- Lecture a roomful of people about sin and God.
- Hope that stalwarts from your denomination move to town and join your church.
The past few months I’ve contemplated the effectiveness–or lack thereof–of these approaches. Then I traveled to the cornfields of Iowa. Here, a fledgling ministry called Cana exercises evangelism in a refreshing–and effective–way.
Last year Barbara Huisman and a few of her friends talked about planting a church in their hometown of Fort Dodge, Iowa. They worked with their denomination to gain support, but they stipulated that they didn’t want to follow the typical church-planting model.
Instead, they dreamed of a “creative space where life and faith come together.” So they leased an old downtown storefront location across the street from a budget motel that rents rooms by the hour.
While most church plants establish themselves with a Sunday worship service, Cana started with a Tuesday night Lifetree Cafe, a weekly hour of conversation about life and faith. If people are interested in a regular church service, Barbara refers them to the many churches in the community.
At Cana, the team demonstrates what Barbara calls “radical hospitality.” It’s a highly relational approach that community members experience the moment they step inside.
Jodie, a woman struggling with addictive behavior, wandered into Cana’s Lifetree Cafe one dark Tuesday night and was immediately embraced and invited to sit with Joyce, a Cana regular who enveloped Jodie with the simple love of Christ. Jodie said that night changed her life. The non-judgmental acceptance overwhelmed her. And “God went through me like a lightning bolt,” she said.
She experienced evangelism–true evangelism. Through relationship. With God’s people and the Holy Spirit.
And then Jodie experienced discipleship. But not in the usual way.
Usually, the church approach to discipleship means sitting through informational classes and sermons. But that’s not how Jodie was discipled at Cana. She spent time with followers of Christ who lived out Cana’s motto: “Where your passion meets the community’s need. Where miracles happen!”
Jodie’s miracles began that first Tuesday night last year. Her addiction ended that night. Week after week God transformed her. She found her new and real identity in Christ. Cana’s mentors surrounded her with God’s love and guidance.
Then Jodie stepped forward and told Barbara she wanted to start a ministry. She wanted to form a recovery house for women struggling with addictions. It seemed like a far-fetched dream. But Barbara and the people of Cana encouraged Jodie. They suggested she seek funding from local churches. So Jodie met with leaders at a local church–and walked out with a $50,000 commitment for the recovery house.
Cana formed a new 501(c)(3) organization, and the Gateway to Discovery women’s center is on its way. But that’s not all. Other Cana people wanted to pursue their ministry passion for the arts. So they leased the space next to the Lifetree location to accommodate PieceWorks, a new non-profit arts ministry.
Still other people at Cana found they shared a love for horses. So they established Stable Connections, another Cana non-profit that uses horses for mental health therapy.
In just the past year, this little ministry outpost called Cana has launched three new non-profit organizations, a prayer ministry, and a community Bible time, in addition to their Lifetree Cafe.
It’s a picture of discipleship. Everyday people growing in their relationship with God, becoming active disciples of Jesus, carrying his love into the community.
I like the reclamation of evangelism and discipleship I found in Iowa. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s not mass-produced. It’s a personalized, relational approach. Much like Jesus modeled 2000 years ago.
What a God sighting! When God is in it you know it. God is, always has been and always will be in the miracle business. I will be praying for the ministry of Cana!
And you know what’s sad? I’ve seen grassroots ministries like this get started in a church, only to be rejected by some in the church because it wasn’t the usual ministry born out bureaucracy. But you know what, when God’s in it, no matter who likes it, fights against it, etc. it will survive and thrive, often DESPITE some of God’s people.
We agree Pat! It is truly amazing how simple it is to share life together in our community through a concept such as Lifetree Cafe. Equally amazing is the attitude of many churches unable to see missionally inside and outside their doors. But as you stated like Gamaliel’s counsel, If it is of God you will NOT be able to overthrow them! God Bless the Cana ministry!
I thoroughly enjoy getting these weekly “blogs”. Wish they were more often. I pass on many of your articles to the church I attend, as well as the church that I work at. One is not at all receptive to anything new that would draw in new members. They SAY they are welcoming and want new people, but that is not really the case. They understand that their numbers are diminishing, and they need to bring in new people, and they often do that. Unfortunately, when the new people try to get involved and bring some new ideas to the table, they are snuffed out pretty quickly, with the obvious result of them simply leaving and no one caring enough to find out whey they left.
Having said all of that, I love the concept of the Lifetree Cafes. Given the number of mainstream churches that are “shuddering” and “shuttering their doors” I would say that this is a concept that could very well be the “breath of life” that lost people are really wanting.
Pretty awesome and inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing.
Jesus was about relationships, in the process disciples were taught and made through daily experiences, not through classes. Though the apostles did hear Jesus speak.
We need to include both and not exclude one or the other.
It’s sermons/Bible knowledge plus relationships.
remember the 3 legged stool??? This really is the crux of the problem. we have gotten “off balance” as it were. we need to get back to the basics. it seems redundant to ask “what would Jesus do” when in reality most of us KNOW what Jesus would do — we simply are not prepared to do what He did. that’s why faith is a journey …. none of us arrives at our destination “this side of heaven”.
Great post. Really gets to the point. But we need not “forget evangelism and discipleship” we need to remember they are done through the Holy Spirit being free to move amongst God’s people. When we remove the man-imposed shackles to ministry, wonderful things sprout up! Truly wonderful to hear of such successes.
That’s letting God work! He only asks us to be vessels, not the miracle workers. If I am willing he will bring people to me that I can witness and disciple, that’s just the way he works. Our obedience express true worship of the Creator.
Do you guys have anybody based in New England with whom I can brainstorm in person? I work at a mainline-style church in Massachusetts whose old guard would, I think, be resistant to something like this, but some of whose newer folks or more out of the box thinkers might really catch on to this. I have some ideas, but I need help and probably some external mentoring or something.
Jenn, if you’re referring to Lifetree Cafe, there are now hundreds of locations around the country–and hundreds of people who would love to share their experiences and insights with you. Bob at Lifetree can put you in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loved reading this. My wife and I visited Cana/Lifetree Cafe last year prior to launching a LTC here in Kansas City. I’m so proud of the way Barb and her group have reached out to their community with God’s love.
Reblogged this on Cite Simon and commented:
It’s so easy to lose ourselves in “doing the right thing” but here’s a warning to think through what we are really doing. Old habits die hard but we can no longer afford to deny that Christians are losing ground in both of these important parts of our purpose in life. Here’s some folks who dared to get radical! Wonder what we could do if we followed their lead . . .
the “word titles” arent the problem its the not going out,. thinking everybody else. if someone didnt tell you would you know? JESUS said Go and tell
I see that these posts were a couple of years ago. You will all be happy to know that Cana is well and thriving! I am one of the “regulars” at Life tree Cafe, but there is something every day at Cana, in addition to the other ministries! Cana is a blessing to Fort Dodge, Iowa, to my family, and myself. Barbara Huisman is a fantastic leader, role model, and person who exemplifies faith in action!