Saturday saw the eleventh Chelmsford Anglican Bible Conference, with over three hundred people from churches across the Diocese of Chelmsford gathered at the Central Baptist Church for a day of studying the Bible. (If you’re asking, “Why the Baptist church?” it’s in the centre of our cathedral town and is an excellent conference venue — if a bit hot on that particular day in this particular October.)
This venture started as an initiative suggested at the Chelmsford Diocesan EvangelicalAssociation, to put Bible teaching at the heart of our diocesan life. It has been a long, and at times up-hill, road, but given that we had about 1% of the ‘Usual Sunday Attendance’ for the diocese in attendance on Saturday, I do believe we are beginning to get somewhere. Roll on the 2% level!
During the day, I bumped into an old Chelmsford clerical colleague who has now moved to another diocese. He came especially for the day and told me he wouldn’t miss it! He also told me that he was thinking about organizing a similar event in his own diocese, which was great news.
However, this raises the question that often occurs to me as to why there are not similar conferences in dioceses the length and breadth of the country. They are not really that difficult to organize in principle, although our administrator, Carolan Casey, will tell you there is a huge amount of detailed work that has to go on behind the scenes.
Ultimately, however, all you need is a venue and a speaker — that and, as we have discovered, a good administrator. So why aren’t evangelicals everywhere running such conferences? After all, we’re supposed to believe in the power of God’s word and its importance to the church, and we all know that the standard of Bible-teaching and the attitude to the Bible in the Church of England could do with considerable improvement. So where are the conferences?
Talking to my friend, I said there are four essentials he must stick to.
First, keep the organizing committee small and select. We started off with an enormous and broad organizing committee and it became quite difficult both to hold meetings that everyone could attend and to come to agreement when they did. The aim here is not to allow everyone a voice but to get something done. At the moment, we have six people on our committee and that is the biggest it has been for years.
Secondly, do not aim for breadth in the speakers. When we started out, I received an e-mail from a colleague saying that they hoped we would aim to have the different ‘wings’ of evangelicalism represented on the platform. That is a piece of advice I ignored and we paid a price for it in the early years. But the point is, once again, this is not about hearing different opinions. It is about teaching the Bible faithfully and effectively — and actually to a largely lay-audience, most of whom have no idea what the different wings of evangelicalism stand for. The crucial question about the speakers is their competence.
However, thirdly, arising from the above, all the speakers must be theologically conservative and pastorally evangelical. Please note, this is not the same as being a conservative evangelical! Maintaining the quality of the product is essential. This is about feeding Christ’s sheep who belong to the Church of England, not airing personal ideas. Moreover, it is about applying the Bible to life — bringing the word of God, which ultimately is the gospel of Christ, to bear on our daily circumstances in the church and in the secular world. This is why I say speakers have to be ‘evangelistic’. They must be practical, gospel-minded, people.
Fourthly, be patient and faithful. We started big and then for five years got smaller, to the extent that at one stage we were debating whether to shut down entirely. Organizing a Bible conference like this, as something for a diocese, but not run by the usual diocesan bodies, is bound to be controversial. It may even be seen as an aggressive action, especially when one takes into account the policy on selecting speakers and that can cost in terms of friends and support.
In short, it can — and probably will — be tough because of the ‘internal politics’ of the Church of England generally and evangelicalism in particular. But it is worth it!
The principle to bear in mind is Mark 6:34: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.”
To teach is to pastor God’s people. To teach the Bible is to make God’s voice heard. Yet this is so lacking in many of our dioceses. If you can organize for this to happen where you are, then surely you already know what you ought to do.
John RichardsonPlease give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:
3 October 2011
3 October 2011