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Evangelism

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. …      Matthew 28:19

Introduction

At the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the bishops of the Anglican Communion called for a Decade of Evangelism to call the attention of the church to the important task of “making new Christians” within the Anglican community.  The Decade of Evangelism launched officially in 1991, motivated many people across our Communion to new evangelistic efforts, many of which have continued beyond the official ending of the Decade in 2000.

This chapter provides a definition and discussion of evangelism, outlines various aspects of evangelism, and includes stories of a several of models of evangelism, as told and collected by members of IASCOME.

Definitions

The World Council of Churches, in its 1982 document Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today, defined mission as:

The proclamation and sharing of the Good News of the Gospel by word, deed, prayer and worship and the everyday witness of the Christian life; teaching as building up and strengthening people in their relationship with God and each other, and healing as wholeness and reconciliation into communion with God, communion with people and communion with creation as a whole.[1]

Evangelism, on the other hand, is defined in the same document as:

Explicit and intentional voicing of the Gospel, including the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship.

The Anglican Consultative Council in 1990 approved the following Five Marks of Mission[2]

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society and
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Thus both the World Council and the Anglican Consultative Council position mission as the broader concept, with evangelism conceptualised as one part of the larger whole.  For Anglicans, evangelism is the first of the Five Marks, and is understood to be an essential part of the total mission in which the church participates.

Raymond Fung, in his address to the 1995 Global Conference on Dynamic Evangelism[3], marking the midpoint of the Anglican Communion’s Decade of Evangelism, stressed the importance of evangelism but also clarified its limitations.  He cautioned against both the temptation to marginalise evangelism, and also the temptation to overload it.

Mission without evangelism loses its authenticity.  Accordingly evangelism cannot be marginalised in the life and identity of the church.  It is for every Christian person and it is for every Christian ministry and for every office in the church.  While there are full time evangelists, all believers share in the task of evangelism, for example as Christian teachers, homemakers, business people, civil servants, doctors, lawyers, policemen, farmers, craft workers, etc.  Evangelism is also given to every office and ministry, to bishops, pastors, to development workers and chaplaincy ministries, to the laity in their everyday lives.

While evangelism is essential, and while evangelism must not be marginalised, evangelists ought not be overloaded either.  Evangelism is one, albeit essential, aspect of mission.  Raymond Fung expresses it this way.

Don't put too much into evangelism, don't expect it to bring the second coming of Jesus, and don’t expect it to bring justice and peace to the whole world.  It is but one ministry…  I think in a way we expect too much of evangelism, we will overload it, we will break it's back, we would domesticate it, and we would destroy its power.

Given that I want to reject temptations to overload evangelism, I want to say that evangelism is not mission; evangelism rather is the sharpest point of mission.  It is the cutting edge in the church's encounter with the world…  And therefore without this cutting edge, without this evangelistic context our missionary encounter with the world cannot be complete.

While evangelism is not the whole of mission, mission without evangelism is incomplete.  More than this, evangelism is the cutting edge of mission.  This is a point of key importance to us in the Anglican Communion.  This is because evangelism, this cutting edge of mission, brings a profound challenge as well as opportunity to the church.  This happens in at least three ways.

First, new believers coming into the church from various ethnic, racial and social backgrounds bring new challenges to the church.  New questions are asked, different experiences are shared, new gifts are offered within the life of the church.  Old allegiances are tested and new allegiances are introduced.  It was evangelism, which caused many of the troubles of the early church.  It was when Gentiles became Christians that the Council of Jerusalem was called to resolve the first great missiological controversy in the church.  It was and is evangelism, which poses challenges to established understandings of theology and to social relationships within the life of the church.

This creates the second profound challenge and opportunity.  Like conversion, evangelism compels creative, life bringing change.  Evangelism creates a response.  Proclamation speaks to another.  A person or community listens and hears the message of God within their context.  Fruitful and powerful evangelism invokes a response from individual human hearts and lives and also from communities.  Proclamation meets a response of articulation.  It is new believers who, in turn, become some of the most powerful evangelists for their neighbours and their communities.

