JOY and delight in the love of God is at the heart of Christian
witness, but the experience of many of us - I dare say most of us -
is that, instead of joy and delight, evangelism and witness bring
nervousness, uncertainty, and guilt.
The strategic response to this is clearly for a long-term,
iterative and interactive, metric-based, evidence-generated
development of competencies across the widest possible range of
stakeholders in order to achieve maximum acceleration of disciple
input with the highest possible return on effort and capital
That last paragraph is, of course, complete rubbish. To be
honest, I just put it in in order to reassure you, as it is well
known that I am in fact a businessman who put on the wrong clothes
this morning. [Laughter.]
Back to the subject. Witness and evangelism are expressions of
the overflow of the love and joy of the grace of God into our
lives, and the life of his whole Church and his whole world. They
are inescapably tied up with the Kingdom of God, with lives lived
incarnationally, full of the hospitality and generosity of Christ.
They are as much a part of the life of the Church as worship, as
the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, commented to me about a
year ago, and should be about as guilt-inducing as breathing.
Evangelism and witness are not strategies, let alone strategies
for church survival. A Church that looks for strategies to survive
has lost the plot. We need strategies so that we may be more
clearly those who are able to take up our cross and follow Christ,
as we heard earlier from the Archbishop [of the Chaldean diocese of
Erbil, Iraq], willing to die for him so that all may live through
As Paul says when speaking to the Church in Corinth, the most
dysfunctional of the Churches he planted: "for the love of Christ
urges us on. . ." (2 Corinthians 5.14); or, in the King James
Version, "the love of Christ constrains me."
Yet, when we look back at the Church of England, we do not see
in general an overwhelming sense everywhere - I'm being quite
tentative here - that the love of Christ urges us on in evangelism
and witness, although it clearly does in many places and throughout
the Church in many other areas of ministry. This is nothing new. If
we go back to the Bishop of Rochester's report in 1944, set up by
Archbishop Temple, Towards the Conversion of England, we
find there a constant theme that unless the whole Church, lay and
ordained, become in a new sense witnesses, then there can be no
progress in spreading the good news of Jesus.
PEOPLE have today, and in other places and other times over the
last few months, rightly expressed concern and comment about task
groups, and certain task groups. Listening today, it's something on
which we clearly need to reflect further. But task groups are not
the end: they are a means to the end. The subjects they're looking
at are absolutely essential, and are crucial to our future, and we
owe those who work on them much thanks as well as many
No doubt the output of the task groups will change as time goes
by. That is among the proper and right roles of a Synod: to ask
questions, to push and review, to look afresh, and to ensure we're
thinking carefully through the implications of what is being done.
And, Synod, you don't hesitate to do that, in my limited
But they are means to an end. Training, issues of management,
the allocation of resources - however good they are - and they must
be very good - are not the final aim of the Church. We are finally
called to be those who worship and adore God in Christ, overflowing
with the good news that we've received, making Christ known to all
so that the good news is proclaimed effectively throughout the
And it is good news. It is the most compelling of announcements.
It comes as a gift to us, not of our own creation. It is news,
because it tells us of what we do not already know. We have not
deduced it ourselves or worked it out by our own power of reason:
the good news is the power of God.
And what a power! We know through Christ that God himself is
turned towards his world: he has chosen to be for and with us. That
is the message which urges us on. We are not rejected, but
accepted; we are not condemned, but saved; we are not lost, but
found; we are not dead, but alive - all because of the work of
In our good news we speak of him who really does not sweep our
human needs, concerns, cares, desires, and problems under the
carpet, but takes them up and makes them his own.
And if we allow ourselves to be gripped by this gospel, this
good news of Jesus Christ, it will overwhelm us; for it seems too
good to be true. As Pope Francis said in Evangelii
Gaudium: "the gospel constantly invites us to rejoice."
More than that, evangelism and witness are of the very nature of
God, who goes out and sows in order that the good news may, in some
cases, bring out a harvest of righteousness and joy and hope,
transforming the world in which we live, transforming the sorrow
and brokenness of which we have heard this afternoon, and bringing
hope and renewal.
FOR these reasons, because the good news is of the nature of God,
who is for us and with us, the good news of Jesus Christ is the
hope of the world - the hope; and yet too often we forget that.
About a year ago, I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
with my wife. We went to an IDP camp, and saw scenes of the utmost
suffering and terrible deprivation, extreme even by the standard of
such places. A Christian NGO, with UK government funding, linked to
Tearfund, was doing extraordinary work.
