|This Article is from the Winter 1999 edition of good idea!, also available here in a fully formatted PDF file.
The Decade of Evangelism has been a time of consciousness raising. We entered the Decade at a time when we were only just beginning to recognize and name the loss of Christian memory and the emerging “godless” spirituality. It used to be said that the Gospel was perceived by society as good, but not as news. In the years of the Decade of Evangelism, however, we have awakened to the fact that there is astounding ignorance about the Christian faith in society and even in our church pews: the Gospel is once again news!
The transition to being a minority is sometimes painful, but it has meant re-thinking what we communicate and how we communicate it, both theologically and practically.
A variety of approaches
Concretely this has meant an increased appreciation of story telling. A skilled narrator of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is able to bring people to faith as well as rekindle faith that has been dormant. Sometimes this means using an approach that allows people to “overhear” the Gospel and at other times it means a more direct proclamation. Evangelism, we have learnt, can happen via music, drama and each of the creative arts.
Community has also been recognized as important to the people who come and see us in action. Frequently there is a desperate need to “belong” in those who come “looking”. Once these seekers find themselves secure in terms of belonging, they are able to grow in the faith and venture out in ministry themselves.
Learning the faith
Lastly, but most importantly, I believe the Decade of Evangelism has encouraged people in the reading and study of Scripture and the life of prayer. It may be simply because I have moved across the country, but I seem to hear everywhere about vibrant bible study and prayer groups in people’s homes, in parishes and in ecumenical clusters. There is a new excitement about learning the Christian faith, and high on the list of what people want in their clergy are the gifts of “a good teacher” and “a person of prayer”. I celebrate and rejoice in this development.
Doers and not just talkers
On the other hand, we are still spending too much time talking to each other in churchland about our problems, and too little time engaging in evangelism. We need to become “doers” as well as “talkers”.
(At the same time, talking about problems may mean that we are in danger of becoming an issue-driven church. We can forget how much there is to celebrate; how much we hold in common; and how richly God has blessed us.)
Secondly, I believe we need to deepen our commitment to communicating the Gospel to children and young people. We know that Sunday/Church School reaches only a small number of children, yet we are doing very little about trying to reach them in other ways. We have talked about this for years. Now we need to act. With the end of the Decade of Evangelism upon us, I fear we may lose momentum and miss a Gospel opportunity.
The Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews is Bishop of Edmonton.