Friday, June 06, 2008

Evangelism, Conversion, and Mission

I just ran across the Episcopal News Service (ENS) story on the "Everyone, Everywhere" missions conference currently happening in Maryland. While I'm pleased that the Episcopal Church is talking about mission, I don't notice much about evangelism. Even when conversion is discussed in the article, it is done so only in the context of the "perils of conversion" mentioned by The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, Episcopal missionary and author and the conference's June 6 plenary speaker.

It seems to me that the Episcopal Church in the 21st century appears to think of mission exclusively in terms of social service, relief of suffering, and development. Episcopal Relief and Development, a wonderful agency, thus seems to be our primary "evangelism" tool. In a church that is losing members daily, I find it somewhat disquieting that evangelism is number three on the list of the Episcopal Church's five budget priorities.

As much as I applaud an emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, I'm wondering if we're simply substituting something that the Episcopal Church has generally been unable to do well--evanglism--with something with which we have had more success--social service. While I don't think this is an either/or proposition, I do think that we have perhaps had the pendulum swing too far over from the evangelism side to the social service side. A balanced approach would seem to be needed. Perhaps we need to be less linear and more circular in our thinking. Rather than simply implicitly saying "My faith compels me to be of direct physical service to Christ in all people" and letting it stop there, might we also then say "My service to Christ in all people is part of the story of my faith that is worth sharing"?

If a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ is the goal, and the mission of the church is to "restore all people to unity with God an each other in Christ" (BCP, p. 855) then how will that be accomplished without at least a mention of that transforming relationship and the unique role of Jesus Christ in our unity with God? Inquiring minds want to know...

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