Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Church of England, the Gospel, and the Future: my prayer for General Synod

The good news of Jesus Christ is not a human invention but the revelation of God’s grace to humankind

This gospel of Jesus Christ offers forgiveness for sin for those who are alienated from God and a renewed relationship with our creator and with one another. The gospel offers guidance for the lost, spiritual food for the hungry, healing for the broken in spirit, freedom for those who are captives, order and safety for those whose lives are in chaos, fruitful living for those whose lives are barren. The gospel offers the gift of life in all its fullness and fellowship in the life of God the Trinity both now and for all eternity. The gospel offers the rich gift of resurrection and life beyond death for, in Christ, the power of death itself has been vanquished and resurrection life is offered to all.

From this paper for General Synod, meeting in the next few days. Amidst all the women bishops stuff, the Synod actually kicks off with a paper and debate on Intentional Evangelism. The paper goes on to say:

The Church is compelled to proclaim the gospel with imagination and perseverance out of 
love for God, whose gospel this is, and out of love for the world. We have nothing more, and nothing less, to offer to the world around us than this pearl of inestimable value. The world around, at different times, may ridicule, scoff or reject the message. But the response of the world does not invalidate the gospel or excuse the Church from the call to proclaim it.

and states plainly what the CofE needs to do:

Evangelism is not something which will happen in the present climate on its own without a deliberate and intentional emphasis and strategy to guide us forward which is owned at every level across the Church of England. The lessons we have learned and are learning need to be shared, owned and developed in a clear and systematic way. We need the urgent investment of resources, time and energy into each of the different aspects of evangelism over the medium and long term. We need to be focussed in our prayers and in our resourcing of this aspect of our calling in the local church, in dioceses and in the national church. We need, in brief, to be intentional about evangelism in this next period of our life as the Church of England, not for a five or ten year period but for a generation or more in order to reverse the decline we have seen over the last century and to lay a foundation for the growth of the Church in this land in future generations. 

Yes, we need to get on with ordaining women to the episcopate, but we have only so much time and energy as a church, and this single issue is consuming far too much of it. Apologies to everyone campaigning for women bishops, but my prayer is that if there is anything at the coming General Synod which shapes the CofE for the future, it is this. GS1917. It is more important than who we ordain to the episcopate, and therefore deserves more time and energy than our debates over women bishops.

the paper itself recognises this:
the translation of this desire for a strategy into a meaningful and workable plan for the next period of our common life has still to be achieved. Motions in the General Synod about evangelism and the growth of the church are in danger of becoming bland. We seem to be at the point where evangelism cannot be taken forward by the embracing of one or two big new ideas but is more about an intentional shift across a whole range of disciplines. 

Headline motions about the growth of the church cannot by themselves prevent this agenda being squeezed by the seemingly more pressing calls to focus time and attention on questions of gender and ministry or human sexuality

There are 4 core proposals:
1.  an Archbishops’ Task Group on Evangelism which will enable national leadership and co-ordination in this area of Church life 
this is proposed in the motion, the group will include both Archbishops and will meet 4-6 times annually for at least the next 2 years. That's a significant commitment. The focus of its work will be prioritising evangelism and prayer within the CofE as a whole

2. Support for a national call to prayer around this agenda in the coming years. 

3. Support for a programme of action to be articulated by the Task Group around the Seven Disciplines of Evangelisation
sounds churchy, but have a look at the 7 Disciplines on page 14ff, evangelism, church planting, nurture, church growth, apologetics...

4. A call to every PCC and every diocesan and deanery Synod to take time annually to develop and focus on this agenda
I mean, what have we been doing if this isn't happening already?

But I'm hopeful that at last it is going to happen. Pray for the Church of England this week, that it will get its priorities right, and put its energies in the right place. I pray that this paper sets the tone for everything that follows, not just in this next week, but for the next generation.

update: some other synod previews here, one by the Bishops Chaplain from our diocese (which, in constrast to this post, is entirely about women bishops!), and this excellent post by Pete Broadbent looking at mission, ministry and reshaping the church.


  1. David
    Thanks for highlighting this. Though I think without women bishops we will have no gospel:-but good to see this on the agenda. Will enjoy discussing with my wife who is on synod

  2. I rather think you can't do one without the other. Talking mission is great, but if they shoot themselves in the foot at the same time by not addressing the elephant in the room, no mission talk is going to be much use.

  3. Maggi - I agree to an extent, but at the same time there are churches (and, more rarely, dioceses) who are effective in mission and evangelism within the CofE. We have put scandalously little effort and energy into spreading best practice, and developing structures that enable rather than inhibit growth. Failure to sort out the ordination of women bishops is one of many self-inflicted wounds, but it's far from the only one. There are growing churches, and examples of effective evangelism, but it's still seen as a minority sport for enthusiasts, not the core business of the church.

  4. I listened to the debate and was quite pleased with what I heard. However it is the response in action terms that will show whether it meant anything.
    I had an interesting conversation with my dad about the state in his own diocese, Guildford, who have recent;y conducted a survey of themselves and made a rather shocking discovery. They have worked out that even if the diocese were to evangelise to the point of having a yearly increase of 3%, by 2050 they would be unsustainable as a diocese because of the number of people, particularly those who give, will no longer be alive. I wonder if any other diocese's have worked this kind of statistic out and, if so, what the resulting prognosis is?!