This in turn creates a third challenge.  New conversations about God emerge.  New questions about worship, discipleship, Christian teaching, and appropriate behaviour for Christians in local contexts arise.  The church discovers that evangelism has a key role to play in the engagement of the church in theological reflection.  Evangelism compels the church to seek and to develop new directions.  Evangelism, therefore, both initiates and results in new understandings of theology.

Aspects of Evangelism

Evangelism, the proclamation of the Good News of God’s grace and abundant life as promised and demonstrated through Jesus Christ, is characterised by the following:

It is intentional.  As such it requires evangelists to speak boldly about how God is working in their own lives, and about the reason for their hope.  This bold and public intentionality works well for Members of the Anglican Evangelistic Association in Tanzania who are succeeding in bringing many people to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and to become active members of Christian communities.  On the other hand, the intentionality of the evangelistic task also requires sensitivity to the cultural context and to the particular circumstances of the hearer or audience.  We heard about the care that must be taken in India at the present time so as not to be seen to be breaking the law by actively proselytising.  This means sometimes choosing to baptise new believers privately in their homes rather than publicly in the church.

It is an invitation.  Jesus invited his disciples into fellowship, but never threatened or coerced them into joining him.  The invitation to the new life in Christ must be freely offered, but not forced upon people.  We heard about how the House-to-House visitation ministry in the Diocese of Kagera in Tanzania succeeds in bringing people to faith in Christ Jesus.  In this simple process, small bands of Anglicans are invited to visit individuals in their homes to bring a message about the Good News of Jesus, followed by evening worship and prayers.

It is founded in grace.  Our invitation should be a testimony to the grace that we have found, not a promise of specific benefits such as material wealth or protection from illness.  Grace is a gift from God.  Our invitation is an offer to accept this gift as a new way of seeing and experiencing the world.  The following example from Burundi illustrates the grace, the hope, and the life Jesus the Christ offers in the most challenging circumstances.

The civil war, which has been ongoing for many years, has caused incredible damage to the country’s infrastructure, eroded trust among its people, and displaced millions.  In such an environment, you would expect the church to crumble; but through the constant efforts of its congregations and leaders, the Anglican Church has been at the forefront of many social initiatives, giving people reasons to stay together, and offering opportunities for reconciliation.[4]

It is a process.  We understand God to be continually calling us to new understandings and new challenges.  Conversion happens repeatedly in our lives.  So the task of the evangelist is both to proclaim to those who have not heard, but also to encourage and edify those who are already in Christ.  This is the reciprocal encouragement that Paul spoke about in Romans 1:12, that all Christians, both old and new, are built up in their faith.  An example from Central America illustrates this process of evangelism.

The story began with a call made by some non-Anglican Christians to the Anglican Church in the area.  They requested pastoral assistance because they felt that they were in the process of losing their Christian faith due to the strong witness of Mayan traditionalists amongst them.  The local Anglican priest then accompanied a representative group from the community to a meeting with the bishop. 

The bishop explained to them that the process of becoming Anglican was not simply accepting a number of beliefs, but rather sharing a common life and hope in Jesus Christ as Saviour.  He told them that this was a process of learning and living together in the faith, and was to be followed by the next step of communicating to others the Good News of salvation.  They accepted the bishops terms, designed an educational program, and proposed a date by which they hoped to be ready to be received as faithful Anglicans.  The implementation of this process was left in the hands of the priest in charge of the area and four lay readers from the nearby mission.  Nine months later the community invited the bishop to receive the people into the Church.  That day the bishop received and confirmed 60 adult people and officially commissioned them to evangelisation and outreach ministries.  One month later the leaders of the new Anglican community requested official recognition as an organised mission within the diocese.  The bishop accepted them and approved their evangelism plan to establish two new congregations in the area.

Models of Evangelism

There are many different ways in which the Good News can be effectively proclaimed.  The challenge for the evangelist is to find a method or model that fits the local context, speaks to local cultural realities, and can be adapted to changing circumstances.  The models that follow are by no means comprehensive, but are examples of how evangelism is being expressed as the cutting edge of mission in the Communion today.

‘He sent them out two by two’ (Mark 6:7)
The Episcopal Church of the Sudan, in their “Send Me” evangelism program, has used the model described in Mark 6:7.  Teams of evangelists are sent out to rural areas to intentionally proclaim the Good News and to invite people to personal conversion.  This program has been highly successful.

