Fearless Evangelism, Part III … by Charles LaFond

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  The links to earlier posts are below.

III. Leadership


Having been formed by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I enjoy and spend time in John’s Gospel in which this word-theme “come and see” is promoted so prominently as an invitation mandate and model for evangelism. “Come and See” is just a 1st century slogan in John’s Gospel and it is simple technology. Here is how it works as an evangelism campaign:

1. One person acknowledges that following Jesus has changed their life

2. That Jesus-follower approaches a person within their circle of human contact – a friend, family member, co-worker, etc.

3. The Jesus-follower then intentionally risks vulnerability by speaking directly to this chosen person about this “Good News” which is the English for the Greek root-word for evangelism (from eu- “good” (see eu-) + angellein “announce,” from angelos “messenger”) A date is set for a face-to-face conversation.

4. These two people- the Jesus-follower and the chosen acquaintance – speak about how Jesus is good news and about the community (church) in which this is happening or at least being encouraged, after which an invitation to Come and See this church is issued.

So leadership in evangelism (or “membership Growth” if the “e” word un-nerves you) is really just four things.

1. Centered prayer-lives

2. Mindfulness – knowing what must be done

3. Contact with the “spiritual but not religious”

4. Story-telling as invitation

Get 20 people to do this “contact and story-telling” with two or three people each and presto! All of a sudden 40-60 people will have heard the Good News of a church community in which Jesus is working and the story of one life changed. That is how we invite people to our churches. Our goal is NOT to grow our churches nor is our goal to maintain membership numbers. Our goal is simply to tell other people the good news of God’s work in our lives. Membership growth and membership maintenance will happen as people come to see and, quite possibly, decide to stay (if they do).  But their decision to stay, having come and seen, is not the only benefit. Membership growth and strong communities of faith are helpful when church bills need to be paid and volunteers need to put away the chairs, but another primary benefit is that the church members are turning outward to preach the good news…and in that work they themselves are being transformed as they do this work.

The best definition of Evangelism I have ever heard is this: “one beggar telling another beggar where he just found food.” The problem with this is that the humility of knowing one is a beggar is a prerequisite. So often in ministry leadership I find that the most resistant churches to evangelism are the richest and most populated (and often, as a result, prideful) churches. The resistance to evangelism – that is to say, the resistance to inviting others to come and see our churches – may not be so much about the fear of vulnerability, as it may be about the pride of simply not wanting to be lowered to be in the position of asking a question to which we might receive a “no.”And although people under 50 in our culture may seem –and for good reason – not to want to be involved in a church – they are starving beggars for connection and spiritual experience of God’s love and glory. So we have much work to do.

Once the good news is spoken – the invitation to “Come and See” made – then the evangelist hands the work over to the Holy Spirit, who magnifies our work. Our job then becomes simply the prayers we make, begging God to further encourage the person whom we asked to “Come and See.” This work is both God’s and ours. As the old saying goes – pray for the mountain to be moved…and bring your shovel!”

We evangelize because that is our calling and our mandate-not just as a Christian and not just as an Episcopalian and not even as a member of this diocese. We also do this work of membership growth and evengelism because we are part of a world-wide Anglican Church which holds that the first two of the Five Marks of Christ’s Mission for the Church are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.

But the question becomes: how to move from vision or mandate to effective function with measurable objectives. That is where Come and See Membership Growth Campaigns come in.

We manage this work as a campaign because this is sometimes emotionally hard work – because of our culture, because of the pervasive individualism in which we now find ourselves, combined with materialism, over-scheduling, over-work, and over-stimulation. When combined, as they all are in our culture, we face a daunting task. When facing a daunting task…have a plan! What follows is that plan.

So we do evangelism as a campaign.

Next:  Campaign

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is online and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.  

This is the third in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Click for earlier installments:  Part 1; Part 2.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, by Victoria Logue

The video above was created during the Diocese of Montana’s High School Summer Camp in 2011. The production values are amazing. The teens do an incredible job with this hymn. The text fits so well with recent discussions at this site as it emphasizes God’s actions, not ours:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood…..

