by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister
This is the first of three articles on WDC’s mission statement: “WDC empowers Anabaptist/Mennonite congregations to Witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ, Dwell in just and loving relationships, and Connect to God’s mission in the world.” Today’s article is on the theme “Witness and Invite Others to Faith in Jesus Christ.”
WDC’s three-part mission resonates with Palmer Becker’s booklet, What is an Anabaptist Christian, in which he builds on three core concepts: Jesus is the center of our faith; Community is the center of our life; Reconciliation is the center of our work.
This first concept – Jesus is the center of our faith – is foundational to our calling to witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ. According to Palmer Becker, putting Jesus at the center of our faith means that we follow Jesus in daily life, we interpret the Bible from a Christ-centered point of view, and we give our ultimate loyalty to Jesus as both Savior and Lord of our life. So, when we witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ we are inviting them to observe our life in Christ and welcoming them to join us in that life.
As I consider what it means to witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ, examples from the gospel come to mind.
John 1 tells about a series of people – beginning with John the Baptist – who meet Jesus, and then go tell someone else about him. One of these is Philip, whom Jesus approaches and calls to follow him. Philip then finds Nathanael and reports, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth!” Nathanael skeptically asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responds, “Come and see.”
In John 4 a Samaritan woman has a transforming encounter with Jesus at the well and immediately goes back to town to tell the people of her community, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! Could this be the Messiah?”
The invitation to “come and see” is at the heart of witness. To bear witness to Jesus is to tell others about our encounter with him, and then to invite them to come, observe, and experience it for themselves.
Last year I participated in a “Come and See” learning tour of Israel/Palestine co-sponsored by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Central Committee. Members of our tour group encountered Christ in the suffering and oppression experienced by many people, and also in the courage and hope of those working for justice and peace. We were then challenged to share our stories and pictures with others at home so that they could get a glimpse of what we had experienced, seen and heard. We offered our witness with both confidence and humility: Confidence, because this was indeed our experience and we were compelled to share about it; and humility, because we are limited in our perspectives and have so much more to learn!
True witness is not arrogant, self-righteous or coercive. It is not about manipulating someone to come to our church or persuading them to agree with our beliefs or opinions. It does not present a simplistic or false picture that avoids the real truth about the church’s imperfections and the paradoxes of our faith.
Rather, true witness is honest. It means sharing with others about our authentic encounters with Jesus, not parading before others our presumed perfection as religious people. True witness acknowledges our struggles, wounds and doubts while also proclaiming Jesus’ gifts of healing, justice and true life. It means giving an account of our hope and faith, and inviting others to join us on the journey of following Jesus.
Every congregation in WDC has numerous occasions to witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ. We do so when we teach children the stories of Jesus, nurture youth in becoming followers of Jesus, and accompany adults in their walk with Jesus through seasons of suffering, loss and resurrection. We bear witness to Christ when we sing songs of worship and share stories of God’s faithfulness. We strengthen the authenticity of our witness when we renew our own relationship with Christ through prayer and scripture study. We invite others to “come and see” Christ as we extend hospitality to neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. We witness to Christ’s love when we step out of the safety of our church walls to build relationships with others and seek Christ’s presence in their lives.
To witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ is not just the job of the pastor or the preacher or Sunday school teacher. It does not require an academic degree, elected office or paid position. To share the gifts and good news that we have received in Christ is the vocation of every follower of Jesus, and the calling of every congregation!