A similar model has been successfully used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Teams of between 15 and 20 evangelists have been trained in each diocese.  Each team is sent out to a new area for a two-week period, with each evangelist assigned to a village where he or she preaches the Gospel each morning and each evening.  Once a community has come to faith in Christ, the villagers are asked to choose one of their number who is then given a month long basic training, and is then sent back to serve as the village catechist.  All the village catechists from the given area then choose one village that is easily accessible to which they make a commitment to travel each Sunday, along with some of their villagers.  At these Sunday meetings a priest from a nearby parish preaches and further instructs them.  Eventually, a new church is planted at this preaching point.

‘Come over and help us’ (Acts 16:9)
Just as Paul answered God’s call to travel to Macedonia in order to preach the Good News and help establish a church among the people, so too we heard how this model has been used by the Melanesian Brothers who have responded to a call from the Episcopal Church of the Philippines to “come over” and establish a new branch of their Order. 

The story from Egypt also illustrates this model of coming over to help.  The evangelist began his work in Alexandria where he established an Arabic-speaking congregation.  He was then sent to Suez where he encountered a group of young people who gathered regularly for prayer.  The group requested the use of the Anglican church building for their meetings.  The request was granted and a positive outcome resulted.  “All these people came along to the church and belong to the church, and now we have three prayer meetings.  These are very important prayer meetings, believe me this is the foundation of the church.” [5]

‘The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’ (Matt. 9: 37)
One of the dioceses in the Province of Central America became concerned about the great need for outreach among the people of the country, but also about the tremendous shortage of personnel willing to serve as evangelists.  In a context of poverty and high unemployment, the bishop decided to advertise in the local newspaper that the Episcopal Church was seeking to hire evangelists for modest payment, and with the following prerequisites: 

  • proof of their Christian baptism;
  • a sense of being called to serve in the spreading of the Good News;
  • proof of godly life (letters, note from their pastor, recommendations from former employers);
  • a written biography tracing their spiritual journey;
  • proof of undergraduate studies;
  • proof of theological or biblical studies if any, and a willingness to take an intensive course of preparation.

More than one hundred men and women applied.  The diocese carefully selected ten, and signed a three-year contract with them.  At the time of writing (September 2003), these ten were being trained and were designing a strategic plan for evangelism in the diocese in the years to come. 

This story recognises the fact that there is a desperate need to bring labourers into God’s vineyard.  Secondly, the method recognises that there are people from other Christian denominations willing to serve the Lord as evangelists who have not received a call from their own church.  Thirdly, offering paid employment is a positive response to the situation of high unemployment in the area.

‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…’(1Cor. 2: 4)
This verse speaks to those churches dominated by rationality, and encourages an approach in which the Spirit has demonstrated power over worldly powers.  A story from the USA illustrates the working of the Spirit where there is a hunger and search for evangelism, and an outward spiritual focus.

‘Something is happening in the Episcopal Church.  It started as a restlessness some of us began to notice that doing and being the church was not the way it used to be. ...  As a church we are becoming uncomfortable; it is an anxious restlessness.  It is exactly the kind of discomfort that often leads to a change of behaviour. ...  Personal faith and spirituality are a high priority for us.  We have learned to pray, we have sought out spiritual directors, we have tended ourselves as spiritual beings.  In a world where increasing numbers of people do not know how to name God and do not know Jesus Christ, perhaps our inner work now has an outward focus.  Is it time to learn how to share our personal faith with others – even with our children, even with strangers?’[6]

‘I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’ (Phil 1:20)
Paul’s letter to the saints at Philippi was written from his prison cell where he was held in chains for preaching the Good News.  Today too there can be a cost to evangelism.  During the civil conflict in the Solomon Islands, members of the Melanesian Brothers and other religious orders risked their lives trying to bring God’s peace.  Some of them were murdered in the process, thus paying the ultimate price.  “At the height of the tension, the Melanesian Brothers and the other religious orders stood together between the two warring parties, trying to bring peace between the two sides.  What was outstanding was that the religious communities remained faithful to their vows and did not side with either of the warring parties.”[7]

