Reaching all people

A New Covenant Mission to the Old Covenant People

There’s an untapped, intercultural mission in our backyards.

On September 17, 2023, our church planting team launched Grafted (EFCA) in Edina, Minnesota. After months of prayer and discernment, we felt a clear burden from the Lord: to proclaim Messiah to the 65,000+ Jewish people in the Twin Cities and provide a church home that “cultivated a family of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah Jesus.” We had a vision and direction, and saw doors opening both logistically and relationally.  

This desire to see the olive tree of Romans 11:17-24 come to fruition in the Twin Cities started as an idea but ended in a place where there wasn’t really any other choice. As my family and I took one step at a time, I got to a point of saying, “I’ve seen too much to doubt the Lord is in this.” 

On October 7, 2023 (less than three weeks after we planted Grafted), Hamas entered Israel, killing more than a thousand people and taking many others, including some of the most vulnerable, as hostages in a conflict with ancient origins. While the attack was viewed by most as horrific and unacceptable—and as much as that day was the continuation of the long chain of historic anti-semitism—it had a unique ring in our new church family.  

A modern mission with ancient roots 

I grew up in a nominal, Conservative Jewish context. My sister and I attended Hebrew school (Sunday School for Jewish people), Jewish High Holidays and periodically participated at Friday evening and Saturday morning services. Having come to faith in Jesus during my undergrad at the University of Minnesota, God led me in the direction of vocational pastoral ministry, and following seminary, I spent several years serving at Elmwood Church (EFCA) in St. Anthony Village, Minnesota.

I wanted to see “the dividing wall of hostility” brought down in practice, not just theology, in a church family where Jews and Gentiles could come together.

During that time, the Lord cultivated my heart for my Jewish heritage. In some ways, I grew more “Jewish” in the years following my trusting in “Israel’s promised Messiah” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 4). However, rather than return to traditional Judaism, my heart has grown for understanding the rich Jewish context behind the Scriptures, and I’ve delighted in seeing how this context reinforces and points us to the glory of Messiah Jesus.

As my heart for Jewish people and the Jewishness of Jesus grew, it intersected with an appreciation for Christians of all backgrounds, and Paul's language in Ephesians 2 began to capture my heart. I wanted to see “the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14) brought down in practice, not just theology, in a church family where Jews and Gentiles could come together in a way that honored each group, without asking either of them to become the other. Their unity would not come from dissolving their ethnic backgrounds but from a common surrender to a common Lord and Savior.  

An ancient conflict, renewed 

If you’re aware of world events and cultural trends at any level, you know that October 7, and the ongoing war that’s followed, has made waves around the globe. There is a new focus on the Middle East, specifically Israel, and the surrounding geopolitics. As with almost every cultural topic—and I say this with sorrow—the Israel-Hamas war has become so politicized that there is once again this feeling that we must fit in a certain “bucket” to be received as loving by our culture. I would posit that, for those who follow Jesus, this need not be so.

The events in the Middle East have stirred up theological questions as we consider how they relate to Scripture and Jesus’ return. Some of us feel a need to draw hard theological lines while others feel forced to walk a tightrope between biblical fidelity and Christ-like compassion. Like the apostle Paul, we’re once again forced to refocus on God’s plans and purposes for Israel. 

A future homecoming 

“He said to them: ‘...But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:8). 

As a Jewish believer in Jesus, I rejoice that Jesus’ words in Acts 1 have indeed come to fruition, with people from many tongues, tribes and nations swearing allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through God’s Messiah. This ethnic diversity in Jesus is but a foretaste of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, where people from every nation and all tribes, peoples and languages will stand before our great God in worship (Rev 7:9-10). 

God isn’t done with His originally chosen people.

As we await the day where the fullness of the Gentiles (Rom 11:25) has come into the family of God, I want to call our attention to the fact that the gospel will indeed come back to the people of Jerusalem and Judea like a divine boomerang, and many Jewish people will be provoked to jealousy over their Messiah (Rom 11:11-12) and welcome Him, proclaiming: 

“‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt 23:39). 

God isn’t done with His originally chosen people, and one day a population of Jews (see Rom 11:12) will stand justified by the blood of the Lamb. While this is a future hope, there is a present value in considering how we are being missional to the Jewish people in our communities, whether directly or indirectly. 

A mutual benefit 

Jesus called us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). Unfortunately, the Jewish people are often overlooked in that Great Commission. As we consider how we might course-correct, I want to suggest how, in addition to the simple joy of obedience, doing Jewish mission benefits the missionary and provides a unique testimony to God’s work in the world. 

Like any other mission field, proper contextualization is key to Jewish mission. The difference, however, is this: when we contextualize the gospel for others around the globe, they are, generally speaking, cultures foreign to Scripture. With the Jewish people, we’re forced to consider a context that directly intersects with a people group at the center of the biblical story. 

