By Ven. Perry Chuipka
Billy Graham once said, “We are the bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.”
I think Billy Graham had it right. Our church needs you and me to be the stars that God intended. The day stars that shine the light of Christ in our broken world!
Today, with the struggling decline of church attendance, financial difficulties and tiring congregations, priests are looking to help their parishioners move forward in new and different ways. Being a priest in the church, I often want a quick fix, an easy solution that will turn our church life around. But there is no easy answer.
One of the things that I have learned as a congregational coach travelling around the diocese to different churches is that priests care about their congregations. However, that care can lead us to do things that may not be productive for our congregations who are already working at many things in their faith communities. A long course in discipleship or evangelism often turns people off because they are so busy in their lives. Instead it is about introducing our congregations to a little bit of discipleship and a little bit of evangelism.
Many of us know that discipleship and evangelism is the direction that our faith communities need to move in order to discover new ways to be apprentices of Christ in our communities. Although our Prayer Books have been good for us incorporating the scriptures, leading us in liturgy and enlightening us with prayers, we still need to have conversations about how we share the good news of God in our everyday lives. As Anglicans, we have not had much practice with discipleship and evangelism. Combine this with the bad examples that we hear about in the media today and it is no wonder that our Anglican brothers and sisters are a little leery when it comes to talking about discipleship and evangelism.
Thus, one of the ways that our coaches have found helpful to introduce discipleship and evangelism is by having little conversations.
Let me give you some examples.
At our council meetings we have a devotion time before we begin our meeting. I have used this time to have a little conversation about one of the small articles contained in the, Christian Foundations: A grounding for a life of faith produced by Wycliffe College. The article I chose looks at evangelism in a contemporary way. I lead the group with the three questions that are given after the article. The discussion helps our council to talk about what we do as Christians in a new way. People are invited to give their thoughts but nobody is forced to speak. Within twenty minutes, some have shared their experiences about evangelism, some have talked about things that have always concerned them while still others have spoken about their faith in God in another way. Our group has been enlightened and also felt free to express themselves with no judgement. On some occasions, our discussions at the devotions time find its way back into our conversations during the rest of the meeting. It is nice to see that our conversations about evangelism is really about who we are as the people of God.
Another example being used by an Anglican faith community is to begin their worship with a question each Sunday just prior to their opening hymn. The question always relates to the scriptures of the day. The person leading the service will bring the question back for a small discussion during the homily, after the prayers of the people, or after the confession, wherever it tends to fit. The question leads to a little discussion of ten to fifteen minutes and then they continue with the service. I was told that the parishioners now come to church expectantly awaiting the question with an opportunity to have a conversation to learn more about their faith.
Another example of having little conversations about evangelism and discipleship is to use a daily devotional book as a discussion starter. One of my coaches told me how members of their congregation meet for coffee and tea every week using the “Devotions about Discipline – Today Daily Devotional”. They read the daily devotions then have a conversation about how this particular discipline can help them in their daily life. The coach mentions, at one point after the discussion that everyone in the group are being disciples by the way they are learning and having conversations about their faith. A few people seem surprised but then the light comes on for them. Sometimes we need to affirm our parishioners about what they are doing, especially when they are putting their faith into action.
Another example that was used by the Kitchener churches during Lent was the “Spirit of Invitation” material. Each church hosted one session with snacks and refreshments afterwards. The parishioners enjoyed the refreshing contemporary style of this material which encouraged them to have conversations about how our ordinary daily routines relate to the things we do in worship. For example, the Lord’s Table relates to our own dinner table. How we invite people into our homes is very much like how Jesus invited people to have conversations with him. The videos included in our sessions enabled us to continue the conversation at our tables. The discussions were refreshing and as one person said to me, “I never saw the connection between evangelism and invitation before!.”
Another very simple exercise of evangelism was given to me by the Reverend Duke Vipperman. At a congregational event he asked them to write three words that say something about God on a cardboard. Then he asked them to get into a circle and hold up their cardboards. There were all kinds of different messages. For example, from the very familiar , “God bless you” , “God loves us” to some very creative messages, “An Awesome Friend” “Our Abundant Deliverer”, “The beautiful Creator” and “ My Inner Sanctuary”. Then he told them you may not know it but you are all evangelists. Then he had them share their cardboards with the people at their tables in little conversations. Some of the conversations at those tables had people sharing some of their faith. This is a very simple way to take the stigma of this word “evangelism” that has eluded Anglicans for years and engage them in a playful way that enables them to talk about their faith in God and Jesus. Sometimes it is the approach we use. Little conversations can be non threatening and very inviting.
So let me go back to Billy Graham, who had it right. We may be the only bible that someone reads in their lifetime. So our conversations, the way we listen intently and respect others can make all the difference in someone’s life.
Our vocation is about how we invite others, how we listen to them, and more importantly, how we engage them in little conversations about the mystery of God in our lives. People don’t want a course on evangelism, nor do they want a sixteen week study on discipleship. However, what they do have time for in their lives is little conversations that help them to see words like evangelism and discipleship in new ways. Ways that they can live out in their daily lives.
For more ideas on how to begin little conversations on evangelism, discipleship and other disciplines of our Christian faith, give one of our coaches a call. They will have the time to help you explore new ways of introducing conversations that will help others become and grow into apprentices of Christ. Check out our website https://coaching.diohuron.org/ Please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail a coach. You will find contact information on our website. We are only a little conversation away!
Perry Chuipka Archdeacon of Congregational Development.
(Featured photo: Roman Synkevych/Unsplash)