Outreach and Jewish Missions in the 21st Century
The reflections in this paper represent my personal pilgrimage in the wonderful field of traditional Jewish missions. Yes, missions. I believe we might be post certain aspects associated with traditional Jewish missions, but there are still many wonderful things being done for Yeshua by Jewish missions. This would include the planting of Messianic congregations in areas where the current congregational movement is unable to work because of limited personnel and financial resources-New York City, Israel, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America are examples and there are many more. In addition, traditional Jewish missions are able to garner the support of the broader evangelical community, which benefits both traditional missions to the Jewish people as well as the congregational movement. Further, it is clear that many of our current and future leaders have been recruited by and trained in Jewish ministry by the Jewish missions community. However, I would agree that some traditional components associated with Jewish missions movement should be shed. These would include a variety of issues related to theology, culture, values, tactics and strategy. It is certainly time for those of us who are part of the traditional Jewish missions community to re-evaluate many areas-especially our outreach strategy and methods and even our outlook on missions itself.
I continue to view the Jewish missions movement as vital and dynamic and needed today as we reach out to our people with the good news of Yeshua. I also believe the same about the congregational movement. I believe that missions to the Jewish people are changing! In truth, the wider missions movement is changing as well. The last vestiges of missionary colonialism seems to have evaporated as many people groups are discovering or rediscovering their ethnic roots. The rise of multiculturalism has also had a great impact on missions as it is clearly not politically correct to confuse the transformation of soul with the transformation of culture. Assuming that the real goal of evangelism and missions is to connect all people groups with the God who made them and sent his only Son to die for their sins, then it stands to reason that it is not God’s will for Africans or Indians to become British and for Jews to become Gentiles. In heaven, every people group, tribe, and tongue will praise the Lord! It will be the ultimate multicultural experience! Many of us within the traditional Jewish missions movement applaud these changes and hope that the future will be bright for Jewish people who embrace Yeshua and hope to live their lives as Jews!
Chosen People Ministries is a traditional Jewish mission that is committed to helping Messianic Jews accept their responsibility as Jews to live, witness, and generally serve God as both part of the Jewish community and part of the church. However, most of our staff, and I personally, do not view our Jewish identity merely from a missiological perspective. This is one of the values perpetuated by Jewish missions that I believe needs to change. Yet, as a missions agency, our work should always be viewed in missiological terms. And there is a difference.
Since our focus in this volume is on evangelism and outreach, I would like to share some thoughts from the perspective of traditional Jewish missions and as one who believes that reaching our people can be best served both by missions and congregations. This can only be done effectively if both organisms learn from one another.
A Definition Of Evangelism
Let me begin with a general discussion on the nature of evangelism. Most of us think we mean the same thing when we use the term “evangelism,” but in fact, we do not. Some would perhaps define evangelism as communicating the gospel message. In this view, evangelism is all about Jewish people accepting Yeshua as Messiah. For others, this concern-significant as it might be-is still only one part of what would be encompassed in the term evangelism. These others, like myself, might suggest that there are significant issues beyond the communication of the gospel message, which are part of the outreach enterprise, such as follow-up, ongoing discipleship, and congregational planting. The separation between these critical activities is somewhat artificial and can lead to an alteration of the meaning of evangelism, as biblically defined.
In this way of thinking, I suggest that traditional missions to the Jewish people need to consider changing and expanding their definition of evangelism. I will also suggest that our Messianic congregations must become more intentional and focused on bringing the gospel to our Jewish people in as sensitive and yet straightforward a manner as possible. In fact, to limit euangelion (Acts 8:25) to the presentation of a verbal or written message is, at best, reductionism and, at worse, a distortion of the holistic messianic mission of Yeshua. To present Jewish people with Yeshua’s message of redemption is only part of our work in bringing the message of “abundant life” promised through Yeshua. By limiting evangelism to proclaiming the message or even “leading people to Yeshua,” we are doing nothing more than giving birth and dropping infants off somewhere and assuming they will grow. Perhaps this is why the spiritual infant mortality rate has been so high in traditional Jewish missions?