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Fearless Evangelism, Part II … by Charles LaFond

This is the second in a series on evangelism by Charles LaFond.  Check out this link for Part 1.  Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

II. Start from where you are …the deep, solid encouragement of God in our prayer lives

My home sits on a bluff along the edge of the Blackwater River which flows past it night and day, hour by hour, past my farmhouse. Without the broken ice floes of late winter, it is nearly impossible to see that this river is moving with great power. Calm, deep waters always seem so peaceful and gentle. But the strength – that ancient force of gently flowing water was – in times past, captured up into the wheels of the clothespin factory which once sat on its banks, passed to the huge gears and axles of the mill, and ended in the turning, turning, turning of the great gears which cut wood for clothespins which two generations used to hang clothes to dry- clothespins invented by New England Shakers.

That gentle flowing river, sleepy and majestic as an elderly monarch – flows gently, deep and with great force. No tidal waves. No crashing surf. In no way impeded by the river’s rocks and trees- 24 hours a day. That is power. So gentle. So powerful. That combination of power and gentleness is our calling as leaders of Evangelism in a church whose culture finds evangelism uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.

That power and gentleness – that centeredness and “quiet confidence” as our prayer book calls it – is essential in leading Come and See Membership Growth Campaigns and any other “en-courage-ment” we do in leadership in our churches and non-profit organizations.

Next:  Leadership

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.  The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.

Doing Diocesan Conventions Differently, by Frank Logue

The video embedded above shows the work in the Diocese of Connecticut toward designing a different way of doing a diocesan convention. I hope this post can spark comments discussing some ways each of us can encourage our dioceses to a different kind of convention experience.

As a part of my work as Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia, I have planned the program for our last two conventions and am at work on my third which will be held in February. This is not done in isolation, but with a good bit of back and forth with Bishop Benhase and the whole team in the diocesan office and with input from Diocesan Council and the host parish and convocation.

Table Discussions
Two years ago, we used short videos as conversation starters for delegates who were (as was already our practice) randomly assigned seats at round tables for the convention so that one sits with delegates from other congregations and often with folks you don’t know. Before lunch we showed a short video with two people sharing times when God had broken into the here and now in a significant way for them (view video here) and let delegates know they would have an opportunity to share similar stories at their tables after lunch. When we gathered back, we showed this video and then opened up a time of discussion at tables and closed with this video. The following day we offered a similar discussion time designed to counter the low self esteem that can creep into congregations in south Georgia where your church-going neighbors are pretty sure Episcopalians aren’t Christians. The two people in the video answer What do you love about The Episcopal Church? and then conversation at tables followed on this topic. We also showed the crowd pleasing youth presentation with the video Don’t Stop Believing

Showing Good Work in the Diocese
Last year discussions centered on the blessing of same sex unions and we used videos to share some good work going on in the Diocese including smaller congregations doing impressive ministry and the redevelopment of one church and checking in with a church plant a decade in.

Acts 8 Inspired Conventions?
Inspired by Acts 8, I am wondering how we might study a passage of scripture as a convention, or how we might pray and dream together of a different way not of doing convention, but of being the church. I know this work is underway in planning the Diocese of Arizona’s convention with Susan Snook and Megan Catellan challenged to make this a reality. What do you suggest? What is your diocese going to do? What do you wish your convention would be like?

We have a lot to live up to here as the trailer for our convention used zombies, a vampire, a sea battle, romance and explosions to share the dates for the meeting:

Church Membership, by Sara Fischer

Are you a member of a church? If you live in the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, or any number of other parts of our country, chances are the answer is no.

For a long time, church membership has been defined by certain religious practices and traditional forms of commitment. Baptism, confirmation, profession of adherence to orthodoxy, pledging, filling out a tome-like parish register, participation in all that the church has to offer, attending regularly, and/or conforming to various spoken and unspoken behavioral norms. Any of these traditional membership constructs sound familiar? Many of them are certainly familiar, well-loved, well-lived practices of many participants in worshipping communities throughout the Episcopal Church.

I have been finding it helpful to realize that church is much bigger than our Sunday morning worshipping community, and that living into a new way of being The Church includes expanding our understanding of who belongs.

I serve a community where many people gather in the building throughout the week. They are often unchurched, de-churched, ex-churched, church-phobic, Christo-phobic, or some combination. During the week, they consider our large, tired, messy, mid-century-modern building to be “their” church in the same way that those who are only there on Sundays consider it to be “our” church. What if the “our” of “our church” includes everyone whose spirit is fed when they come into our building?

