THIS book marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York of the College of Evangelists. I imagine that few are familiar with the work of the College, which gives support to Anglicans, both lay and ordained, who are already recognised as effective evangelists.
Martyn Snow, its present chair, has edited this collection of essays to mark a transition in the College’s life. It will still support existing evangelists, but help also to identify and train new ones. That will be necessary if 1000 evangelists are to be raised up in the Church of England over the next few years — an ambition of the Archbishops’ Council led by the Evangelism and Discipleship team. (Quite why 1000 rather than 10,000 or some other figure is nowhere explained.) Snow’s afterword suggests that he sees this book as a help to those who may believe themselves called to be evangelists.
I hope that he is right, since, as I read this volume, I kept wondering for whom it was written. The 13 essays are of very variable quality and seem to have been composed in isolation from one another. The reader is told in several places that evangelists are generally not good team players (is that really true?), but it felt as if greater collaboration and cross-referencing, together with more ruthless editing, would have made this a stronger venture.
There are descriptions of training programmes for evangelists (down to such details as putting water and sweets on tables to be hospitable), personal stories of discovery of evangelistic gifts told with contrasting levels of self-knowledge, alongside some helpful technical suggestions, especially about the use of digital media in Adrian Harris’s contribution. I was particularly grateful for the theological depth of Lusa Nsenga-Noy’s consideration of cross-cultural evangelism and his capacity to eschew simple answers. Damian Feeney’s essay is unique in this collection in thinking that the sacraments have any utility in evangelistic work, and his exploration of Mary as the first evangelist is both scriptural and poetic.
church timesThe cover of the order of service for the College of Evangelists’ inaugural service in Church House, Westminster, on 11 October 1999
Several contributors argue for a distinctive part for evangelists to play in the Church, as opposed to pastor-teachers and other ministers. Yet, when the work of an evangelist is described, pastoring and teaching are frequently involved. Perhaps the ministries referred to in Ephesians 4.11 are not mutually exclusive, but interrelated, sometimes in the same person. Margaret Cave’s essay describing her experience of being an evangelist while also a parish priest illustrates this well.
Only Greg Downes mentions apologetics. While it is true that many people have little or no knowledge of the Christian story, many will have some sort of image of the Church, however ill-informed. Nowhere is there any discussion of how difficult it is to evangelise when the attitudes of Christians to sex and gender are thought by many to be not just mistaken, but evil, quite apart from the legacy of child-abuse cases. This may be why the evangelistic invitation is frequently expressed by the authors as to meet Jesus or to become part of “Jesus-centred worshipping communities”. Those phrases scarcely convey the power of the Great Commission.
Surely the invitation to become “a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven” is richer by far. These essays may illustrate, if unknowingly, just how peculiarly difficult and demanding that is in contemporary Britain.
The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich.
Anglican Evangelists: Identifying and training a new generation
Martyn Snow, editor
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