Towards the end of the visit, a crowd had gathered, and the
local bishop said: "Say something to encourage them." I could think
of nothing, and playing for time, with immense lack of faith, said,
in French (it was a French-speaking area): "Jesus Christ is the
same yesterday, today, and for ever." I was drawing breath for some
banal statements about actions I could take to support them,
pompously and ignorantly, when, as it was translated into real
French [laughter], they began to cheer. They knew Jesus
Christ was the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and being
reminded of it brought hope and light. I felt deeply, deeply
ashamed of my lack of confidence in the gospel. The gospel is good
news for all people at all times everywhere.
We share the good news with humility - even shame, at times, at
our own failure to be those whose lives or whose Church or whose
history reveals the good news as it truly is. We must share the
good news without manipulation, technique that is intended to be
other than they really are, or any other unethical or underhand
method. We must bring the good news with hospitality, and without a
trace of coercion, with love and grace making a defence for the
hope that is within us. But we must bear witness and bring the good
news of Jesus Christ.
The sharing is by action, by word, by campaign, by culture, by
attitude. To defend those attacked by anti-Semitism, to share food
in a foodbank, to support a credit union because of the solidarity
with which the Holy Spirit calls us to be with those on the edge -
all this is one side of a coin, the other side of which is to
proclaim, announce, and declare the good news.
AND we share the good news together: it is the calling of the
whole Church. The Bishop of Worcester, Bishop John Inge, wrote to
me recently, and I'll quote at length from what he wrote. He
"Evangelism is, of course, about making new disciples,
introducing people to a living and personal relationship with the
Lord Jesus. However, it must be about a great deal more than this,
since God's mission is much bigger than making individual
disciples. It is to reconcile the whole creation to himself in
Christ and, in so doing, inaugurate his Kingdom.
"When that mission is accomplished, every knee shall bow to
God's rule, whether in heaven, or in earth, or under the earth, and
every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Church is his
chosen instrument for that mission in the world, and the effective
sign of the inauguration of his Kingdom here on earth, that Kingdom
for whose coming we pray in the words that Jesus taught us.
"Through evangelism, God makes disciples, who then play their
part in God's great plan. That part must be played together as
members of the Body of Christ, not as individuals. . . As Alison
Morgan has put it in the title of a book which will shortly be
published: the plural of 'disciple' is 'Church'."
YET, in so many places, the reality is different. To quote Pope
Francis again, "No one should ever think that this invitation is
not meant for him or her." We lose confidence in the good news when
it stops being good news for us.
And that is such a danger when we're enmeshed in so many of the
arguments and divisions with which we struggle. They may be
necessary, but their danger is we lose sight of good news for us.
When it has become stale news or old news, when it has become bad
news or sad news, then every day I must open myself to the love of
Christ, so this love is continually making me new.
That, too, is collective. Our guided conversations, our praying
and thinking together, our discussions of task groups, must also
open afresh together, all of us, to the love of Christ, so that the
good news is ours, not just mine.
To return to Archbishop William Temple, we find a vision that is
as yet unfulfilled. It is that, for the effective and fruitful
proclamation of the good news to be made in this country, every
person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ plays an essential role as
a witness of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing better than bearing witness to Christ so that
others themselves may become his witnesses. But my fear is that
many of us have lost all confidence in the gospel. We have thought
that you need to be an expert or a professional to be a witness.
But we do not. We simply need to be able to tell of the love that
has grasped hold of us, and the difference it has made in our own
The evangelism task group is one report we have not yet seen. I
hope that, if the Business Committee thinks it appropriate, they
may be able to allow it to report in July or later, responding to a
motion that this Synod passed some time ago. The evangelism task
group seeks to support the Church to be an effective signpost of
the gospel at every point, in cathedrals, in local churches, in
chaplaincies at universities, schools, hospitals, prisons, the
armed services, and so many other points, in all of which so much
of the really tough work is done. At the moment, that effective
signpost is not always and everywhere inescapably visible, if I may
be so untentative.
It is essential that we give time and effort into shaping church
structures which enable and reflect witness to the compelling love
of Christ. That change will not just happen: we can't just hope for
something magical to occur.
But the biggest hill to climb is that at every point in the
Church we might be so urged on by the love of Christ, the good news
of salvation, that we break the historic pattern, which in many
parts of our Church goes back centuries, and become those who with
all our faults, all our failings, all our divisions and sins and
misunderstanding - because, let us be clear, if we wait until we're
fit to witness, we will wait for ever - we become those who, with
all those drawbacks, are nevertheless humble, gentle, transparent,
hospitable witnesses to Jesus Christ, so that the world may
That is a challenge which takes us straight back to the life of
the local church or chaplaincy, to the cathedral, to every point at
which there is a Christian, because at every point at which there
is a Christian there is a witness. And it takes us back here to be
those who serve and love the witnesses, so that they are liberated
to a joyful ministry of witness.
All that we are doing here must be held in that context of the
worship of God and the sharing of the good news.