I’m sure we agree that the message we share and the response we hope for is essential. But evangelism does not stop with the dispensing of the “message.” In fact, I will suggest that some of what we have deemed as secondary to evangelism should be included as part of our expanded message and responsibilities. When I say the word “evange-lism”-an image probably immediately pops into your mind. You might think of various types of activities. I tend to believe that we all-individually and communally-gravitate towards a particular understanding of evangelism or outreach. We tend to focus either on what we deem effective, personally enjoy, have experience with, feel qualified to do, or what our communities have developed over the years as the major methods and strategies for carrying out the mandate “to go and make disciples” (Rom 1:16, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Our spiritual heritage, culture, and organizational values also color how we view Scripture and therefore define the act of evangelism.
Ask two Messianic Jews their definition of evangelism and you will get three or four answers! For some who belong to Messianic congregations, the word itself sometimes has negative connotations because of real and perceived abuses involved in the motivation or application of evangelism throughout history. The Jewish community does not understand that evangelism is the attempt of believers in Yeshua to obey the command of the Messiah to bring others into a joy-filled, redemptive relationship with the God of Israel through the Messiah of Israel. Images of burning synagogues and forced conversions still haunt the corporate Jewish psyche when the word evangelism is mentioned. Jewish people react negatively when feeling targeted by Gentile Christians or Messianic Jews because of this terrible bloody history. Most Jewish people, my family included, cannot distinguish between evangelism and persecution. Modern attempts to witness to Jewish people have not helped alter to any great degree this persistent perception of evangelism. Certainly, every individual Jewish person who has responded well to the evangelistic efforts of believers is thankful for their courage and commitment for bringing the gospel to them.
These historical realities combined with declining synagogue membership, growing assimilation rates, and the growth of Jewish missions and Messianic congregations has led to increasing feelings of uneasiness and antipathy in the Jewish community. Many of us have felt the pain and hurt of the Jewish community and have, at times, spoken out against unfair treatment of Jewish people by churches and denominations or Jewish missions. Some Messianic leaders have sought to defend the wider Jewish community’s critical stance toward evangelistic programs. Other Messianic leaders have supported and participated in various outreach efforts.
Undoubtedly, a wide range of positions within the Messianic movement exist concerning evangelism, yet it is my hope that evangelism, as practiced within a new paradigm that incorporates the best practices of our current congregational movement and traditional missions to the Jewish people, can provide common ground for Messianic congregations and Jewish missions today. After all, we do need to learn from one another! We all must periodically rethink our understanding and approach to evangelism. Even though the message we preach is rooted in Scripture and by nature unchanging, the people we serve are always changing. The dynamism of our Jewish community worldwide is reason enough to reconsider our definition, understanding, and approach to evangelism.
A Simple Gospel?
What is the gospel message that has been entrusted to us? The core of the message is found in the Greek term euangelion in the Brit Chadashah, meaning “good news” or “gospel.” The word is related to the Hebrew phrase, besorah tovah, which is used often times by the prophets in relation to the enjoyment of God’s grace and good promises. The term takes on a more technical meaning, as often the case with Greek terms in the Brit Chadashah. Here, euangelion carries with it a certain content and a more specific type of good news. The “news” spoken of by the writers of the Brit Chadashah refers primarily to the story of redemption that begins in the Tanakh and comes to fruition in the person of Yeshua the Messiah. The gospel, or good news described in the Book of Acts and the remainder of the Brit Chadashah, specifically refers to the good news of redemption through Yeshua (Acts 5:42; 13:32-33). The salient facts of the gospel are well outlined in 1 Cor 15:1-3.
The means by which men and women appropriate this good news is also part of the message. According to Eph 2:8-10, people are called upon to exercise faith and receive Yeshua as their Messiah and Lord. This is further detailed in Rom 10:9-10 where the act of confessing Yeshua as the means to receiving salvation is mentioned by Paul. The proclamation of the gospel is not simply telling others some general good news about God and his plans or by sharing important information such as Yeshua is a Jewish Messiah. There are many good things to say about God that are worthwhile, but ultimately, we are called by God to make the gospel clear and to do as Paul suggests, persuade men and women to accept Yeshua as Lord.