Reaching the outcasts

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-41 provides us with another model for evangelism.  By initiating contact with a Samaritan woman, asking her to attend to his needs, and engaging her in dialogue about the nature of God, Jesus openly challenged two strongly held social conventions of his time, namely, the barrier between ‘chosen people’ (Jews) and ‘rejected people’ (Samaritans), and the barrier between ‘male’ and ‘female’.  His respectful acceptance of the Samaritan woman as a worthy recipient of God’s grace enabled her to hear and receive the Good News.  While we did not hear an example that parallels this biblical story, we did hear of one-on-one Christian trauma counselling being done by workers among refugee populations in camps in the Sudan, where outcast people are in despair and are struggling to survive in deplorable conditions.

Learning and Consulting about Evangelism

Not wanting to lose the momentum created by the Decade of Evangelism, the Advisory Group of the former MISSIO recommended that IASCOME sponsor two inter-Anglican gatherings, one for Provincial Mission and Evangelism Co-ordinators and the other for Anglican Mission Organisations working cross-culturally.  These consultations were held in Nairobi in May 2002 and in Cyprus in February 2003, respectively.[8]

Provincial Mission and Evangelism Co-ordinators Consultation

For the first time in the history of the Anglican Communion, Provincial Evangelism Co-ordinators met to share their experiences of evangelism.  At this conference[9] almost every province was represented.  Participants shared together in Bible study, prayer and worship, and also exchanged information about goals, strategies, programs and problems.  This shared fellowship brought a real sense of understanding and exuberant joy.  Many Evangelism Co-ordinators were new to the job and so the chance to exchange ideas and discuss problems released a buzz of energy.  From this exchange came a request for Guidelines for Mission and Evangelism Co-ordinators that have been put together by IASCOME and are included in this report.[10]  The second request was for another gathering in the future, to enable further exchange of ideas and programs, as well as practical training in the task of drawing others into fellowship with Jesus.

In the years since the conference, several Anglican provinces have been inspired to gather together their diocesan mission co-ordinators to look at their own strategies and exchange ideas, discuss problems, strengths and weakness.  For example, before leaving Nairobi the Africans delegates began planning their follow-up.  The Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), sponsored an inter-African Consultation that took place in 2003 and was held alongside the CAPA Primates’ meeting.  Significant conferences have been held in Uganda which resulted in careful strategic planning for evangelism in the province.  Tanzania brought together evangelism co-ordinators and bishops both of whom play key evangelistic roles in their dioceses.  Other consultations are planned in other African provinces.

The delegate from Canada, encouraged that God is at work in the world, was stimulated to press for more awareness of the need for evangelism, resulting in a consultation in her own diocese.  The diocese has since appointed a diocesan evangelism co-ordinator who is working with local parishes to help them find ways to make their churches more appealing to their unchurched neighbours.

From Scotland, the delegate reported that the Nairobi Consultation was a valuable catalyst in the adoption by their General Synod of the vision for mission contained in the document Journey of the Baptised: the Mission Strategy of the Scottish Episcopal Church for the 5 years from 2003 - 2008. 

Missions Organisations Conference

Entitled, Transformation and Tradition in Global Mission, the Mission Organisations Conference[11], held in Cyprus from 12-18 February 2003, brought together both the traditional mission agencies from the Global North and the new mission organisations and initiatives from the Global South.  The fact that the conference was attended by 100 delegates from all 39 province of the Communion, attested to the transformation in global mission since the previous Mission Agencies Conference of 1987, which was held for Northern mission agencies only, with those from the South invited only as ‘external partners’.  The 2003 conference noted this major shift in mission leadership as well as the move towards more equal partnerships than had been the case in 1987.

One delegate from Guatemala offered the following reflection.  ‘I believe that for all the representatives of mission organisations attending the conference, including myself from this new Province in Central America, the vision of the mission of the Church for the present century has been reshaped.   Our globalised world requires a strategy somewhat different from the traditional one.  At present the Church faces many new challenges but also thousands of mission opportunities.  In my opinion the participants in the conference experienced a transformation in vision and a transformation in the appreciation of our Anglican tradition.  However, we also experienced a transformation in our understanding of the world and its present need.’

