Dr. Alejandro Mandes is executive director of the EFCA All People Ministry. He and his wife, Julie, attend Northwest Community Church (EFCA) in San Antonio, Texas.
I was saved by the ministry of the Navigators while in high school in 1973. They birthed in me a passion for being and making disciples. When I transitioned into college, I chose a social work major because I wanted to help people. So I went to the best school in the land, of Texas, and graduated with post graduate degrees in social work and community development from the University of Texas in Austin. After a couple years of working as a social worker, I went to Dallas Theological Seminary and received two advanced degrees from Dallas Seminary, recognized as one of the most conservative seminaries in the nation. It’s like the convergence of the warm waters of the Rio Grand River and the cold waters of the Red River in North Dakota.
So, here’s a question for which I wish I received a dollar each time I heard it: “How can someone go to such a liberal school and get such a liberal degree like social work and then attend Dallas Theological Seminary and not go crazy?”
Same as all of life; eat the fish and spit out the bones.
One must only look in the New Testament to see Jesus as the social worker and lover of people – passionate to feed, heal and bind up the wounded. Yet the same Jesus would sit them down and preach the most profound and theological teaching. Same guy and same God. He didn’t change His hat and speak from a different perspective. Jesus was modeling two great commandments He set out for the disciples – the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. For Jesus, there was perfect harmony in this simple effort.
It seems we have an imbalance. Some people/churches lean toward social concern, such as food banks, justice issues or community development. Other people/churches focus on equipping, teaching and developing leaders. Some churches not only lean one way, they disparage the other as liberal or fundamentalist. Rare is the church that sees the need for both. Some large churches seem to do both, but they do a lot of things well because of their size, even by accident. Some certainly by intent.
What we need is an intentional plan. I want to hold up a simple equation I use all the time to remind myself and test myself. I call it the GC3.
The Great Commandment sets up the Great Commission, which must set up the Great Community.
The Great Commandment comes out of Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus tells us to love God and to love our neighbors. I would add John 13:34-35. I believe this is the engine that starts the process. Jesus was a good teacher, but what first attracted people to Him was His concern for them. He fed, healed and loved them. Let’s not minimize this important ministry. It was predicted in Isaiah 61. Some people/churches/organizations get so good at this that they keep doing social issues and it becomes an end.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) picks up where the Great Commandment left off. Jesus didn’t come just to feed people. He came to die and make disciples who make disciples. In many cases, making disciples who make disciples has gotten reduced to programming and listening to sermons. Programs and sermons are not bad, but they cannot be the end game. Making disciples is life-on-life mentoring, yet it is not a forever relationship. It is teaching and modeling and then releasing for a reproduction of the process in others and on down the line (2 Timothy 2:2).
The result is the Great Community. The Great Community is a reference to the church and it’s city. When we serve and mentor others intentionally like Jesus, it isn’t difficult to see the church growing and healthy. The Great Community isn’t only the church, but also the church’s place in the community and it’s testimony among the people who see it’s good work (Acts 2:47, 5:13-14). The Church was never meant to be an island protected by moats and drawbridge. Ours is a building without walls – open for all to look in. Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity, said the church became a world religion by the way it served people during the plagues. Similarly, we must meet people in their despair, struggle and joy today.
Slight imbalance is inevitable, but as leaders we must seek to uphold both of Jesus’ mandates. They are necessary to bring transformation to disciples, leaders, churches and communities. God already provided people in our churches wanting to move toward Jesus’ vision for the world. Therefore, the challenge for leaders rests on upholding, identifying, guiding, resourcing and celebrating the wins Jesus so effortless lived in the Gospels.