The gospel, kerygma (proclamation), is a limited communication and is the core of the message. It would be difficult for men and women to have their sins forgiven without knowing how God ordained this to take place. We tend to focus on the most basic aspect of the evangelistic transaction-the nature of the biblical message, the process by which it is delivered and the response to the gospel by our audience. This is of critical importance, but evangelism involves far more than a delivered message and gaining a desired elicited response.
Our oversimplification of the gospel has historical roots. During the 20th century, American fundamentalists responded to the dilution of the gospel by liberal Christianity by emphasizing the simplicity of the gospel. This resulted in a shifting away from benevolence, but also impacted our understanding of evangelism and influenced our methods and strategies. Later approaches to evangelism such as the Four Spiritual Laws, the typical Billy Graham sermon (you are a sinner, Jesus died for your sins, accept him now by faith), Evangelism Explosion, and many other methods for personal evangelism, emphasized the simplicity of the “message.” In Jewish evangelism we developed versions of these tools, such as John Fischer’s excellent booklet L’Chaim . We unwittingly confused message and method as we began to view evangelism in formulaic terms-easily understood, easily presented, and allowing others to be easily trained in the technique. But even if the core message of the gospel is simple to explain, it does not necessarily follow that the work of evangelism is simple. Even personal evangelism, in reality, is anything but simple and formula driven. I want to encourage us to think about outreach within the Jewish community during the 21st century as demanding a new approach. Not because the gospel, Messiah’s message, has changed, but because our Jewish people continue to change.
Message And Method
I am not suggesting that we simply need new talking points, literature, or better technology for the task. In fact, we may need to refine, retool, and expand the very message we share with the Jewish community as well as the manner in which we couch and proclaim the message. The gospel has many dimensions that need to be presented including ones previously undervalued and underemphasized. Our methods often cloud and confuse our message. Marshall McLuhan was right! The medium does affect the message! Methods and strategies are not neutral, but intertwine and impact our proclamation. The manner in which we present the gospel helps influence and shape the message we proclaim. In some sense, the methods or more specifically our approach to outreach, incarnates the message we preach.
In many wings of the body of Messiah, the gospel message is and has been attached to issues that some would view as secondary or methodological. I am referring to the way in which some have stressed the need for behavioral evidence that a person has genuinely accepted Yeshua. This behavioral change often becomes an important part of the corpus of proclamation. For example, there was a time when temperance was inseparable from the evangelistic message. The message was, “Accept Jesus and stop drinking.” The sermons of Billy Sunday are notorious for this type of appeal. Decades later, when I became a believer, it was expected that a new Christian would give up drugs and burn them publicly if possible. It is the same with certain types of materials and books. Unfortunately, sometimes it also involved breaking or burning Beatles and Grateful Dead albums! I admit some mistakes were made! In some African and Muslim contexts today, the message that is preached involves accepting Jesus and embracing monogamy. Or in the case of the animistic religious culture of some nations; burn your fetishes and idols. Our presentation of the gospel often times demands a desired visible change in behavior that is part of the core evangelistic task. I am not suggesting that we add a specifically mandated behavioral change to the gospel. This would diminish the biblical emphasis on grace! But certain visible actions on the part of new believers give clear evidence that their transformation in Yeshua is real.
Jewish Identity And Discipleship
We must ask the question, “Does accepting Yeshua include some type of visible or specific response to our Jewishness? Would you tell a Jewish person who is accepting Yeshua that they need to embrace or give up their Jewish commitments? Should they continue their synagogue membership or renounce it? Should they keep wearing tallit and tephillin in worship or throw them away? Should the Chassid take off his hat or black coat as a way of re-identifying with the body of Messiah and physically attest to his break with Chassidism…especially those areas that are contrary to Yeshua’s teaching? We would all agree that both Jews and non-Jews who come to faith in Yeshua should turn away from any belief, practice, attitude, or aspect of culture that is anti-biblical! However, would you expect a Jewish person who accepts Yeshua to give demonstrable evidence of their faith by renouncing or turning away from something related to their Jewish religious observance? Most of us, especially in the congregational movement would say no. In fact, those in the missions community would probably say no as well.
