Blogging “Blue”: Mission and Evangelism

This is the seventeenth in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about Ministry Development. Next up is Small Congregations. Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

Good news, everyoneA070: Develop a Multimedia-Based Evangelism Guide. Likely vote: YES.
Ordinarily, I would oppose this on the grounds that resource development is best done by networks or various organizations within the church. However, we are so colossally bad at evangelism as a church, that I am in favor of almost anyone trying their hand at producing material. One important request, however: can this evangelism guide please talk about Jesus? There’s a lot of talk about tools, storytelling, and community organizing. We need all those things. But more than that, we need Jesus, and we need to share the Good News with others. That is evangelism, and nothing less will do.

A071: Amend Canon III.8.5(g)(5). Likely vote: NO, but I stand ready to be educated.
This would add a list of particular racial and minority groups to the canon which directs that those preparing for ordination should learn about “contemporary society, including the historical and contemporary experience of racial and minority groups, and cross-cultural ministry skills.” I do not think it is a good idea to put lists of things in our canons, if at all possible. Inevitably, we will leave some people out. Or we will decide we have used the wrong terminology. Also, the list is very much oriented toward the United States, even including the use of the word “domestic”. We are, as others have said, an international church. If we are going to claim that identity we need to bake it into our canons.

Now, all of that said, I also recognize the value in naming a wide range of people, lest we think that the groups with which we are most comfortable are an adequate basis for cross-cultural practice and formation. On issues such as these, I tend to defer to those who outside the dominant culture, so I will gladly learn and vote otherwise if someone can help me understand why this list is useful and why specifying a list is a good idea, even at the risk of leaving some groups out. Oh, and if we are going to say “Latino”, I think we also need to say “Latina”.

A072: Add Canon III.8(5)(h)(5). Likely vote: NO.
In preparing people for ordination, canon III.8.(5)(h) requires training in four areas: prevention of sexual misconduct; civil requirements for reporting and pastoral opportunities for responding to evidence of abuse; the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, particularly Title IV thereof; and the Church’s teaching on racism. This resolution would add a fifth requirement: ministry development and evangelism. Rather than point out the obvious, I would like to encourage you to take a musical break. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

See, there is the problem raised by the song (you’re not going to know unless you check it out!). But there is also the challenge that all baptized Christians should be trained in evangelism. To require it for ordained people implies that it isn’t a bedrock which we can expect. To be sure, all Christians — ordained and lay — should be engaged in a lifelong journey of learning to practice evangelism. I just don’t see the need to add yet another canonical requirement, especially one that is in the wrong place. Despite the good intentions, this one won’t get my vote.

A073: Establish Diocesan Mission Enterprise Zones. Likely vote: NO.
This one is a non-starter, as it requires $1,000,000 to fund. In the current budget climate, that’s not going to happen. While the concept of grants to fund mission is excellent, there are plenty of details here that concern me. We do need to practice entrepreneurial mission programs, but that can happen without an expensive churchwide budget line. The individual grants are capped at $20,000. Surely every diocese could raise that much money if they were committed to mission innovation. And if they aren’t, a grant won’t help them much. Intriguing idea, but I can’t vote for this.

A074: Identify and Deploy Lay Evangelists. Likely vote: YES.
Not many people are aware of this, but our canons provide for the licensure of evangelists, just like we license Eucharistic ministers. This resolution sets some specific goals and challenges dioceses to train and equip evangelists. Great! There’s no harm, and it uses the existing mechanisms of our church to get us to do some new work.

Please edit this resolution to refer to “Evangelists” and not “lay Evangelists.” That’s the language of the canon, and I think we should use what’s there.

A075: Restructure General Convention and Church Governance. Likely vote: YES.
This resolution is substantially the same as the resolution on structural reform that has been submitted by loads of dioceses, a couple of provinces, and others. This is a great idea: it establishes a task force to look at our structures and governance, and requests that this task force come back to the next General Convention with some recommendations to act on. What’s not to like? I’ll write more about this resolution — and how to maximize its impact — in a future blog post.

One very important caveat: when this task force is convened, we need to make sure it doesn’t have any of the usual suspects. The same people will bring us the same ideas. That’s not what we need. And if at any point you voted in favor of the disaster of a budget that came out of various committees and Executive Council, you especially should not be on this group. Not that anyone will pay attention to the ranting of a simple blogger.

