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Just a closer walk

Community engagement more important than church structures in making disciples, Jones tells Big Tent

August 5, 2013

Ray Jones

Ray Jones of Evangelism and Church Growth ministries discusses disciple-making at a Big Tent workshop. —Danny Bolin


What is the biggest question facing the church?   The answer from the  Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Ray Jones may surprise you. 

“How do we make disciples?” Jones asked at an Evangelism & Church Growth plenary at Big Tent (Saturday 8/3).  “If we are making disciples we get church. If we start with structures it won’t necessarily happen.”

Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.” It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

Jones, coordinator for Evangelism ministries, said if he started a new worshiping community (NWC) today, he would ask his leadership team if they would be willing to meet with him at least once a week for scripture, prayer, and faith sharing.

“After investing in this kind of time with core leaders,” Jones said, “I would go on prayer walks in the community looking for ways to engage in relationship with non-churched people.”

Jones started a new church in the 1990’s that started a men’s ministry that was struggling, when a new man came.  “He asked me if we could ask two questions of each other each week,” Jones said.  “When did you feel closest to God? When did you feel like there was distance between you and God?”

Men began to share their faith journey with each other. As it became more meaningful to them they started inviting men who were not churched to join them.

“This is what the core of our ministry has to be about.”

Earline Williams, new chief financial officer for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, visits with Big Tent participants in the exhibit hall.

Earline Williams, new chief financial officer for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, visits with Big Tent participants in the exhibit hall. —Danny Bolin

Then Jones told a story about two guys he met at the recent New Wilmington Mission Conference. 

“Rob and Gabriel from Pittsburgh wanted to start a NWC, but before they did anything else they made a covenant to walk their neighborhood together and pray from 10p.m.-5a.m. for two months.”

As night turned to morning  each day they prayed, asking God to show them where Jesus was already at work so that they could join in God’s mission in their community.

“This gives me such hope for the future of the church,” Jones said. “Jesus said, ‘I will be with you always.’

“The heart of discipleship is wanting to be a part of what God is doing through evangelism (reaching people for Christ) and addressing hopelessness that is pervasive in our lives (justice).”