Being Clear About What We Are Doing

Reposted from The Black Giraffe by Rev. Adam Trambley on September 2, 2016.

In recent years, more and more churches have been overcoming their fears and re-discovering evangelism. This reengagement with the Great Commission has led to a deeper understanding of all the ways that evangelism happens. Rather than knocking on doors or passing out tracts on the street corner, Christians are inviting neighbors to church, sharing the good news at critical times in friends’ lives, and praying for people to come to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

do the work of an evangelistAt the same time, everything good (or even everything Christian) is not evangelism. A popular quote going around that St. Francis may or may not have had something to do with, says, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Certainly our actions do speak louder than our words, and preachers who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk are a stock literary figure. Yet being a faithful Christian is not the same as being an evangelist, with or without words.

I would propose that we think about four different areas of Christian response to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission that are necessary for individual Christians and for church communities.

1. Love God through relationship: includes public worship, private prayer, and other activities that deepen the intimate relationship between a believer and God.

2. Love God through discipleship: includes all the works of (sacrificial) obedience we undertake in our daily life, such as tithing, following the ten commandments, offering our spiritual gifts for building up the body of Christ, and working with other believers on deepening their discipleship.

3. Love neighbor through charity: includes all the ways that we reach out in love toward others, such as almsgiving, caring for the sick, offering support to those who are struggling, and working for good causes.

evangelism monopoly board4. Love neighbor through evangelism: includes all the things we do as part of an intentional process to bring people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, such as praying for unbelievers, building relationships with unbelievers, meeting the physical, emotional and financial needs of unbelievers, and telling unbelievers about Jesus.

Certainly there are many actions that could fall into more than one category, depending on the circumstances and the intentions. Clarity around those circumstances and intentions matters, however. Without clarity around what we are trying to do, we have a hard time setting goals, planning, and evaluating.

To give an example, we might decide that we want to have an evangelism event to build relationships with the unchurched in our community. For the event, almost the whole church shows up, has a great time of fellowship, takes up a collection for a parishioner who just lost a job, puts together a group to repaint the church hall, and closes with a short worship service of lively singing and powerful praying. All in all, one of the best parish events of the year, and probably one that was needed. The evening was a great success in loving God through relationship, loving God through discipleship, and loving neighbor through charity. It was a total failure of evangelism, however, since not a single relationships was deepened with a non-believer and no one new heard the good news of Jesus. When that church reflects on that evening, they can be thankful for what did happen while also recognizing that their evangelism programming needs to go back to the drawing board.

We need inspiring worship. We need dynamic discipleship. We need compassionate charity. But we also need effective evangelism. Unless we are clear about what we are doing when we are doing it, we will have a hard time improving any aspect of our life in Christ.

Rev. Adam Trambley – St. John’s Church, Sharon, PA 

The Black Giraffe    

Upcoming Event: Following Jesus in the Seasons of the Soul

Following Jesus in the Seasons of the Soul

Saturday, December 5, 2015 – 9am-12pm

St. Mark’s Church, 4701 Old French Road, Erie, PA

Light refreshments provided

No Cost to Attend

Click here to register

Nancy 0804 SmilePlease join Nancy Beach and our diocesan family as we enter Advent Season and explore how, as One Church, we grow in our discipleship through the seasons of our soul: restlessness, loss, new beginnings and abundance. In every season there are lessons to be learned. Besides a faithful Christian life, Nancy brings with her many years as Arts/Worship Leader and Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. She currently coaches and consults with congregations and communities around the world. Her purpose with our diocesan family is this: we desire to grow as disciples and leaders and she can, in the anticipation of Advent and with God’s Grace, open our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s work in the everyday of our very human lives. Come join us on December 5 as we follow God and Bishop Sean’s vision of One Church.