St. Paul said that we are all members of one body: some teachers, some prophets, some healers, some givers, some leaders. What if the body of which we are all members is a church’s extended community, a community where some teach, some sculpt, some pray, some cook, some play ukulele, some play piano, some sing, some loan tools, and so on? What if the body includes the old-fashioned sense of the word parish: the whole surrounding neighborhood, with all of its quirky connections and non-connections to our traditional liturgy and practice? I like to think that in my community of St. David–a community that is porous around the edges but which ultimately springs forth from the creative, re-creative, and generative act of gathering around a common table to feast and pray on Sunday mornings–all are members.

When I originally shared these thoughts about membership on our parish blog, I got feedback about the centrality to our tradition of adult faith formation and baptism. Yes. That is indeed central. But a thriving, vibrant community needs to have a lot going on around the edges, not just at the center. Otherwise, it’s too hard to get in.

What makes you a member of a church?

Sara Fischer is the Rector of Saint David of Wales in southeast Portland, Oregon, the spiritual-but-not-religious center of the known universe. She blogs at http://www.gotleeks.wordpress.com and dailycup.net.

Fearless Evangelism … by Charles LaFond

Charles LaFond, the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire, has created a Plenary Address on evangelism for his diocese’s Evangelism Institute. We will be running a 9-part series of excerpts from his address over the next few weeks. Check out Charles’ blog for the full text. And check out the Diocese of New Hampshire’s Evangelism Toolkit, on its website.

Encouragement is a gift from one person to another. It sometimes comes gratefully received such as in the case of one friend encouraging another friend in the midst of a hard season of life – a divorce perhaps, or diagnosis of disease. Encouragement can also be offered, but difficult to receive.

Encouragement may be resisted when it is encouraging us to do something difficult, painful or of new early, new, healthy habit-formation. In my role as the pastor of a congregation, my “encouragement” of a person working through the joys of preparing for a marriage is often well-received. Pastoral encouragement is to provide courage to another by standing with them with a particular awareness that God is at work. My “pastoral encouragement” of a person making a pledge of money or time or effort may not be so well received. It may even be rejected a few times before it is finally accepted for what it is – just help in doing a hard or new thing.

Similarly, the Come and See Membership Growth Ministry requires pastoral encouragement. It may be well-received. It may also face some resistance. We naturally desire to invite people to “Come and See” what gives us joy and peace, connection and meaning, comfort and help. We do this inviting out of both a sense of wanting to share our joy in having found a pearl of great price; as well as out of an act of obedience to a Gospel and a Savior for which and for whom the invitation is a command.

So how do we encourage each other in evangelism? How do we help people to do Come and See Membership Growth Ministry for whom there are both feelings of joy and anticipation at the idea of sharing good news while also feeling fear or dread at the work of reaching out and being vulnerable to a “no?”

When working inside and outside our diocese, I often encounter resistance to Evangelism as a term, a notion and a task. Clergy will say that their congregations don’t like the word “evangelism” and I can understand that resistance. But I also know that the role of a leader is to lead. The effective leader listens to the fears of the people they are seeking to lead – then seeks to understand what is behind those fears and then works to gently and firmly guide those same people into new (even uncomfortable) functions.

Ideally, we share the gospel with others by telling our stories of grace and inviting others to come and see our church community – that tent of meeting in which we find grace. But gently encouraging us behind the joy is a command, not a suggestion. “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.” I would so like to think that I do all the things I need to do out of the love and joy of Christ…but being human…sometimes I need a good, old-fashioned command to get me off the dime!

So we are going to discuss that hard work of leadership in evangelism. The Come and See Membership Growth Campaign Manual is on line. The manual and the 7 minute video summary can be found here.

But once one HAS the manual IN HAND…what then?

The process of managing the campaign is simple and explained in detail with supporting model samples of documents to be used along the way. The problem is not how to manage the program. The problem is how to manage the process of using the program. It is that preparatory process of engaging a sometimes resistant congregation or faction of a congregation that we will discuss today.

Next: Start from where you are …the deep, solid encouragement of God in our prayer lives.

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Diocese of New Hampshire.

Trust in the slow work of God, by Victoria Logue

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, really speaks to me this week:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Beta Testers, by Susan Snook

It’s not really news to say that things have changed since the halcyon days of the 1960s, when eager young men flocked to seminaries, graduated to comfy curacies, went on to prestigious associate positions, and ended up ensconced as cardinal rectors.

