Last week for me was particularly busy and this week looks to be even more challenging so, when I started thinking about writing this week’s blog on Saturday, I had no idea where to begin and I knew I needed a topic that might even write itself. I offered up a brief “please, help me” prayer and opened my file of resolutions. I skimmed a bunch of them hoping a topic would jump out – and one did. Little did I know how timely this might be – but God knew!! I landed on Resolution A081: An Episcopal Theology of Evangelism –
A081: An Episcopal Theology of Evangelism
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention commend to Provincial and Diocesan leadership the White Paper, “A Practical Theology of Episcopal Evangelism: Face-to-Face and in Cyberspace” written by the General Convention Task Force for Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism.
After deciding on this one, I did a little research and thought I could pull something together for my regular “blog-writing time” on Sunday afternoon.
I went to church as usual on Sunday morning and, since I had no leadership role this week, I hadn’t read the lectionary for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany before I arrived. Boy, was I surprised when I heard the Gospel from Luke:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1 – 11, NRSV).
“Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” “Fishers of people.” Evangelism. Oh, how I love connections!! And then we sang “Will You Come and Follow Me?” as our Communion hymn. That is the question isn’t it? Will we follow? When we agree to follow Jesus, we are signing up to “catch people” just as he said. That’s evangelism for sure.
So…back to the resolution. I hunted up some information for us. The task force charged with exploring this topic was the Task Force on Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism created at the 2015 General convention:
Resolved, The House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention create a Task Force of three (3) bishops, three (3) presbyters or deacons and six (6) lay persons to develop two (2) curricula – one for clergy and one for lay people – for the purpose of leveraging social media for evangelism; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force develop the curricula in consultation with seminary deans, marketing professionals and others with knowledge of evangelism and social media; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force develop these curricula by the second year of the upcoming triennium and make them available by the third year, and that the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society regularly evaluate the curricula to ensure they are current; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force work with the Development Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society to seek funds for this project, including the necessary staff or consultants to oversee this work.
You can find the complete report of this task force with the resolution we are highlighting this week here. More importantly, at the end of their report under supplemental materials is the whitepaper referred to in our resolution: A Practical Theology of Episcopal Evangelism: Face – to – Face and in Cyberspace. I’d love to include the whole document here for you but it is a bit lengthy for the blog. However, let me share their definition of evangelism since I know that often this word conjures up images of standing on soapboxes on street corners or going door-to-door (both of which may have their place, I believe) yet evangelism is so much more than these:
Evangelism is one of the most important ministries in the life of The Jesus Movement, because this is where we focus on walking with our neighbors and communities as they develop their own loving, liberating, life-giving relationships with God. Over the years, Episcopalians have defined evangelism in various ways:
Scripture: From evangélion (Greek): gospel, glad tidings or good news
The resurrected Jesus appears and the first words to his disciples are: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15
Tradition: Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, 850)
Presider: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”
Candidate: “I will, with God’s help.”
Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism (2009): “Evangelism is sharing the love of Christ and the good news of God’s actions in our lives – the good news of the kingdom coming to life among us – in the language of the people, so that people can become disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Here is a practical definition collectively crafted by members of the Presiding Bishop’s Evangelism Initiatives Team, the Task Force for Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism, and many other partners: We seek, name, and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE. #EpiscopalEvangelism
I hope this brief snippet will prompt you to make the time to read the full paper. Let me share their final thoughts with you:
Just as our forebears shared and celebrated the good news on the physical mission frontiers, so today the frontiers of web and media are contexts where light and life and hope are already available to move the whole world toward God.
Our hope is that you will discover this new place more fully. Enter and be yourself as you are in Christ. Treat each person as holy ground. Let yourself be open to speak from your faith. Invite continuing relationships. These hold true in our verbal conversations and face-to-face encounters. They are also true for our relationships through social media. Indeed, it may be that our practice of evangelistic presence, listening, and speaking through social media can carry us more deeply into a loving relationship with Jesus. Welcome to the adventure.
The Public Affairs Office of The Episcopal Church has created a helpful toolkit for dioceses, congregations, small groups and individuals that we might grow in our experience of evangelism and sharing Christ‘s love with others. The kit is divided into four units: Foundations, Evangelism 101, Exploring Evangelism through Social Media, and Beloved Community StorySharing. There’s even a brief introduction to the Toolkit to help you get started. And last March, the Episcopal Café wrote of their experience with the Evangelism Matters Conference held near Cleveland in their article “Evangelism, Evangelism, Evangelism.” A friend of the Café, Lisa Graves, shared her “16 Best Resources from Evangelism Matters” which might help you get started on this journey.
Let us pray –
Gracious and loving Lord, you have called us to follow you and we desire to listen to your call yet sometimes we get nervous and fearful that sharing our faith stories may cause rejection or misunderstanding. Grant us the assurance that when we follow you, your Spirit will go with us and give us the right words at the right time. Help us to be ministers of your love and grace through sharing your story of love for all that all may come to follow you more closely. We ask these things in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus who promised to make us “fishers of people.” Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council