Ask the Bishop: Summer Camp Edition

Straight from Camp Nazareth, it’s Ask the Bishop!

Bishop Sean discusses the hot button issues of General Convention, the buzz generated by Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding, and his favorite part of summer camp below.

Something of Eternal Value

Each year, the clergy of the diocese gather in late February for a pre-Lenten retreat. It’s a time of reflection and fellowship and learning. Several years ago, our retreat focused on the mission of the Church. We had presentations from a consultant who works with non-profit agencies using business models and asked us to consider our work in those terms as well. We know the church isn’t a business in the traditional sense, but there is no reason that we can’t use tools from that world to be more effective in our work for the Kingdom.

I was particularly struck by her insistence that successful organizations have clarity of purpose and understanding of what their “product” is. In church terms, the question relates to what the purpose or goal of our evangelism is. What are we inviting people to? Are we trying to sell them on our way of worship? Are we trying to get them to join our church the same way other folks might try to get them to join the Bradford Club or Kiwanis? I’m afraid sometimes churches have engaged in evangelism with those very things in mind.

As much as I balk at the idea of “selling” in connection with faith, I realize that if we must use those terms then I wanted to be sure that we are offering something of eternal value. The purpose of our evangelism, of our inviting others to join us in our faith journey, must be no less than to invite them to have their lives transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Episcopalians, we believe that the best place to encounter Christ is in community through worship and the sacraments. Our evangelism focuses on calling others into relationship with our church family so that they may share with us in being transformed through a relationship with Jesus. We are not perfect people – we can’t claim perfection in worship or fellowship or discipleship. If all we have to offer is ourselves then we really won’t be terribly successful. But if we remember that we are offering so much more – a priceless treasure, the very Living Water that Christ pours out on us and through us – then we indeed have a “product” that everyone we encounter longs for.

As we move through this Lent toward Easter joy, may we be ever aware of the precious gift we have to share and re-commit ourselves to boldly offering it to others – not for our own, but for Christ’s sake.

The Rev. Stacey Fussell is Rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Bradford. 

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