That They May Have Life: Part Two Nov/Dec 1989

“Yesterday, I noted that this morning would be Part Two of That They May Have L.I.F.E.”

However, I think we heard Part II last night at our banquet: the insightful and profound words of Hugh Litchfield in his reflections on evangelism as being something that is not institu­tionalized but, of necessity, something that is personal and individual.

It is customary at some point during Diocesan Convention that the Bishop give a charge to the Convention. This morning, rather than a charge, I would share with you an invitation, an invitation to be evangelists, an in­vitation to choose L.I.F.E. Leadership In Faithful Evangelism.

In extending the invitation, I draw on scripture in recognizing that none of us can be coerced or forced to be evangelists.

Jesus came among the disciples and He invited them: “Come, follow Me. Leave what you are doing. Be my disciples.”

It was an invitation because it offered a choice. Our ability to choose is essential to us as human beings, a part of our make-up.

This morning I am not going to coerce you with a hard sell.

I am not going to make you feel guilty or anxious in inviting you to provide Leadership In Faithful Evangelism.

Rather, I invite you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to your baptismal vocation and identity, that of being a messenger, a bearer of the Good News in word and action.

I do not want to see LIFE, Leadership In Faithful Evangelism, become another gimmick for the Decade of Evangelism as a program of the National Church.

The last thing that I would like to see happen is for us to gear up in terms of a program and “in­stitutionalize” the Gospel in ways that would bring with it death rather than LIFE.

Rather, I would see LIFE and Leadership In Faithful Evangelism as a focus, as an em­phasis, as a way of our understanding who we are as a diocesan people in the ministry that we share in common.

No program, no amount of money, no amount of planning and organization will bring LIFE. Life has already been given through the grace and love of the loving Father whom we call God, Abba, revealed to us in the gift of His son, Jesus.

The invitation is to share that gift of life. There is nothing we can do to earn it but I invite you to receive it and, in receiving share it.

We have ten wonderful years, a decade, before us as we an­ticipate a new century of ministry in this Diocese. In our “Decade of Evangelism” we celebrate a coming together of the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church in the United States, our Province and our Diocese. It tells us that the Spirit is moving and God is calling us in this day and age to a renewed commitment to the message, to the Gospel, to the community that we call the Church.

The call is very much like the one in St. Paul’s letter to the Cor­inthians: a call to strengthen covenant, a call to move away from any false security or idolatry; a call to recommit ourselves to who we are.

LIFE is a focus, an emphasis that may help us repent of our being a Church unto death. Such an emphasis may help us focus our attention away from quantity and numbers and stereotypes and program to following Jesus as Lord and Saviour and sharing that love. Such an emphasis might help us keep our minds off ourselves and directed to others.

Now just how do we do that?

This morning I would like to share with you some of the prac­tical implications of the invita­tion. If this decade is going to be a decade when we renew ourselves and renew our commitment as evangelists, then it seems to me that there are certain things that we need to consider prayerfully.

This past spring the clergy of the Diocese gathered in Rapid City for our annual clergy con­ference. We gathered, spouses and clergy, to talk about the ministry of the Diocese. We used as a theme for our gathering the notion of wellness, wholeness, health and holiness.

The tests administered, as a part of the conference, were relatively simple tests that measured cholesterol level, stress level, blood pressure and some other ways of determining how fit we are as a clergy group.

Those tests were very reveal­ing. I think those tests told us that as a clergy group we need to get into shape.

I am wondering if that ex­perience might prove helpful as a first step for us as a Diocese.

Perhaps we need to test our corporate cholesterol level to see if there are things flowing through the veins and arteries of our Diocese that are blocking and clogging the flow of LIFE, the flow of energy, the flow of spirit.

Perhaps we might return to our parishes and take a look at the stress level. What kinds of stress do we bring to our congregations, to our churches, as we gather there? How do we deal with that stress? Are we spiritually fit? Are we resilient? Have we exer­cised spiritually and are we able to deal with such stress?

What kinds of pressures con­front us in the living of our lives as individuals, as members of a family, as members of churches in our communities?

To use Hugh Litchfield’s words last night, where does it hurt? Where are the pressures? Where does your Church hurt? How do we deal with those hurts?

Earlier this year represen­tatives of our Diocese attended the Province VI Synod. One of the representatives was Fr. Rol Hoverstock. As a result of our time together and our discussion of evangelism, Fr. Hoverstock offered the ministry of Good Shepherd as a resource for the Diocese in the Decade of Evangelism (L.I.F.E.).

He has done a good bit of work in looking and trying to define resources that might be helpful for us in providing instruments to measure our corporate cholesterol level, our community blood pressure and also the kinds of tensions that confront us in our parishes.

We are going to send to you a series of questions that serve as a diagnostic device. Again, this is an invitation. It is not necessary or mandated that you use these questions but it is a way of further inviting members of your con­gregation, of your parish, of your mission church to reflect on what we mean by evangelism and the ministry of evangelists.

