Reclaiming the Great Commission:
An initial response to Fr Evan Armatas's book
"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'" Amen. - Matthew 28:16-20
Fr Evan's book, Reclaiming the Great Commission: A Roadmap to Parish Health, does not claim to answer the question, "What should we do?" although there are many ideas which could be implemented. Rather he is addressing, "How should we think?" The Great Commission, as recorded as the last words of Christ in Matthew's Gospel, is full of actions-go, make disciples, baptising, teaching-and a promise, "I am with you always." Note how the promise is dependent on following the actions.
How do we respond to the Great Commission? To start with we must remember, "God is already at work in [our] parish. He wants good things to occur and he will work with [us] to bring them to fruition." (p. 16) This working with us, through us, in us-Synergy (see pp. 37-39)-is vital: we are each called to be workers of the Great Commission; perhaps a daunting task, so Fr Evan uses this analogy,
No one eats a salami in one sitting, but rather we eat one thin slice at a time. Biting off a little bit at a time will be important and ensure you do not become overwhelmed. Remember, Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. … Not everything has to be done, nor do you have to do everything right, right away. Honestly, any little step [our] community takes is positive and helps [us] progress. (p. 17)
"Enabling a parish to thrive requires two things," writes Fr Evan,
eliminating the barriers that prevent us from living the timeless truths of our Faith, and
discovering what needs to be done, as well as the things we have failed to do. (p. 46)
And he develops these through examining Five Essentials,
1. Regaining our sight
2. Remembering our life-saving mission
4. Building bridges, not barriers
5. Developing a sense of urgency (pp. 48-66)
How would a guest (not "a visitor") feel on arriving for the first time at our community? If someone has never been to an Orthodox service, would they feel welcomed? Is Christ at the centre of what we are doing? Are there activities which should stop? Are we more welcoming to certain guests than others? Do we see our own repentance as urgent?
Fr Evan identifies parish health as key in all this, "Health is our goal, not growth. Growth is a by-product of health." (p. 17) And so there are four aspects he develops which allow a community to become healthy,
1. A Commitment to Christ and the Gospel (Orthodoxia)
2. A Commitment to Connecting Christ and the Gospel to Our Daily Lives (Orthopraxia)
3. A Commitment to Relationship Building and Forming a Spiritual Family (Koinonia)
4. A Commitment to Operational Excellence (Politeia) (pp. 79-93)
To facilitate this we need an emphasis on developing Leadership: not in the sense that the pastor, the parish priest, is in charge of everything and micro-manages all that happens nor that he is incidental to all that happens and merely a "worship leader" within the community; rather we are each to become leaders and to respect the leadership of others, that we empower others to take on leadership and support them in their role. Leaders need to lead, not manage, and build up new leaders around them.
Finally, having learned all this, our community should look to creating a Parish Health Plan (pp. 177-187) where a group can identify how our community can grow in health and love, to become a more Orthodox community, or rather a more Christian community, and let the Great Commission be the directing force behind all we do: "and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Fr Alexander Haig
Pastor, Twelve Apostles' Church, Eastleigh