Let me turn this illustration around for a moment. A Jewish person who accepts Yeshua is still Jewish, a part of the people of Israel, and a living part of the remnant of Israel (cf. Rom 11: 1-10). Does this then mean they should live in accordance with this truth in any demonstrable way? Assuming we would not ask a Jewish believer in Yeshua to give up their Jewish identification, religiously or other wise, would we also challenge a more secular Jew who accepts Yeshua to actively re-identify as a Jew because they believe in Yeshua? How many of us have actually told a Jewish person that believing in Yeshua would not make them a Gentile and that they would actually find being Jewish more meaningful after accepting Yeshua. Is this not something we, especially in the Jewish missions community regularly tell Jewish people prior to their making a decision for Yeshua to assure them that they will not become a traitor by accepting Yeshua? Now, how do we come through on this promise? Or is this something we merely tell people to get them over a possible objection? Is there any substance to our encouraging Jewish people to receive Yeshua and remain Jews? If we are serious, would it not be true then that encouraging a Jewish believer in Yeshua to live a Jewish life must be part of our responsibility as part of the discipleship process? I believe so and recognize that there will be many different approaches to how this is accomplished.
Effective evangelism in its biblical context includes meaningful discipleship (Matt 28:19-20). Much of the Brit Chadashah focuses its teaching on the discipleship process. Calling upon new Jewish believers in Yeshua to live a holy life should include our concern that Jewish people will live a Jewishly identifiable life as well. Is the latter calling to Jewish identity any less biblical? Would you not agree that living a holy life involves being fully obedient to God and if he created you as a Jew then living that way is part of your obedience to God? Those within the congregational movement do not have this problem, as the obvious goal is to bring someone to the Lord and involve them in a Messianic congregation. Our more traditional Jewish missions need to do more in fulfilling our calling to the Jewish people by helping new Jewish believers in Yeshua live as Jewish disciples, as an indigenous testimony within the Jewish community. This is part of our responsibility for the spiritual nurture of new Messianic Jews.
Identity And Community
We must put the gospel message into a 21st-century Jewish context- and this new context goes far beyond techniques and methodology to the very heart of what Jewish people are all about and where we as a community are going. Books such as The Vanishing Jew and Generation J have helped us to see the future of the Jewish community in North America. The majority of the Jewish community is concerned with survival and is being threatened by a growing virulent anti-Semitism. We cannot continue to present a message, often viewed as leading to the destruction of the Jewish people, without taking the concerns of the Jewish community into consideration. These concerns are important to us as we determine our message and develop our methods and strategies. We must respond to the Jewish community today-not that of the first century-and to do so without changing the core of the message that points all Israel to the redeemer of Israel.
In light of the above, I believe there are two emphases missing in our efforts to reach Jewish people today. I will label them as identity and community. Issues of identity and community are as critical for us as they are for the Jewish community as a whole. We need to refine and refocus our efforts, to consider matters related to both Jewish identity and living in Messianic Jewish community. In fact, these points of emphases counterbalance the concerns of the Jewish community over Jews believing in Yeshua and link us to the Jewish community through shared concerns. Not only are these issues relevant today, they are issues rooted in Bible and an integral part of Israel’s existence through the ages. With regard to identity, I am beginning to believe that some of what our critics are saying is true. We often unintentionally turn Jewish people into non-Jews by introducing them to the previously foreign sociology of believing in Jesus. And I am afraid that this foreign sociology can happen when a Jewish believer becomes part of an evangelical church and even when they become part of a Messianic congregation, as some Messianic congregations have developed a new hybrid paradigm for living that is neither Jewish nor Christian and causes Jewish believers to cut themselves off from the Jewish community. Without realizing it, both those involved with Jewish missions and the congregational movement have encouraged Jewish believers in Yeshua to live detached from the Jewish community and eventually to become aliens within our own community. We have so encouraged Jewish people who accept Yeshua to identify with the rest of the body of Messiah or with a particular form of Messianic Judaism or congregation that they have de-identified with the Jewish community and in some instances with their own families.