The questions and discussion groups invite members to gather together and to share their ex­periences of evangelism; to come up with a definition that is not out of some textbook or theological journal, but comes out of the life of the congregation.

To begin to discern what it is we mean by evangelism, I hope that all churches, all commissions, all committees, all deaneries, all organizations of the Diocese, will take advantage of this simple diagnostic device and use it.

1990 is going to be a year of prayer and preparation. One of the first things we need to do to prepare ourselves is to ask ourselves what evangelism means for us personally and as congregations, and what oppor­tunities and resources we have in our congregations.

I’ve said it before and I say it again: “if it ain’t local, it ain’t real”

If there is going to be some ex­citement for this emphasis, if the invitation is going to be accepted, there needs to be a struggling with, a defining of and an owner­ship of what we mean by evangelization.

Second, in late January and in late April of 1990 our Province, at the invitation of the Diocese of Colorado, will be having two con­sultations on evangelism in Denver. I alert you to that this morning to extend an invitation to you, within the deaneries of which you are a part, to send one or two persons to that consulta­tion so that we can begin to identify the resources that our na­tional Church, Province and in­dividual dioceses can offer us, as we begin to move into this Decade of LIFE, this Decade of Evangelism.

The consultations offer an op­portunity to share some of the things that have happened in neighbor dioceses and for us to share as well, recognizing that in such sharing we grow. In sharing we realize new LIFE.

At your next deanery meeting, I ask you prayerfully and thoughtfully to consider sending someone to these consultations so that they can come back and report to the deanery and larger Diocese those things that are happening throughout our Church and those resources that we have at our disposal as we go about the business of choosing life.

LIFE, Leadership In Faithful Evangelism, as I said before, is not mandated by me as your Bishop, is not mandated by the national Church and the Presiding Bishop, is not man­dated by the Anglican Church and the Archbishop of Canter­bury.

The Decade of Evangelism in its many forms and expressions is mandated by the Gospel. If we are to be a Church that is alive, growing, healthy, touching the lives of people, then we are of necessity evangelists, all of us.

When we find ourselves saying the National Church ought to. . .or the Presiding Bishop ought to . . ., or the Diocesan Office ought to.. ., or the Bishop ought to…, or this committee or that com­mittee ought to. . ., or our priest ought to. . ., our vestry ought to… substitute “we” for “they” and then substitute “I” for “we”. We ought to be . . ., I ought to be. . . .

We have a wonderful heritage, a beautiful tradition, and yet I think Godis judging us when we make an idol of our tradition and worship our heritage. It is time that we break the bonds that contain us as a Church. It is time that we cease what at times seems to be an eternal navel-gazing and get on with sharing Jesus Christ in word and sacrament with those who have heard but have forgotten and with those who do not know the Lord Jesus.

Let me share with you an in­teresting finding that has come out of some of the research regarding evangelization. You are all aware of the membership losses in our Church over the last several decades. The media loves to pick up that bit of bad news. Such membership loss has affected all the mainline Churches.

But there is a deeper loss. Con­temporary analysts of religion note that Christianity and religion itself, like art, is being pushed to the periphery of our culture. There has been a triumph of the technological in our age, a worship of technology as providing all the answers.

To use technical jargon, we are experiencing a collapse of transcendental reason, a col­lapse of moral discourse. We all feel it, we all know it, we all sense it intuitively, I think, in terms of the breakdown of our culture, the breakdown of our society, the values that seem to have eroded.

As a corollary the declining membership that we experience, particularly in the Episcopal Church, carries with it an in­teresting fact. We don’t lose Episcopalians to the Presbyterian Church, we don’t lose them to the Baptist Church or to other Churches. The Episcopal Church is the last church on the way to secularism.

I want you to think about that for a minute.

People leave the Episcopal Church, we are told by persons who do such surveys, to no Church at all. Such a fact carries with it a judgment of our commit­ment and ministry.

It also provides an opportunity. If we are the last door out of the Church, perhaps we can be the first door back in. Perhaps we can welcome those who have ex­perienced the shallowness of secularism and disenchantment with technology.

If we read the contemporary signs, if we look at declining membership and squabbles within, I think we have to hear the words of St. Paul.

If we listen to folks who have left the Church, I think we hear the voice of God judging us, tell­ing us we aren’t being faithful as evangelists, as messengers, as those who listen, as those who care and as those attending to people.

Judgment is certain. In the depths of our soul we feel it as a culture, we know it as a society, we experience it as individuals.

I invite you to life beyond the course we have set for death. I in­vite you to new life in Jesus Christ.

I invite us as a Diocese, as a Church, to repent of introspec­tion, unhealthy infatuation with self, failure of nerve to preach the Good News, short sightedness, captivity to survival; to repent and to turn outward and to share Jesus with others.

I invite you. Jesus invites you. The promise has always been and will continue to be LIFE: life now and life eternal.

The promise also carries with it the obligation to follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour and share Him with others.


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