Community Based Evangelism
- A Model for 21st Century Jewish Evangelism
By Mitch Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries
Community based Jewish evangelism is nothing new, but might be a way to merge the more general forms of Jewish evangelism together with the best of the congregational approach to Jewish evangelism. It allows for a combination of these two missing elements to flourish – both identity and community. It can afford a wholesome, biblical and effective climate for ongoing Jewish evangelism 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”.
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.
There are two ways a Messianic community evangelizes – through the efforts of those natural evangelists who are part of the community and also through more programmed efforts. Both gifted evangelists and programs are important. However, my assertion is that all efforts, spontaneous and planned will become more effective in a community context.
A loving Messianic Jewish community (John 13: 34 –35, Cor.13) allows for a more natural way to share the good news with the families, friends and other relationships within the local Jewish community. A vibrant Messianic community will draw new believers into a warm, comfortable and Jewish spiritual home – with worship forms that are familiar. The community base for evangelism will meet the needs Jewish people – especially those of our new generation – have for both community and identity. And if it is done properly, will also provide a wonderful home for inter-faith married couples and those non-Jews that have a heart for Jewish people.
My own personal Jewish renaissance
Let me also give you some of the personal history as to why I became convinced that the Messianic community could become very useful for the future of Jewish evangelism. When I first came to Chosen People Ministries, I found that after seven or eight decades of general missionary efforts, that CPM had made a switch to a congregationally based ministry. I had personally begun a similar pilgrimage soon after I arrived to serve as a missionary in my hometown of New York City in 1990. Let me explain.
While living away from my home and family, I had become more individualistic in my faith and my Jewish expression was for the most part Messianic in orientation.
I had little to do with my Jewish religious identity outside of what was done with other Jewish believers. This was fine and I was happy attending a conventional church and going to various types of Messianic events and services.
However, after returning to New York City and living among my not yet Messianic family, and also living in the heart of the New York Jewish community – I began to change. It took quite awhile, but in a sense I began having my own personal Jewish renaissance. Please do not confuse this with thinking that all of a sudden I became convinced that Messianic congregations were now the only way to do Jewish evangelism. I did not and have not. But, I did begin to see the tremendous value of Messianic congregations and more importantly the effectiveness of community based evangelism.
Actually, after some time living back in my hometown, I simply became convinced that in one way or another, Jews who believed in Jesus needed to live in a way that is identifiably Jewish. We all understand that being Jewish is not something you thought about, but something you did and did visibly.
The most natural Jewish thing to do was not actually religious in nature, though it could involve religion and that was to live within a Jewish community. Our fellows Messianic Jews in Israel understand this scenario quite well. Israeli Messianic Jews do not wonder how to publicly identify as Jews – they wonder how to publicly identity as believers in Yeshua.
Living in the midst of non-believing family and in the center of a thriving and large Jewish community helped me to feel part of the Jewish community – though not especially part of the Messianic Jewish community. My wife and I in recent years have attended Synagogue more often than I ever thought I would enjoy! Though I love the musical traditions within religious Judaism, I am not fond of personal and public liturgy. I know others are and it must be because they have a more poetic soul than I do!
But, I enjoy the Synagogue because I feel part of the Jewish community. In recent years we have had various debates with a colorful Orthodox Rabbi and this relationship has been enjoyable. Recently I had lunch with a Reform Rabbi who wants to reach our to Messianic Jews and Evangelicals and this has also been a good relationship.
We are Jews!
No one has especially asked me about my faith at the Synagogue we visit and if they do perhaps I will not be welcome afterwards. That is possible. But, more and more I am convinced that Messianic Jews have told themselves they cannot be part of the Jewish community and that this has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As for my Gentile believing coworkers who are missionaries to the Jews – sometimes I think they have an easier time and more healthy self understanding than some of us as Messianic Jews who expect and all too often receive rejection from our fellow Jews.
I do not intend to paint a rosy picture that even suggests that all is OK between missionaries to the Jews who are Jewish and with the mainline Jewish community. This is not true. But, I do believe that if we want, relationships can improve without our needing to compromise on our message and stand for Jesus within the Jewish community. However, we might think through how we take that stand. Especially if we live within the community and are not simply as “evangelistic” visitors to the Jewish communities we hope to reach for Yeshua.
We are Jews! We are part of the Jewish community. And in some way, we need to live like Jews or we embolden the message of our critics that Jews who believe in Jesus are no longer Jews and no longer part of the Jewish community. I am not suggesting that we need to live an Orthodox or Conservative lifestyle. The notion that our Jewish identity and fidelity is linked to only one covenant, the Mosaic covenant is short sighted and that we should consider the Abrahamic covenant as an alternative for various theological and practical reasons.
Of course, this reveals my more Dispensational understanding of the covenants, in that I continue to see them as related but distinct. For those who see the covenants as organically connected to one another – then choosing a covenant upon which to base Jewish identification might not be as useful.
This is understood, but I simply want to demonstrate that there are many ways, both theologically and culturally to identify as Jewish. However it is done though, 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 Zionistic fervor – or through a combination of all of these. That would make us very Jewish indeed!
There is no need to accept the mainstream Jewish viewpoint that we are no longer Jews. We need to live as Jews, because we are Jews and called to live as such by Scripture.
Once I realized that being part of the Jewish community was part of God’s will for my life, I recognized that this could only be ultimately fulfilled by living in community with other Jewish people who love the Jewish Messiah.
In addition to these personal experiences, I had the joy of planting a Russian Messianic movement. One element of this movement was starting a Messianic congregation, but there were other parts to it as well. I began to see how critical it was for there to be a community of Messianic Jews and this was a natural expression of our faith community and allowed us to accomplish many goals that could only take place in community. We were able to have Jewish weddings, funerals, bar and bat mitzvah’s, holiday events and so on as part of a community of Messianic Jews.
I am persuaded – given the current climate within the Jewish community and because of the growing yearning for community among younger Jews – that we need to think about building Messianic communities, and doing Jewish evangelism as full time missionaries from a community base, rather than from a more individualistic basis.
I believe we will have greater effectiveness and produce better disciples if we evangelize within a community context and encourage those within the community to live a Jewish life.
I am suggesting that many of 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 Evangelical churches, as what I am suggesting would work well as a fellowship group within a larger local church. But, whether the group is an independent congregation, Havurah or the Messianic Jewish fellowship group of a church – the community base for evangelism will produce more lasting fruit.
We must recognize that times have changed and we 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 us all to start Messianic congregations, but rather to think in terms of evangelizing from a Messianic community base rather than taking a more individualistic approach to this new generation especially.
We must take our place within the greater Jewish community – and not allow acceptance or the lack thereof to keep from living as both responsible Jews and believers in Yeshua.
Again, we cannot ignore the most common Jewish objection to believing in Jesus – “that if I accept Jesus as my Messiah – I will no longer be a Jew.” If we then, as missions to the Jews do not take some responsibility for helping Messianic Jews keep their identity and grow in it as families, then we are falling into the hands of our objectors!
Again, I am not suggesting that missionaries to the Jews should change their definition of the Gospel message, but to recognize that there is more to evangelism than preaching the right message. We must to take these two elements– identity and community – into deeper consideration. By employing these two factors in our evangelistic 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.