Re-Identification And Discipleship
Certainly, some Jewish people who accept Yeshua are more secular and have little obvious Jewish identification. Do you think that this individual who comes from a more secular background will have a more powerful testimony if he or she begins to publicly identify as a Jew in a demonstrable way because of faith in Yeshua? I do! I have come to believe that we must approach our Jewish people with the end result of discipleship in mind. Developing a visible Jewish identity- even or perhaps especially if we did not have one previously-and living as part of the Jewish community are intrinsic to our discipleship as Messianic Jews. This means that one of the signs of a more secular Jewish person growing in their faith in Yeshua is that they are also growing in their self-understanding and lifestyle as Jews. This is a new paradigm for those involved with traditional Jewish missions. To even suggest that 1 Cor 7:18-20 would discourage us from helping more secular or even assimilated Jews who come to faith identify with their Jewishness is preposterous. This is not an argument by Paul to encourage non-practicing Jews to remain non-practicing after they accept Yeshua. At the time, there were very few non-practicing Jews to begin with and the context is a warning to Gentiles about becoming Jews. There is no blessing for Messianic Jews to remain as they are if they were previously secular or assimilated Jews. Many of the values associated with that unbiblical lifestyle need cleansing and change.
Identity And Outreach
There will always be a variety of opinions as to what being “more Jewish” looks like. Some of our brothers and sisters would encourage Messianic Jews to be Torah observant or halakhically focused. Others have a more general concept of how Messianic Jews might have a more visible Jewish identification in their everyday lifestyle such as Sabbath observance and wearing kippot in public. Again, there will be many different views on this subject, depending on theological position, Jewish upbringing, and synagogue affiliation.
Perhaps you are not convinced that the ongoing Jewish identity of a Messianic Jew, however that is expressed, should be a concern in relation to evangelism? However, in light of our current situation, if a Jew believes in Yeshua and lives a non-Jewish lifestyle, certain inevitabilities will follow. The most important, perhaps, is the overwhelming likelihood that their children will not have Jewish identities. This result again confirms one of the greatest objections to evangelism from the Jewish community-that a Jew who believes in Jesus is no longer a Jew. And if Jewish believers in Yeshua live as Gentiles, what will become of their testimony to their family and Jewish neighbors?
We are limiting Scripture by limiting evangelism to the proclamation of the gospel message. The biblical message also calls for a transformed life. Therefore, if the Bible tells us that Jewish people form a visible remnant (Rom 11:1-11), then we must teach Jewish identification as part of our message, both before and after a Jewish person comes to believe in Yeshua as Messiah. Again, if we have ever told a Jewish person that believing in Yeshua will not turn them into a Gentile then we have to follow through in our discipleship of the individual by encouraging growth and obedience in this area of life. I believe it will make a big difference in the way we do outreach if we have the end result in mind. We also must come face to face with the reality that most Jewish people come to faith through Gentile Christians and, as a result, there are far more Jews in local evangelical churches than in Messianic congregations. This trend will continue and perhaps all the more as intermarriage rates increase. Though, I understand the rationale, I would disagree with those who might in any way discourage these fruitful efforts. The work of our Gentile brothers and sisters in reaching Jewish people is both biblical and effective (Rom 11:11) and should be encouraged. For the most part, the Jewish missions community has had a clearer vision for this than the congregational movement. But, there is more that needs to be done to help our brothers and sisters learn how to encourage Jewish believers in Yeshua to remain Jewish or, for that matter, to become more Jewish.
If we limit our efforts in helping Jewish people who come to faith through a Gentile believer and who attends an evangelical church to merely trying to “get” them to leave their church and join our Messianic congregation then we must ask ourselves whether or not we are recruiting members for our congregation or genuinely trying to help the Jewish believer grow in their faith and identity as Jews. The traditional Jewish missions have done a better job at providing opportunities for Messianic Jews who are part of evangelical churches to grow in their Jewishness than the modern congregational movement. Some within the congregational movement have appeared to present a do-it-all-or-nothing approach to Jews within the church. I suggest that the congregational movement needs to be mission focused and find ways to strengthen the Jewish identities of Jewish believers in churches without attempting to remove them from their congregations. If not, we make the value of these believers leaving their churches and joining a Messianic congregation more important than their overall spiritual welfare. After all, the Jewish community and Messianic Jewish community are more organic and broader than our place of worship. For many Jews, Jewish practice is more home based than synagogue based. As a result, there are many opportunities to help Jewish believers in churches grow in their identity as Jews, which would bode well for our overall outreach strategies within the Jewish community.
