This is the third blog in a series from Sunderland minister David Whiting, who is currently on sabbatical
Making New Disciples – Exploring the paradoxes of evangelism
by Mark Ireland and Mike Booker, SPCK, 2015, £12.99
Making New Disciples is written by Mark Ireland and Mike Booker, Mark Ireland is currently a vicar in Shropshire whereas Mike Booker is a Team Rector of a group of parishes on the edge of Cambridge, in 2003 the two were joint authors of the book Evangelism, which way now, a book that is now in its second edition.
The foreword of Making New Disciples is written by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby describes the book as a map rather than a manual. He writes that:
‘It is a mapping of the landscape of evangelism over recent decades in this country’ (p. vii).
Mapping the territory certainly seems to be the prime purpose of the book.
The first chapter is entitled ‘The challenge of making new disciples’ and it explores the changes that are taking place in society and the resulting challenges that are presented to Christian mission. The changes that are taking place are underpinned by the sharing of statistics. The subtitle of the book is to do with exploring paradoxes associated with evangelism. One such paradox is that the journey is longer but there is less time to commit to it:
‘The journey is longer…but time to commit to it is less easy to find. Busy church members need well-produced resources and easily useable packages, but a thirst for authenticity will lead people to be suspicious of anything that looks too slick or mass produced’ (p. 14).
In the chapters that follow a number of approaches are contrasted. Are we talking about growing churches or growing people? Should we be thinking about strategy or should things be more spontaneous?
There is a chapter that explores the nature of Jesus’ one to one conversations that are found in the gospels. Jesus has a particular concern for people on the edge of society although there is no set formulae for these engagements.
The authors ask whether the work is God’s work or ours and they discus prayer in relation to making new disciples and spiritual growth.
About midway through the book the reader will find a series of chapters exploring various approaches to making disciples: Alpha, Pilgrim, Emmaus, Fresh Expressions, Messy Church and various others. The authors bring out both the positives and negatives of each approach. They consider the nature of the parish church and consider the role it has in the 21st century.
The authors go on the think about the nature of common purpose and they describe as a celebration of the way different theological traditions affirm both evangelism and social action in the mission of the church.
In a chapter entitled ‘Church-shaped disciples or disciple-shaped church’ the authors return to the centrality of making disciples, they write:
‘Across the church spectrum there is widespread recognition that Christians must be more than simply converts, attenders or even members. The role of ministry, therefore, is to equip the whole of God’s people, enabling to play a full part as followers of Jesus in building his church’ (p. 168).
The final chapter reviews national programmes for evangelism going back to Towards the Conversion of England in 1945 and including the decade of evangelism.‘
The book is very thorough as it attempts to map the landscape of evangelism. It provides some useful insights about various programmes and resources used by the church, such as Alpha, fresh expressions and Messy Church. Its weakness is that with the exception of a couple of reference to Methodism and the Roman Catholic Church is that most of the examples and statistics come from the Church of England.