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The Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation: Bishop Steven Croft


The following is an important paper on the future of the Church of England, which is to be discussed at General Synod next month. I am grateful to The Revd David Keen for alerting me to it, and for Bishop Steven Croft for generously suggesting that his readers share it widely to promote discussion throughout the Church.

Over the last six weeks I’ve been trying to develop a discussion paper on evangelisation in dialogue with a number of groups locally and nationally. The paper is a reflection arising from the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October.  It was originally prepared to introduce a discussion among diocesan bishops in the Church of England.  I developed it further after that conversation and have now presented the ideas in a couple of dioceses to groups of clergy and in a variety of other places.

The feedback has been largely positive and so I’m posting the latest version of the paper here as very much “work in progress”.  Feel free to reproduce it for discussion in any way that is helpful.

The Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation
A discussion paper
Steven Croft
June, 2013. 
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” John 3.16
In October 2012 I was the Anglican Fraternal Delegate to the Synod of Bishops in Rome: a three week gathering of Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict to explore the single theme of the new evangelization.
The Synod of Bishops was a rich experience of listening to another Church reflect on the challenge of growing the Church and of the role of Bishops in leading that process.
This paper is a reflection arising from sharing in the Synod and my own experience thus far of attempting to develop vision and strategy for growth within the Diocese of Sheffield and more widely.
The paper is framed as a series of brief propositions and questions for discussion.
The paper was originally prepared as a discussion paper for the annual meeting of Diocesan Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England on 10th April, 2013. I have made some revisions to the paper following discussion with fellow bishops.  The original paper had five disciplines. I have now added a sixth (placed first) following a suggestion made by the Bishop of London and a seventh (placed last) taking up a number of suggestions made by colleagues, including the Bishop of Connor whose diocese I visited the day after the English bishops meeting.
The original title of the paper was “How may bishops lead in growing the Church?”.  I have retained some of the emphasis on the role of bishops specifically in the text of this version of the paper.  However I believe the questions of how to give leadership in this area is relevant to all ordained and lay people who share in the oversight of God’s Church.*  I therefore hope that the paper will be relevant to a number of groups across the Church of England and not only bishops.
1.         Growing the Church in the present context is immensely challenging
I returned from the Synod of Bishops convinced that the Church all over the world is having the same conversation about the challenge and difficulty of evangelization.  I expected to hear about challenge and difficulty from Europe and North America and about growth and hope from Asia, Africa and South America.  There were some contrasts but in fact the picture was much more one of challenge in the face of a uniform, powerful, global secularizing culture.
The difficulty in the transmission of the faith in the face of this secularizing culture is at the root of many of the other difficulties we grapple with as Churches (apparent lack of finance, vocations, the need to re-imagine ministry, decreasing resources to serve the common good).
The questions we are grappling with in our dioceses and in the Church of England are not unique to Anglicans or to Christians in Britain or the Church in Europe.  They are global questions and, I would argue, the single most serious challenge the Church will face in the next generation.
How should we lead and guide the Church in this aspect of our life given this challenging context?
We need to be realistic about the challenges.  We need to practice and live hope as a key virtue in leadership.  We need to be deeply rooted in prayer and in the scriptures.  We need to be aware that the leadership we offer individually and bishops, clergy and lay people sets a tone and makes a difference to the whole church. We need to prioritise thinking and reflection around this issue.  We should beware of simplistic rhetoric and easy solutions. 
2.         We need a richer dialogue on evangelization and growing the Church
The Synod of Bishops was able to set aside three whole weeks to deal with a single issue and was itself part of a longer five year process leading up to and from the Synod.  This meant that there was in depth engagement with the subject over many hours of listening within a coherent and transformational process.   Major theological and practical resources will in due time emerge from this process.
By contrast, many discussions of growing the Church and evangelization at senior level in the Church of England are superficial, skate over the surface of the issues and make little progress.
Some of the reasons for this are:
·      The agendas of bishops meetings and other meetings are dominated by questions of gender and ministry and human sexuality leaving little quality space for deeper engagement with evangelization.
·      We feel a constant need to balance our agendas between serving the common good on the one hand and evangelization/growth on the other as if they were in competition (there was no evidence of this in Rome).  It becomes impossible to devote even a whole day to growth and evangelization.
·      The evangelization and growth agenda is seen as the province of a particular church tradition and which is regarded with suspicion by those not of that tradition (again there was no evidence of this in Rome).
·      It is also possible that, as individuals and as a body, we see the complexity of the call to grow the Church and we are in danger of being overwhelmed by that complexity.  It is easier to address the more specific questions.
·      At the same time there is a prevailing myth that we ought to be (and perhaps some are) competent at leading the Church into growth and therefore we don’t need to focus our conversation here.

How can we better develop this richer dialogue on evangelization and growing the Church to nourish our individual and corporate leadership as bishops?…


[Please now go to Bishop Steven’s blog to read the rest of this important piece…]

* The highlighting of this sentence, which seemed particularly relevant to Lay Anglicana, is my own. Ed.

The image is via Wikimedia.

3 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Thanks Laura,

I’ve been described as consumed by this within my own parish for my banging the drum for outreach and being at the centre of the community and not the fringes. The response I’ve met is centred on that fact that I don’t actually live there, so perhaps I might need to live locally before speaking about it.

Being of a gentle nature I take this sort of thing as well meaning and perhaps in some way justified, but it doesn’t stop me still wanting to work in this field. And my previous Vicar shared that vision, but than left before it could be given any sort of form or substance.

I’m waiting for the new incumbent now to see if there will be any movement? If not, perhaps I’ll go of to the Baptist’s whose outreach seems much more practical and pragmatic on the ground than some in the CofE.

27 June 2013 15:36
Lay Anglicana said...

UK Viewer, thank-you for commenting. I understand to some extent your impatience as all movement on anything in the Church of England has seemed to be as imperceptible as a glacier for some time. However, I do think that Archbishop Justin intends to shake this up. I would say watch this space – when your banging the drum in your parish is echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, you and he will form a pincer movement which will surely move your parish in some direction? I will watch and pray :>)

27 June 2013 15:41
Tim Chesterton said...

Laura and UK Viewer: here in the faraway Diocese of Edmonton in western Canada, banging the drum for good evangelism can also be a bit daunting at times. We love doing good works to benefit the community, but sharing the gospel and making new disciples for Jesus is seen as more than a little suspect – it doesn’t really fit in with our Anglican introversion!

Still, I’m trying to set up a licensed evangelists training program in the diocese right now and have been encouraged by a number of lay people and clergy who are enthusiastic about the idea. Archbishop Justin’s championing of evangelism is encouraging to me, too (even though he’s not my archbishop here in Canada). So yes, let’s keep on praying and trying to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us!

28 June 2013 23:50

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