"Yes,” one might say, “but the Second-Temple Judaism of Jesus’ day and the Ancient Near Eastern Israelite cultic practices are different from the Rabbinic Judaism that we engage with now.” This is true, but the same veil that covered the hearts of many Jewish people in Paul’s day remains in place even now, a veil that can only be lifted by encountering the One who came to fulfill the law and the prophets (2 Cor 3:14b-16; Matt 5:17). To add, the very difference in the above-mentioned eras of Judaism reinforces the fact that in order to engage with Judaism today and provide a reasonable defense of our faith in Jesus (1 Pet 3:15), we must seek to comprehend Jewishness as it’s portrayed in Scripture. Jewish mission uniquely pushes us to dive deeper into our Bibles, specifically the Hebrew Bible (i.e., the Old Testament). To put it another way, Jewish mission makes us thoroughly examine the shadows so that we can more deeply treasure the substance: Jesus (Col 2:16-17). 

In our cultural moment, Jewish mission is a powerful testimony to God’s power and goodness.

One might object: “Won’t too much focus on the Jewishness of things lead to Judaizing (i.e., observing the law and/or Jewish practices to be true covenant members of God's family)?” This is a valid point, as some of us have experienced wounding from certain teachings that overemphasize this Jewish heritage to the point of animosity with the Church. The way to prevent this, though, is not to wholeheartedly reject anything Jewish, but to model healthy engagement with it for our people and pair it with Jewish mission. When we communicate that Jewishness for Jewishness sake still leads to death—and that Jewishness for the sake of loving Jesus more deeply and pointing others to Him is the goal—we can avoid unhealthy pitfalls. 

Along with biblical literacy, Scripture affirms there is a God-honoring testimony when Jewish people come to faith and are integrated within the broader body of Christ. In Romans 11, Paul talks about what I call the “salvation dance,” where the Lord has knit Jews and Gentiles together in interdependence with the Lord’s work of saving individuals from both groups (vv 11-15, 28-32). Ephesians 2 echoes this relationship between Jew and Gentile, as Jesus has brought down “the dividing wall of hostility” (v 14).

Jewish and non-Jewish people abandoning the world for the sake of a common Savior is obviously good for them in terms of eternity, but it also fully displays God’s ability to reconcile different types of people. In our cultural moment, where reconciliation and peacemaking are at a premium, this is a powerful testimony to God’s power and goodness. 

Israel in our backyard 

In light of Scripture and world events, where do we go from here?  

First and foremost, we must lay aside political persuasions and fear of being misunderstood, and instead be persuaded by God’s Word that the Jewish people are a group worth engaging with the gospel. Although I would argue there is geographical significance to the land of Israel for Jewish people (Gen 15:18; 17:8), one need not think that the present geopolitical state is a prophetic fulfillment in order to care about the people living in and around it. In light of the war, let me also be clear by saying I am not advocating for reaching Jews at the expense of reaching Palestinians. We must love all people for the Lord’s sake, affording them the dignity of being made in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). Again, this is about seeing the fullness of God’s people from every corner of the earth come to know Him. 

As the world focuses on the geopolitical conflict in Israel, let’s focus on the people of Israel’s conflict with the holy God.

Once we resolve to reach the Jewish community, we should ask if this is a local or distant mission field for our respective church families. If we live in a location with a decent population of Jews (in the Twin Cities, it’s about 65,000), it’s worth considering if there are ways that we’re creating unnecessary stumbling blocks to them following Jesus. At Grafted, we consider elements such as liturgy (e.g., reciting the “Shema;” (Deut 6:5), language (e.g., “Messiah” instead of “Christ”), and practice (e.g., celebrating Israel’s festivals) in our approach. I’d also recommend including more references to the ancient context of Scripture while preaching to communicate more of the Jewish background.  

If your church community is not in a particularly Jewish area, you might consider supporting a Jewish missionary (I’d love to introduce you to one) who serves in a respected outreach ministry (like Chosen People Ministries). You could also bless your church by hosting a missionary to discuss certain Jewish holidays and how they point to Jesus. I’ve never walked through a Passover Seder with a local church where it wasn’t edifying for at least someone there. 

Ultimately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to Jewish mission. Like all ministry, it depends on our setting, people, resources and most of all, the leading of the Holy Spirit. My heart is to simply express that many of us have an intercultural mission in our backyards that is largely untapped. As the world focuses on the geopolitical conflict in Israel, let’s focus on the people of Israel’s conflict with the holy God. By committing to reach our Jewish friends, family, coworkers and neighbors, we may not only play a small role in changing somebody’s eternity, but we’ll immerse ourselves in a rich heritage that is ours by faith in Messiah Yeshua (Gal 3:7). 

Matt Frey

Matt Frey serves as a missionary with Chosen People Ministries and a pastor within the EFCA family. He received a B.A. from the University of Minnesota, where he came to faith in Jesus, and an M. Div. from Bethel Seminary. Matt currently leads Grafted in Edina, Minnesota, which seeks to “cultivate a family of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah Jesus.” Matt, Holly and their children (Danny and Mary) live in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, as they seek to step obediently into each season the Lord has for them. 

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