UPDATE: As Jim Naughton points out the comments below, it would not be wise to exclude all the “usual suspects.” That was me getting carried away, as I often do here on 7WD. What I should have said is that we want the commission to be made of largely of people who are approaching these challenges with fresh insights, not dominated by the usual suspects. We need people who have not been in the trenches going at each other for the last triennium and more. The usual people will bring the usual ideas, and that’s not what we need. So let’s bring in some new folks, and season their thinking with the wisdom of experienced folks.

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8 Responses

  1. Diana R. says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your “no” vote on adding the fifth requirement to ordination as outlined in A072. If anything should be added to the requirements for ordination it should be a certificate program of no less than 5 courses in non-profit business management. The idea that curacy (even if we had a towering abundance of them, which we do not) is a training ground in the business of running a parish/faith community/institution has been reduced to the status of “quaint.”

    I also agree with your closing comments about the task force. As in a congregation, it is way too easy to overlook unrealized talents and rely on the old warhorses who tend to volunteer for everything. Let’s build the church up with a fresh start of leadership.

  2. Kevin Montgomery says:

    2 things:

    1. What exactly do the canons mean by a licensed evangelist, and how is that done in practice?

    2. I’m all for not having the “usual suspects” on the task force, but that then raises the question of how to find and recruit people who have not been part of the inside group.

  3. Jim Naughton says:

    I could not support A075. The Standing Committee on Structure is better suited to the work of restructuring than a special commission. Additionally, while I am extremely enthusiastic about a church wide gathering focused on mission and evangelism, I am also extremely enthusiastic about legislative self-governance. I am not sure the two can mix at a single meeting. Also, I think it would be foolish not to include some of the “usual suspects” in this endeavor. They know a few things that outsiders don’t.

  4. Kevin Montgomery says:

    On one hand, there is value in having people with experience with the church structures and operations, but leaving it only to them hasn’t exactly led us to a very good place, esp. when they have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. There need to be outside voices offering different perspectives AND helping to make the decisions.

  5. Scott Gunn says:

    Jim, your point about including some of the “usual suspects” is well taken, and I have updated the post accordingly. We should have some of their thinking.

    You and I part ways on our thinking about the SC on Structure doing this work. The current system is massively broken, and an unwillingness to admit that is a sign of the failure. I think there’s not much of a downside to getting a fresh consultation together; this would not preclude the SC on Structure from coming to some of its own conclusions from its perspective. But it would be, as you say, foolish to think that the same people doing the same things are going to do anything other than perpetuate the same system.

    I don’t know what the answers are, of course. But I think this is a time to be open, not to circle the wagons.

  6. Adam Trambley says:

    Jim and Scott,
    I think an important piece of the structure issues is getting people who are actually trained in dealing with large structured organizations like a national denomination. They are out there, but they may not be deputies to convention, may not be Episcopalians, and may even need to be paid something for their expertise. But if we get people together who mostly have experienced the Episcopal Church governed a certain way by convention, we are likely to end up with some variation of that model with a new coat of paint. Let’s take the time, call the best business school folks, get them together with key internal stakeholders and come up with something that will be effective and sustainable for the next couple of decades. We really can’t afford to do anything less at this time.

  7. Once again, we need to canonize ‘licensed evangelists’ which makes me very sad. As long as the Episcopal Church continues to canonize and license things such as evangelism it lets everyone else off the hook. I believe we are making some progress on helping folks get comfortable with evangelism but we have a long way to go. At least in some corners of the church evangelism isn’t snickered about anymore. Please, no canonizing evangelists! It is everyone’s responsibility to share the Good News of God in Christ.

  8. Scott Gunn says:

    Adam, you make some good points.

    Mary, that inclusion of evangelist in our canonical list of licensed ministries is something that happened several years ago. This resolution just encourage us to put that provision to use. On the one hand, I think you are right: everyone should be practicing evangelism. But then again, we also teach the priesthood of all believers and that servant (diaconal) ministry of all people, and still we ordain some. It seems to me that we can license people with particular gifts in evangelism — and in equipping others to do this holy work — without abrogating the universal responsibility to share the Good News. But maybe I am completely wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.