I watched the rest of the videos that are intended to accompany the Evangelism Commission’s report to General Convention, as described in the post immediately below this one (click here if you have trouble scrolling down) at least twice, and have re-read the report, and I think I can now state without fear of contradiction that the report is, from the evangelical point of view, uninspiring.

Least depressing turned out to be the focus on the need to restructure the church, even though I had suggested in my last post that it was a distraction from the Evangelism Commission’s proper business. The report asserts an ‘urgent need to re-imagine General Convention and our Church governance structures so that they serve the mission of God’, and certainly makes a case that the way that we select and train people for ministry makes the development of non-traditional churches difficult, and points out that clergy, vestries, bishops and commissions on ministry are all in too much of a rut to know how to deploy someone who might be good in a non-traditional situation. And the statistics certainly raise the possibility that the traditional parish is not the wave of the future, so their concern in this area is a rational one.

What’s still depressing is the resulting suggestion: set aside a million dollars to fund the creation of ‘diocesan mission enterprise zones’ in which faith communities focussing on particular age-groups, ethnicities etc would be set up. From what I hear, the national church is so broke that this is not likely to be approved, but the fact is that money is not needed for such communities—they don’t need and don’t appear to want highly trained ‘expert’ leadership, and certainly don’t need their own building, which account for most of the costs of the faith communities we are familiar with. And if the Commission had looked around a bit further, they would have discovered that these things have been tried in some places and have for the most part led nowhere. A few years ago my diocese was all excited about such communities, which were popping up in lots of places because so many people were graduating from seminary without a traditional parish job to go to. They were aimed at twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings or the underprivileged, and they had names like ‘Three Nails’, ‘Charis 24/7’ and the like, but the jury is still out on whether or not they are the future of the church. Some have faded away, some have become satellite ministries of traditional parish churches, some are still soldiering on, but I don’t think one has become anything like what the Evangelism Commission urges us to imagine in their videos.

What’s embarrassingly bad is the fact that the Commission seems so vague about the gospel. The only reference to an actual evangelistic encounter comes when students at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale are shown discussing what ‘authentic episcopal evangelism’ looks like, and they say they have ‘discovered the deep value of “invited spiritual conversation”’, where a Christian is invited to discuss a spiritual matter with another person. The response to the invitation, according to these students, is to help the inquirer identify what is holy, where God is already at work in their life and in the concern that they have. ‘We have found that people [responding to the invitation] are able to bring up to the surface the deep things of their relationship with God and find themselves sharing that with someone else and having that heard and people are actually excited about that.’ Whether those deep things include the recognition of sin, the need for repentance and amendment of life, and new life in Christ through accepting Him as Saviour and obeying Him as Lord, as the Prayer Book puts it (pp 302f), is not stated. And if we can’t even bring ourselves to mention such things in the Evangelism Commission report, how likely are we to mention them in Starbucks or wherever these new faith communities are to be formed?

There is no suggestion about what to do while waiting for an invitation, either, but presumably we acquire the tools for evangelism. These, I’m afraid, are ‘community organising, racial organising’, ‘story training’, multicultural training’—anything, apparently, but training in how to lead a person to Christ.

Despite Anthony Guillen’s plea that General Convention be about evangelism and not about resolutions, the Commission will introduce several, asking for the national church staff to prepare an evangelism guide, for two changes in the canons, adding to existing canons about requirements for ordination the category ‘the practice of ministry development and evangelism’ as a subject in which training is needed and naming the groups in the evangelisation of which ordinands are to be trained (people of Asian descent, people of African descent, people of indigenous/Native American descent, people of Latino/Hispanic descent, young people and sexual minorities), for the creation of the mission enterprise zones already referred to, for diocesan evangelists be identified, trained and sent, and for the church to reform its structures (including General Convention) so as to encourage evangelism.

Is there no Evangelical capable of getting him or herself elected to this committee and bringing them up to speed?