Outreach through messianic Jewish congregations
A history and insight for today

By David Sedaca, Executive Secretary of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance

Below is a excerpt from the paper that David Sedaca delivered in Dallas, February 2003 at the North American LCJE conference.

The Rise of Messianic Jewish Congregations

In the early 1970’s a new phenomenon appeared within Messianic Judaism, the Messianic Jewish congrega-tion. These are biblically based congrega-tions, while at the same time, maintain Jewish traditions. In most cases, their orthodoxy is founded in the New Cove-nant, and their orthopraxis is rooted in the Jewish milieu from where they came. Today, there are about 400 hundred Messianic Jewish congregations world-wide, most of which are located in the United States. These congregations are becoming the gravitational force towards which the Messianic Jewish movement is moving to. Traditional Jewish missions, such as Chosen People Ministries and Jews for Jesus, are endorsing the establish-ment of such congregations. The same is the case with Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, that under the auspices of its North Ameri-can Mission Board is fostering the Fellowship of Messianic Jewish Congregations.

Today’s Messianic Jewish congregation is similar to the first century Jewish church in that most of its members come from a Jewish background and are rooted in Jewish customs and tradi-tions. But in spite of its appeal in attracting Jewish people, congregations have not obtained the level of success in reaching out to the Jews as they could have. In a way, it seems to attract more gentiles who are drawn towards Messianic worship and lifestyle than it attracts traditional Jews. Neverthe-less, as it was in the early church, it seems logical that Jewish outreach ought to be the primary endeavor of the Messianic Jewish congregation.

Probable reasons why Messianic Jewish congre-gations are not carrying out Jewish evangelism to its fullest potential.

1. One of the main reason for the existence of the Messianic Jewish congregations is to identify themselves with the Jewish community. While this in itself is a worthy cause, it has had as collateral effect the reluctance to promote evangelism. The congregation is always careful not to do or say anything that might endanger its relationship with the outside Jewish community.

2. Similar, but not equal, is the reluctance of the Messianic Jewish congregation to promote any event or program that might be misunderstood by the outside Jewish community as doing “missionary” work or proselytizing. The overriding fear is that if the congregation is viewed as a “missionary” agent, it might forfeit its chances to win acceptance into the Jewish community.

3. Typically, the Messianic Jewish congregation has a particular worship style. The combination of Jewish worship, Israeli folklore and a strong spiritual content resulted in what is known as Davidic Praise and Worship. Its vitality and spirituality made it to be the heart of the worship service. But a strong emphasis on praise and worship practices subordi-nates the core of the congre-gation’s beliefs to how these beliefs are expressed. A case in point is the fact that Messianic Jewish congrega-tions will frequently feature and promote Messianic musicians and dance groups, while one rarely sees the setting up of a special program to hear a Jewish evangelist.

4. With some exceptions, today’ Messianic leaders lack the necessary training to carry out Jewish evangelism efficiently. This was not the case at the beginning of the Messianic movement, when most leaders were part of or came from Jewish missions.

Messianic Jewish congregations are uniquely fitted for Jewish outreach.

Because of its own composition, vision and nature, the modern day Messianic Jewish congregation is uniquely qualified for Jewish evangelism. Some of the reason for this can be found in the following facts:

1. It provides a “non-threatening” environment where to preach the Gospel. Indubitably, it is easier to invite a Jewish person to a Shabbat service at the local Messianic congregation than to a Christian church.

2. Since the congregation expresses its beliefs within a Jewish context, for a Jewish visitor, the fear of “conversion” seems to disappear.

3. Since one of the goals of the Messianic movement is to restore the Jewishness to the Gospel, the Messianic Jewish congregation can teach the Gospel from a Jewish standpoint. The congregations are uniquely qualified to present the Yeshua as the “Jewish” Messiah. A good example of this is the celebration of the Jewish festivals, such as Passover and Yom-Kippur, with a Messianic perspective.

4. Messianic Jewish congregations encourage their members to live a Jewish lifestyle; a lifestyle to be lived daily, not just on Shabbat. As long as this lifestyle is genuine, Jewish people will not fear Messianic Jewish believers as being “missionaries.”

5. Different from traditional Jewish missions, whose main goal is to preach the Gospel to the Jews, and from traditional churches, who present the Gospel from a gentile perspective, the Messianic Jewish congregation can provide not only the Gospel but also the environment where the new Jewish believer can grow spiritually and mature.

Developing the evangelistic capacity of the Messianic Jewish congregation
Considering the tremendous potential for outreach and evangelism that the Messianic Jewish congregations have, a few conscious decisions might enable them to become more effective in their evangelistic endeavors. Among these we can mention the following:

1. The congregation needs to develop a genuine Messianic Jewish identity. A biblically sound Messianic Jewish congregation must be fully aware of its biblical mandate. The congregation needs to be recognized by its beliefs, not by its worship style. What it believes and stands for needs to be more important than how these beliefs are expressed.

2. The Messianic congregation of today is the true heir to the early Jewish church, as such, it must look for and put into practice the same things that made the first century church effective in reaching out to the Jewish people with the Gospel.

3. Congregations need to prioritize the biblical mandate and its commission. A renewed understanding of passages such as Acts 1:8, Romans 1:16 and 10:4 will give a renewed thrust to Jewish outreach. Although no one can deny the value of maintaining Jewish traditions an expressing support for Israel, the New Covenant gives clear indications of what is important and what is secondary. In the Gospel, acceptance, political restoration or security are never given priority over witnessing and the proclamation of the Gospel.

4. Messianic Jewish congregations must make Jewish evangelism and integral part of its vision. There are practical steps that might help to establish a dynamic outreach ministry:

a. Training Messianic leaders for the work of evangelism. Leaders of Messianic Jewish congregations do not necessarily have the skills to carry out the work of evangelism. Only when the leaders are committed to outreach will the congregation as a whole will acquire an evangelistic vision.

b. Evangelism is sometimes viewed as a general goal. If the congregation is to fulfill its calling of reaching out to the Jewish people with the message of Yeshua, them it must implement specific objectives.

c. Whatever programs for evangelism and outreach the congregation chooses to implement, these must be reachable, measurable and reasonable.

d. Congregations should appoint individuals who will be responsible, together with their spiritual leaders, to carry out and maintain outreach programs. I Corinthians 12 teaches that the Lord has imparted different spiritual gifts to different people within the Body of Messiah to fulfill specific tasks. It is the congregation’s responsibility to look for those whom the Spirit has appointed to carry our the work of evangelism and to empower them to fulfill their calling.

Messianic Judaism is not a fad that will fade away and the Messianic Jewish Congregation is not an experiment to be tested. Today’s Messianic Jewish congregations are God’s appointed tools for the salvation of the lost and for the development of spiritual lives. As such, they are uniquely qualified to proclaim the Gospel of Yeshua to the Jewish people.

The modern day Messianic Jewish congrega-tion is the heir to the first century church. As the first century congregations were effective in proclaiming the Good News of the Messiah so today’s congregations can achieve the same level of success by imitating their commitment to reaching out to the unsaved.

Messianic Jewish congregations provide a genuine environment where the message of the Jewish Savior can be safely shared with the Jewish people, and give its people the legitimate voice to proclaim it.

David Sedaca