Nancy Beach

Nancy has always been a passionate champion for artists and leaders in the local church. For over 20 years she served as the Programming Director for Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, building a community of artists who sought to create transformational moments in Sunday morning church services. Nancy also served as a Teaching Pastor, periodically bringing the weekend message. Currently, Nancy serves as a leadership coach with the SlingShot Group, helping church leaders and teams to flourish in life and ministry. Nancy also uses her teaching gifts to cast vision at conferences and workshops, for both artists and women in leadership.   In her book, An Hour on Sunday, Nancy expresses the core vision and values which she believes are foundational to any effective arts ministry. Nancy’s second book is titled: Gifted to Lead: the Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church.

Nancy and her husband Warren live in the village of Barrington, Illinois with their dog, Beanie. Their two daughters, Samantha and Johanna, are both theatrical artists.

Episcopal Congregations: What? Why? How?

This is a reprint from Father Adam’s blog “The Black Giraffe” on Feb. 7, 2015

The Acts 8 Moment Blogforce proposed these two questions:

  • What is the mission of the congregation?
  • How should it be structured to serve its mission?

Before thinking about mission and structure, I realized I needed a working definition of what a congregation in the Episcopal Church is today.  While I’m sure more theologically deep and ecclesiologially sophisticated definitions could be offered, a working definition for most congregations is:

Episcopal Congregation: a group of people who meet in the same place for worship on Sunday.

Of course, exceptions exist.  Some congregations are multi-site.  A few congregations worship at times other than Sunday morning.  Emergent churches and fresh expressions sites are experimenting with different models.  But in the end, our Book-of-Common-Prayer-based church identifies its congregations as the group of folks who gather for worship in a particular place, even if some gather at 8:00am and some at 10:00am.

Given this definition, the de facto mission of most congregations begins with hosting a Sunday morning worship service.  Since the 1979 prayer book, the liturgical movement, and our increasing denominational niche as the liberal catholic church, in many places a congregation’s primary focus is offering a Sunday morning Eucharist.

I might be accused of circular logic here.  If a congregation is defined by their Sunday worship, then their worship would be their primary goal.  The circularity makes my argument no less true, however.  This definition and mission has structural implications that are also observable.  Our congregations are structured to provide Sunday morning worship as effectively as possible.  Budgets focus on ensuring a priest to celebrate mass, a sanctuary, and a musician.  (If you have any questions about this, look at the budget differences in most congregations for the costs associated with worship and the costs associated with almost any other mission priority.)  Lay participation is often associated with liturgical ministries, as well, and the members of the choir, altar guild, acolytes, readers, ushers, etc., often outnumber people involved in other church ministries.

These details are particularly true for smaller congregations that have resources for only one or two priorities.  Larger congregations with greater resources can carry out the first priority of worship effectively and still have money and volunteers to accomplish other goals.

While I agree that worship is important, and is one of the priorities of a congregation — maybe even the first among equals — our current over-focus on the Sunday morning event is killing our churches.  For a congregation to thrive it needs inspiring worship, but it also needs evangelism and loving relationships and small groups and a number of other components (for one useful analysis, see the Natural Church Development materials).  Too often, when things are going badly in the Episcopal Church, we tinker with our worship service rather than increasing our evangelism or starting a new ministry in the community or dealing with the conflict that drives away every visitor who actually talks to anyone at coffee hour.

Instead of making worship services the primary mission of our congregations, we should redefine our mission as creating a healthy, growing community of disciples.  Worship will be one important component, but so will private devotions, fellowship opportunities, personal and corporate evangelism, and any number of other practical ways that we live out loving God, loving our neighbors and baptizing all nations while teaching them everything Jesus commanded.  The mission of our congregations, and the mission of the church at every level, should involve being a community that lives out the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

The structure of congregations, then, should be whatever allows a group of people in a particular place to live into that mission.  Given our traditions in the Episcopal Church, part of the structure of our congregations will involve democratically elected lay governance with appropriate clergy leadership along with financial transparency, administrative competency, connection to the diocese and larger church, and other best practices of non-profit and religious corporations.

As this refocusing of mission is happening, some places are realizing that budget, building and other resources also need to be refocused.  These discussions and changes can all be very positive moves as our congregations worry less about filling our emptying pews and more about being a healthy, growing community of disciples.

Father Adam Trambley, St. John’s Sharon