The reality is that we know most Messianic Jews are not going to leave their churches. Without arguing over where it is “best” for a Messianic Jew to attend services, how will we deal with the fact that most Messianic Jews will continue to attend churches? How will we help them raise their children as Jews or are we going to be so focused on building our congregations that we unintentionally distance these dear brothers and sisters and their families from our Messianic community? Can we provide youth programs, for example, that help Messianic Jews raise their children in churches, as Jews, rather than in Messianic congregations? Is this something we should care about? I suggest that it is if we believe that Jewish identity is a critical part of our outreach to our Jewish people, besides it being a question of authenticity.
The Character Of Our Witness
We should do all we can to avoid being viewed as outsiders, though this status is sometimes inescapable due to the nature of our message. But we often make things worse because of our insensitivity to how our efforts are viewed within the Jewish community and our easy acceptance of outsider status . This is one of the areas within traditional Jewish missions that needs careful rethinking. What image do we want to have within the Jewish community and what will be more effective for outreach in the long term? I have come to believe that effective outreach should actually produce better Jews-in love for God, holy lifestyle, and Jewish identity. This type of thinking will impact our strategy for outreach, change the way we present the Gospel, and impact the manner of our discipleship efforts. The methods of approach will change as we view ourselves as Jews, and teach Jewish people who come to Yeshua to remain Jews and live within the Jewish community. Too often, those in traditional Jewish missions have been outsiders and acted like outsiders, even if they are Jewish. This way of thinking needs to be reexamined by those involved with traditional Jewish missions.
On the other hand, there are some who believe that our witness from within the Jewish community should be more passive in character. The strategy works in the following manner, “If we live visibly as Jews among our fellow Jews, even to such an extent that we are admired for our Jewish commitments, then our gospel whisper, so to speak, will somehow become clear enough to be heard. To such gospel-whisperers, any public proclamation of the gospel-whether street preaching, handing out tracts, or staging outreach events- is inappropriate. Direct outreach or proclamation is to be avoided as it alienates Jewish people from Yeshua. I take these types of concerns seriously, especially in light of the history between Jews and Christians that charges the atmosphere and makes genuine communication so difficult. However, we do have the biblical pattern of clearly communicating the gospel to our people, especially in the public square. The congregational movement must become more intentional and even overt in developing people and programs to clearly communicate the gospel so that upon seeing and hearing the message our Jewish people have enough information and encouragement to accept Yeshua and be saved. Our movement needs to refocus on communicating the gospel and not on merely preparing the way for the gospel to be heard.
Jewish missions might try and find more sensitive ways of doing public outreach. I believe we need to review the ethics involved in how and where we proclaim the gospel publicly. Perhaps some of the negative responses to our message should be evaluated to determine the nature of the offense we might be constructing by our message or methods. We might consider changing the way we do outreach so that our efforts lessen, rather than exacerbate the alienation that often results from our proclamation. Although I would agree that we should live visibly as Jews for the sake of our testimony, we must also proclaim the gospel and do so in ways that is Yeshua honoring and bold, yet sensitive to the concerns of our fellow Jews. Perhaps it is time for some of us in Jewish missions circles to examine our own hearts to see if we have embraced the Gentile/evangelical culture to such a degree that it has now become inseparable from our message? I have found that in the past when I was accused of doing this I merely ignored the criticism. But, over the years, I have examined my own soul and must confess that, although I have always encouraged Jewish believers in Yeshua to live as Jews, in practice I and sometimes Chosen People Ministries has done more to help them assimilate into the unique evangelical culture in North America rather than to develop a more indigenous form of Messianic faith.
