Bishops Commit to Evangelism, ‘Our Core Business’

The Most Rev. Hector Tito Zavala Muñoz, Primate of Chile, speaks Saturday on mission and evangelism in his province. | Richard Washbrooke photo for the Lambeth Conference.

By Mark Michael

Mission and evangelism were the focus of the Lambeth Conference’s first full day. Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell urged bishops to recognize evangelism as their “core business,” and video testimonies from around the Communion brought to life the stories of lives changed by the gospel.

The first of the Lambeth Calls, written by a group led by Archbishop Melter Tais, Primate of South East Asia, one of the Communion’s fastest-growing provinces, urges all Christians to pray that through their example, one person would come to Christ each year. It also urges dioceses to “cherish, train, and send evangelists” and to commit to church-planting.

The Call was given the fullest level of support by two thirds of participating bishops, with another third calling for more discernment. Lambeth Conference officials, however, acknowledged that many bishops found the process of registering their votes confusing, and only 464 of the more than 650 bishops in attendance cast a vote on the proposed Call.

Be Angels

Archbishop Cottrell, famous in the Church of England for his personal ministry of evangelism, said during the day’s plenary session that evangelism can be a scary word for some Anglicans, but it contains the beautiful word angel within it.

“Be angels, be messengers of the good news that God has lavished upon us in Jesus Christ,” he urged. “Share with others what you have received. Bishops, evangelism is our core business too. We are called to lead evangelizing churches in a world where there is so much need, and so much confusion. What the world needs is what God has lavished upon us in Christ.”

He added: “Being a bishop is a spiritually dangerous business. We say a lot of prayers. We preach a lot of sermons. We lead a lot of services. People treat us like we are very important. And if we allow ourselves, we can be taken in by this. And after a while, we will stop looking like the beggars who need the bread just as much as anyone else ourselves, and we’ll start imagining that we are the bakers who make the bread. We are not. We can only share what we have received.

“Our core business is making disciples, people whose lives are conformed to Christ, who are participating in God’s mission of love to the world. Then the other things that concern us at this Lambeth Conference — like living with disagreement, like seeking carbon-emission zero — these very things may turn out to be the very best things we do for evangelism,” he said.

“Because, if we can do these things, the world will look at us, and say, ‘These followers of Jesus, they live differently, and the lives they lead are aligned with the words they say. They love one another. They care for the earth, they seek peace. Please, please, show us this Jesus you follow.’”

Church-Planting and Testimonies

Archbishop Tito Zavala, primate of the Anglican Church of Chile, described the way church-planting has brought dramatic growth to his province in recent years. He said the work has emerged out of a multi-decade emphasis on moving congregational focus from maintenance to mission.

“When I visit a church for a confirmation,” he said, “I ask, ‘What will be your next church-planting project?’”

Zavala described a church he and his wife helped to revitalize in Santiago, the national capital, early in his ministry. They began with seven adults and five children, and four years later had 300 people worshiping. When he became bishop, another priest followed him, and planted a new church using a team of existing parishioners. Another church in Santiago, La Trinidad, has planted seven congregations in different parts of the city, he said.

Several short videos were shown before and after Cottrell and Zavala’s addresses. Jemima, a young woman who had grown up in Ghana before moving to London, spoke of finding a youth club at her local church a refuge from a home rife with unpredictability. “I came to church because of the community. I stayed because of the friendship I found with Jesus Christ,” she said.

A British man named Claud described a young life full of poverty and domestic violence, and the way his life was transformed by holding a handgun for the first time at the age of 6. He worked as a drug dealer for 17 years before encountering Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit during an Alpha Course, what he described as his “second transformative moment.” Now ordained as a priest, Claud said he is “desperate to share the passion and love of Jesus with individuals from backgrounds like my own.”

The final video focused on the challenges of evangelism for Pakistan’s Anglicans, who are in danger of arrest under strict blasphemy laws if they share their faith with Muslim neighbors. An unnamed woman said, “This creedal statement [that Jesus Christ is the Son of God], to proclaim this aloud, to affirm this, to teach this, would be to invite hate, rejection, or even silencing. The Church in Pakistan continues to endure, looking directly into the eyes of Jesus in the midst of the suffering, the challenges, and the hostilities.”

The Mission and Evangelism Call

The Lambeth Call on Mission and Evangelism, like each of the 10 texts proposed for discussion and action by the participating bishops, begins with an introduction anchoring the topic in a portion of 1 Peter, the key biblical text of the conference. This Call’s text was a portion of a prayer offered by the epistle’s author: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9).

The Call’s second section summarizes what the wider church catholic has taught on the subject. It roots mission and evangelism in the action of the Triune God and recalls, with gratitude, Anglicanism’s origins in the mission work of Augustine of Canterbury. It also includes a reminder from Pope Francis that evangelism is “first and foremost the Lord’s work.”

The Affirmation section, summarizing “what the bishops want to say today,” begins: “Before God, it is our firmest conviction that throughout God’s world the need has never been as obvious, as necessary and as crucial that all whom God has made to hear of who God has revealed himself to be in Christ, and the salvation God has won for all.”

The final section is a series of 10 proposals for action that should equip Anglicans “to be renewed by the wonder and power of the good news of Christ,” and be prepared to share it with others. The proposals spotlight different aspects of congregational revitalization and individual training for evangelistic ministry. One also calls for support for persecuted Christians, “that they may be protected and stand firm in their faith.”

The Anglican Communion’s Commission on Evangelism and Discipleship is charged with assisting the Secretary General in supporting and monitoring progress in these areas. Bishops will also report back about progress in their dioceses over the next several years, as part of the third section of the Lambeth Journey.

Archbishop Tais, chairman of the Call’s drafting subgroup, said that he and his fellow group members had found it easy to come to consensus around the Call’s aspects. The bishops discussed the Call in small groups and gathered feedback, some of which was presented to the whole group.

The Call was not subject to amendment, but participants were asked to register their level of support for it. The options and their respective vote percentages were:

  • “This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it.” (66%)
  • “This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.” (33%)
  • “This Call does not speak for me. I do not add my voice to this Call.” (1%)
  • In the press conference following the Call session, Cottrell emphasized that choosing the second option did not indicate a general lack of support, but the need for further work and discussion about the topic. Despite being the conference’s principal speaker on the topic, he said he voted for the second option because “we have more work to do” in this area.

‘The Growth Is from the Lord’

Tais said that mission and evangelism are “the primary part of the church” in the province where he serves. “It has to do with the saving of souls and, therefore we want all the primates, bishops, and clergy in all the provinces and dioceses to be engaged in the work of evangelism.”

He said his Diocese of Sabah, in Malaysia, is seeing great growth, despite being in a deeply multiracial and multireligious context, where Christians are in a significant minority. “We used to receive missionaries from your country,” he said to an English host, “and now it is time for us to send missionaries to neighboring countries.” In the last several decades, the province has planted deaneries in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. The province also encompasses Brunei and Singapore.

In his diocese there are 30,000 people in church each Sunday, he said, while the neighboring Diocese of Sarawak has nearly 100,000 weekly congregants. For comparison, the Episcopal diocese with the largest average Sunday attendance in 2020 was the Diocese of Texas, with a total of 20,933. Total average Sunday attendance in the 112 dioceses of the Episcopal Church was 483,098.

“We do it in obedience to God,” Tais added, “and the growth is from the Lord.”


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