The Diocese of Connecticut recently suspended its ordination process while it reconsidered ordination for a new time.  Now, it has released new guidelines for a “provisional” process.  Candidates will be “participant observers” or “beta testers.”  They should be “uniquely able to thrive in the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty, and … uniquely open to the creative possibilities of doing discernment and formation in new and uncharted ways.”

Here is how Connecticut sums up the contemporary church scene:

The church in general and the Episcopal Church in particular are facing great challenges as they seek to adapt to the realities of the 21st Century. Church attendance is no longer culturally mandatory. Competition on Sunday mornings is fierce. Denominational loyalty is increasingly a thing of the past. Christianity exists alongside a plethora of other faith traditions. Biblical literacy can no longer be presumed.

These and other realities have had a profound impact on the nature and shape of the priesthood. The old mid-20th Century bargain – that if one graduates from seminary and successfully navigates the ordination process, a lifetime of full-time parish ministry is virtually assured – no longer holds. Neither does a system in which newly-minted priests have the option of apprenticing under seasoned ones. Clergy positions are shrinking, in number and in scope, as financially-strapped parishes seek to stretch their resources. These trends are exacerbated in a diocese such as ours where every town has its own parish and many have more than one. At the same time, our parishes are becoming increasingly diverse, culturally as well as demographically. And we are discovering anew that “the church” does not exist for itself, but rather to do God’s work in the world.

 

As I read the diocese’s summary of conditions in the 21st century church, I am struck by a couple of things.  First, Connecticut’s assessment of our situation is true, there is no doubt.  I don’t think it would be helpful at all NOT to take a good hard look at where the church finds itself these days, and it certainly isn’t helpful to go on preparing 1962-style priests for the world of 2012.

But second, what I like about Connecticut’s assessment is not its harsh look at reality, but that it finds at least a few reasons for new hope – increased diversity and more outward focus on God’s work in the world.  These are good things.  Times are harder for the church now than in 1962, it is true.  But I think that’s good for the church.  Who wants to be a leader in a church where attendance is “culturally mandatory”?  Where people attend because they’ve always been Episcopalians, and you know, the Episcopal Church is where all the best people go?  Where the work of Christian education is already done for us by school and society?

I think today’s church is a much more exciting place to be a leader.  Most of the newcomers finding their way to my church these days are people who have been away from any church for a long, long time.  They have questions, they have doubts, they have hurts.  Yet they are spiritually hungry and they want to know where God is in their lives.  I love watching lives transformed by the power of the gospel, especially in our rich Episcopal tradition.

The whole premise of Acts 8 is that the church is not yet ready for hospice – we are not preparing for a long and graceful goodbye.  We are instead in a time when old ways are dying, but that the Holy Spirit is looking to scatter us out into uncharted territory, like the Spirit whisked Philip out into Samaria, the road to Gaza, and Azotus in Acts 8.  In going to new places and new people, the church will find new ways to proclaim the good news of Christ.

 

5:08 p.m. Pray for the Church, by Frank Logue

It shouldn’t startle me, but it always does. The loud crowing of a rooster each day ay 5:08 p.m. The alarm on my wife’s phone has the crowing sound set to go off each day at the same time to remind us to pray for the church. Though I am not always with her at eight minutes after five, an 8:30-4:30 workday and a mile commute home means I am often around for rooster’s always startling call. Sometimes we are at home talking about how our days went. Sometimes he catches us running errands. Sometimes the phone was left at the other end of our apartment and he won’t stop until one of us picks up the phone and dimisses the alarm. Each day, the rooster’s insistent crowing tells us once more that it is time for for us to pray for the the church to be roused to prayerful discernment and action.

Why 5:08? For Acts 8. Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament and then eight for the chapter in which the church responded to a culture hostile to the Gospel with greater faithfulness.

Praying changes the one who prays and I am finding the daily time of prayer for the Church to have the impact of keeping me focused on this Acts 8 Moment in a way I would not otherwise. I pray for inspiration. I pray for discernment. I pray for others to join us. I pray for us all to have the courage to go where the Holy Spirit will send us. I pray for the Church in expectancy. Each day when the rooster crows, I am reminded that we are in a moment pregnant with potential, and I hope for a Church up for being the Body of Christ to a lost and hurting world.

How much I must criticize you, my church
and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.

I should like to see you destroyed
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything
more compromised, more false,
yet never have I touched anything
more pure, more generous and more beautiful.

—Carlo Carretto (1910-1988)