Another delegate from West Malaysia commented: ‘The Cyprus conference has inspired me and has greatly influenced the strategic mission planning of the diocese.  We had our first diocesan mission conference with seminars and workshops about the challenging opportunities in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia.  The diocese has set up a Diocesan Mission Fund to send workers to these areas and beyond.  This conference has become an annual event along with our Prayer Summit.”

Feedback from participants stressed the invaluable opportunity to meet people who share the same vision, the same responsibility and focus of work, and most importantly, people who share the same Anglican faith.  Contacts were established and are still maintained around which a number of collaborative ventures are taking place, including one involving youth.  Thus the opportunity to meet and spend time together is an essential part of any gathering. 

The main outcome of both conferences was the energy, stimulation and visioning arising from the face-to-face meetings and exchanges of ideas.  Results include ongoing networking among delegates and important strategic planning for evangelism within provinces and dioceses.  The energy generated by these two conferences continues to have a ripple effect across our Communion.

Guidelines for Evangelism Co-ordinators [12]
The encouragement of the Decade of Evangelism and the added momentum to the witness of the church in its mission has been strengthened in the years that have followed.  Mission and evangelism haves taken a higher place on the agendas of provinces and dioceses of the Communion.  As the ministry of mission and evangelism is developing the need for guidelines for evangelism co-ordinators has become more apparent. 

In Mission Commissions and ACC meetings of the past, guidelines for partnership in mission, networks, companion diocesan links, principles of partnership, development programs, partnership visits and priorities in evangelism have been put together to encourage and assist the work of mission in the provinces, dioceses and mission organisations.  These guidelines have been gathered together into one booklet that has been distributed widely in the Communion.[13]

These guidelines are the result of research into the practice of mission and evangelism through the years, evaluating what has been both successful and difficult.  They have been distilled from the experience of people involved in mission who have seen the usefulness of having a guide to help those starting new programs and ventures in mission.  The Guidelines for Companion Link Relationships in particular have proved a great asset to dioceses and have been adapted by some provinces to suit their own needs.

The Guidelines for Evangelism Co-ordinators have been put together using the same process of sharing the experiences of those co-ordinating mission and evangelism in their provinces and dioceses.  The research for these guidelines has particularly drawn upon the experiences of the participants at the Inter Anglican Provincial Evangelism Co-ordinators Consultation in Nairobi, and other Provincial Consultations. 

Recommendation

We recommend that during the next decade, IASOME sponsor a second consultation of provincial co-ordinators of mission and evangelism and a third conference of mission agencies and organisations.

We recommend that the Guidelines for Evangelism Co-ordinators be accepted and recommended and distributed, through the ACO Mission and Evangelism Desk, to the Provinces of the Anglican Communion for implementation.

Questions for Discussion

  • Raymond Fung suggests that evangelism is the cutting edge of mission and that mission activity is most likely to challenge established understandings of God.  What challenges to established theology and practices has the church in your area faced from new-comers?
  • Four aspects of evangelism are described.  Do you agree with these?  Can you think of others?
  • Six models of evangelism are named and illustrated.  Are there other models used in your area? Does your church have a preferred model? Are there models which you think would not succeed in your culture? Why?

1. Study document “Mission and Evangelism in Unity Today”, adopted by the CWME in Morges, Switzerland, 2000. P. 2.

2.“ Mission in a Broken World”.  Report of ACC-8, Wales.

3. Fung, Raymond, Evangelism in the Anglican Communion: An Ecumenical Perspective.  In The Cutting Edge of Mission: A Report of the Mid-Point Review of the Decade of Evangelism, Cyril C Okorocha, ed. 1996, pp 145-152.

4. See Chapter 8 for the full story, Out of the Fire.

5. See Chapter 8 for the full story, Church Planting in Egypt.

6. See Chapter 8 for the full story, Congregational Building.

7. See Chapter 8 for the full story, The Cost of Mission in the Church of Melanesia.

8. Full reports of these conferences are available from the Anglican Communion Office.

9. See Appendix 4.

10. See Appendix 6.

11. See Appendix 5.

12. See Appendix 6.

13.Guidelines and Principles for Mission and Evangelism in the Anglican Communion” available from the ACO.