It is a certainly hopeful sign of the times that many within the traditional Jewish missions community are also part of Messianic congregations and view ourselves as part of the broader Messianic movement. A separation between Missions to the Jewish people and the modern Messianic congregational movement-both as institutions and as activity (outreach)-is rapidly becoming counter-productive as there is a far greater unity of purpose between the movements. This is especially evident with agencies like Chosen People Ministries, which plants congregations and encourages those congregations to join the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations or the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues. Our traditional Jewish missions should recognize the wonderful contribution Messianic congregations are making towards helping Jewish believers in Yeshua remain and grow as Jews. We should also be supportive of the attempts these Messianic congregations are making to reach our Jewish people and raise up a new generation of Messianic Jews. Yet, of greatest importance is the need to work towards unity with our brothers and sisters in the various congregational movements and to avoid a spirit of reproach.
I believe it is time that many of us within Jewish missions circles begin thinking of evangelism and the planting of indigenous congregations or communities as a more holistic approach to outreach than we currently do. After all, the establishment of new communities is the natural result of the power of the gospel as demonstrated in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. If the goal of evangelism is to establish spiritual communities where the gospel goes forward in a more corporate context, then perhaps our approach should take that end into consideration. Mark Kinzer’s recent book, Post Missionary Messianic Judaism may be viewed as suggesting that Jewish missions are unconcerned with building Jewish communities of faith. Certainly, Chosen People Ministries and a number of Jewish missions have been very concerned with establishing Messianic Jewish communities as the end result of our outreach.
Community And Outreach
Community-based outreach is nothing new, but it might be a way to merge the more general forms of outreach together with the best of the congregational approach. It allows for a combination of these two crucial elements-identity and community-to flourish. It can afford a wholesome, biblical, and effective climate for ongoing outreach and discipleship. It allows the members of the Messianic community to tell their Jewish family and friends, “Come and see how you can be Jewish and believe in Yeshua the Messiah.” In addition, the local Messianic community will also be the best group to understand the particular needs of the local Jewish community and to discern how these needs may be met through the power of the gospel.
We are Jews. We are part of the Jewish community. And we need to live as Jews or we embolden the message of our critics that Jews who believe in Yeshua are no longer Jews and are no longer part of the Jewish community. However it is done, I believe it is a biblical obligation for Messianic Jews to live as visible Jewish remnant. Our identities as Jews may be expressed through community involvement, religious observance, and nationalistic or Zionist fervor-or through a combination of all of these. That would make us very Jewish indeed!
A Hopeful Conclusion!
We must recognize that times have changed and Jewish missions need a different approach to the Jewish community. We must present the gospel in a way that not only affirms the Jewishness of the new believer, but one that gives the new believer the opportunity to live a Jewish life. I am not arguing for all traditional Jewish missions to start Messianic congregations, but rather to think in terms of outreach from a Messianic community base rather than taking a more individualistic approach to this new generation. We must take our place within the greater Jewish community and not allow acceptance or the lack thereof to keep us from living as both responsible Jews and believers in Yeshua. The methods and strategies we employ in reaching Jewish people may be utilized within a community setting.
We witness as a community and encourage those we reach to join us! This does not countermand the idea that Messianic Jews might be part of local churches, as what I am suggesting would work as a fellowship group within a larger local church. But, whether the group is an independent congregation, chavurah or the Messianic Jewish fellowship group of a church, the community base for outreach will produce more lasting fruit. I am not suggesting that traditional Jewish missions change their definition of the gospel message, but that they recognize that there is more to evangelism than preaching the right message. We must take these two elements-identity and community-into deeper consideration. By employing these two factors in our outreach endeavors, I believe we will find many new opportunities that we never knew existed and it will make all that we do more effective and our fruit longer lasting. Effective outreach is rooted in community both on a local level and in a macro context. They…our Jewish people…will know we are His disciples by the way we love one another. We might disagree about some things, including evangelism and discipleship, but how we handle these disagreements is critical. I suggest that we learn from one another and allow the Lord to transform our lives and ministries by what we learn.
Mitch Glaser, Ph.D, is president of Chosen People Ministries.