Of all the gifted and passionate lecturers during my time at Morling College Michael Frost’s class was the one that I always looked forward to. I believe that Mike has a prophetic, biblical message for the church today. In this issue of Together magazine we look at Michael Frost and some of his teaching in the area of mission. If you have read Mike’s books or come under his teaching I encourage you to again be inspired, challenged and refreshed. If you have not, for whatever reason, allow yourself to be challenged by the biblical teaching he brings. Benita Clark spent some time with Mike for Together magazine and shares what she found out. – Editor
When you think about mission and evangelism, particularly in Australian, one of the names you may be familiar with is Michael Frost. Michael is the Director of the Tinsley Institute and Vice Principal of Morling College. Beyond this he is a husband to Caz, father of three daughters, an author of many missional books (including the newly released “Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement”), an international speaker, one of the founders and directors of Forge International and a member of Small Boat Big Sea which he helped plant over a decade ago.
Michael is passionate about evangelism and knows that it is vital to reveal Christ to the world, “The mission of God’s people is to alert everyone to the universal reign of God through Christ. And evangelism is the spoken part of that mission. So I take the view that evangelism should be firmly rooted in a confidence that our God reigns utterly, totally and completely. The more I learn about God’s just, loving, reconciling, beautiful reign, the more passionate I am about the church’s mission to alert others to it.” The passion that Michael has for the mission of the church manifests in him whenever he speaks at a conference or preaches in a church.
It was through evangelism at high school that he came to hear about Christ and began to follow Him. Michael explains “It was one of my teachers at Manly Boys’ High and several of my fellow students saw it as their vocation to share Christ with the other students. Student ministry is highly incarnational, so I guess it not only resulted in me becoming a Christian, but it shaped my understanding of evangelistic ministry as well.”
Knowing that Michael became a Christian through evangelism in school is a reminder of its importance. Evangelism is an aspect of mission, which we can all take part in. There are people in our lives and our community who have not given their lives to Christ. All Christians are capable of revealing Christ to those around them.
When asked about the key aspects of evangelism, Michael gives this advice: “Well, firstly I’d say that evangelism is a spoken ministry. Words are required. Some people like to quote St Francis as having said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”, but I would say words are very necessary in evangelism. I usually quote David Bosch back to them: “This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced by unexplained deeds.”
Secondly, I’d agree that our words must be backed by action. If our mission is to reveal the reign of God through Christ we should be looking to do that through our actions, by demonstrating what that reign looks like – through acts of justice, reconciliation, healing and beauty. Then the evangelism piece is where we articulate the reason for our behaviour and explain the kingship of Jesus to others.
Thirdly, try to keep in mind that church membership cannot be the primary aim of evangelism. The gospel is news about God’s action and his reign, not his institution. We’re not church recruiters. We are ambassadors of the God who reigns. So I would say, make sure the reign of God is central to what you say and do. Let church growth be a secondary or tertiary outcome of our mission. The glory of God should be our primary aim.
And finally, I’d say I believe there is no perfect set of words that captures the gospel and we should stop trying to construct one. The depth and beauty of the gospel can’t be captured by a four or five point memorised presentation. More often than not people come to faith through multiple conversations over a period of time during which the awesomeness of God’s reign begins to dawn on them and the kingship of Jesus makes sense.”
As Michael has developed his thoughts on evangelism, he has refined his teaching at Morling College, as well as in conferences around the world. Reflecting back on his previous thoughts and the implementation of evangelism he knows he hasn’t always gotten it right. “Back in the day I was right into the whole church growth thing, and a poor version of it. I was essentially into Christian marketing, trying to make the church ‘relevant’ to appeal to middle class folks. Then I started reading missiologists like David Bosch and Lesslie Newbigin and others and got totally sold on the whole missional-incarnational model. That was close to 20 years ago. I was possibly a bit obnoxious in my critique of unreflective church growth theory back then. Alright, I was pretty obnoxious. But I like to think these days I have a more generous view that still argues for the priority of incarnational mission, but which also recognises that for certain sectors of society attractional events have their place. And of course for all churches, our life together should be winsome and attractive, even while we’re committed to being a sent people of God.
The missional conversation has been going on for long enough now for us to see some of its limitations. It’s strong on incarnation and relationship building. It’s strong on social justice and neighbourhood regeneration. But it has the potential to be weak on evangelism and that’s something I’m trying to speak into.”
In looking further at evangelism and how to engage people who are disengaging from the church and Christ, Michael has released a new book Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement. In talking about this book Michael says “I hope Incarnate will benefit readers by revealing to them the extraordinarily powerful cultural forces that propel them toward living in a disembodied, disengaged, and displaced way. We are being shaped by a culture that leaves us disconnected from our bodies, alienated from each other and less ‘placed’ in the world around us. And I think these forces are having an unconscious effect on us. We just don’t realise how powerful they are. And what’s more, this culture is leading us in the exact opposite direction to the life that Jesus calls us to – which is an embodied, present, placed way of life. So I hope my readers benefit from my diagnosis of the problem of disengagement as well as my prognosis, which is to follow the incarnational way of Christ.”
Michael shares this verse as an encouragement to Together readers to continue in evangelism and declare that our God reigns throughout this world in which we live.
“I love Isaiah 52:7, especially when you remember that it was written in the context of Israel’s exile in Babylon and that the mountains or high places it refers to were doubtless the places where the Babylonians performed their sacrifices and fertility practices. In other words, it is a beautiful or lovely thing to declare the reign of God even in the darkest places we can find.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”