Monday, 28 November 2011

That’s the way to do it — a bishop gives the lead on evangelism

In his book Reorienting a Church for Accelerated Growth, Bishop Samson Mwaluda makes the point that denominational church growth in Anglicanism depends on the bishop being the chief evangelist and teacher of the diocese, upholding the apostolic doctrine and giving the lead in the proclamation of the gospel.
Yesterday, I actually saw for the first time with my own eyes an English bishop doing the latter.
And here’s an interesting thing. What I was going to write next was that the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, took time out of his busy schedule to visit the Saffron Walden Deanery Mission Planning Group to lead an afternoon on local evangelism — which just shows how indoctrinated I’ve become by a lifetime of not seeing this happen.
Because, of course, in Stephen Cottrell’s case this is not ‘time out of his schedule’. This evidently is his schedule.
One of the points I have made in my own A Strategy that Changes the Denomination is that despite evangelicals being appointed to senior office in the Church of England, the denomination has not become a more evangelizing body. That has been true, in my experience not just nationally but at the diocesan level, where evangelical bishops have direct influence.
I have heard it said, and seen it written, that there is only so much a bishop can do — that he does not have the authority to dictate, perhaps, or that he must be ‘bishop to the whole diocese, not just the evangelicals’.
What yesterday demonstrated is that a bishop does not need any more authority than he already possesses. Nor does he need to compromise his beliefs in any way. Apparently — for as I say, I saw it with my own eyes — he just needs to have the willingness to prioritize one thing above another. When a bishop says, “I have put a line through my diary for your mission weekend”, he has ruled out — literally — doing other things. Such is life. But he has therefore written in what was surely our Lord’s priority: “Let us go somewhere else ... so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mk 1:38).
Now there will doubtless be those who will say, “But Cottrell is a Liberal Catholic. He belongs to Affirming Catholicism, and you don’t like those sorts of people.”
And that is true, insofar as he is (as far as I know) a member of AffCath. But I have often said that the best bishop I have served under (until now) was Hugh Montefiore in Birmingham, who was a bit of a Liberal Catholic himself, but who had vision and determination when it came to his diocese.
Moreover, if any bishop is prepared to stand up and give a personal lead on evangelism (especially if he quotes in his powerpoint presentation the definition used by Towards the Conversion of England and quoted in A Strategy that Changes the Denomination), I will give that man all the support I can and urge others to do the same.
As I said to someone yesterday, I have waited since 1983, when I arrived in this diocese, for this moment. It is a very exciting time.
John Richardson
28 November 2011
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. Fascinating observation.

    I yearn to see Bishop's being more evangelistic and agree with you that evangelical appointments can so often be rather disappointing on this score. My old college principle is used to say the problem is 'they get a taste for the Lords and lose their fire'

    Here's the question. Are we wanting evangelical bishops or evangelistic ones? My pal's Bishop was an Anglo-Catholic and a wonderful man who OK'd his church plant and was superbly supportive of mission and evangelism. Seems to me that there is a danger that some evangelicals prefer the label i.e we would rather have someone who believes in evangelism but doesn't actually do or encourage it so we tick a tribal box I'd rather have someone who we think shouldn't like evangelism and does (like Cotterill)!

    Great post.

  2. Glad to read this John, very much agree re: +Stephen - and I've just finished reading your book (which I liked) and as time permits I'm going to stick up a bit of a review.

  3. Stephen Cottrell isn't the only episcopal SC with these priorities. Steven Croft of Sheffield has just finished a tour of all deaneries promoting our diocesan growth strategy Church Growth

    The basic idea is pretty simple - 1) use and extend our contacts with the world to sow the seed 2) nurture people to faith, primarily through small groups of whichever brand is appropriate and 3) grow the depth of the church - make disciples not just converts.

    The full strategy document, which goes into more detail and depth than the tour, is worth reading.

    Stephen Cottrell was keynote speaker at our annual Diocesan Development Day, and was very good - urging us to get to the state where having some means of nurture in the parish was as unremarkable as a harvest festival or Christmas fair.

  4. It is amazing you support someone you don't like. I thought you evangelicals hated everyone except yourselves.

  5. John, sounds great that +Stephen is making time for evangelisation. I wonder what the content of his good news was though?

  6. David, your reply highlights a problem I sensed a long while ago, that 'evangelicalism' had become a culture, not a mission priority. By the beginning of the 1980s, it was clear that Anglican evangelicals were stepping away from evangelism and I suspect this was reflected in the ministry of senior evangelical denominational leaders.

    Indeed you may be aware that when such an appointee describes himself as 'from an evangelical background', most of us groan inwardly!

    As I've said in my book, the only people worthy of the label 'evangelical' are those who evangelize with a view to conversion.

  7. Sam, I'd be very pleased to see your review. Would you be able/prepared to post it to the Lulu website?

  8. Anonymous, why waste your energy? Life is too short.

  9. Mike, like I said, the bishop put up, amongst other things, the TTCE definition: “To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that [people] shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.”

    And like I say in my book, even Jim Packer could only find one bone to pick with that.

    Doubtless we might want to see clarifications, but that is where the involvement of evangelicals becomes so important. If we stand aloof we will have nothing to say.

    As it is, we are closely involved in the Deanery Mission and it is giving us great opportunities.

    TTCE recognized that evangelism is necessary within the Church itself. This is our opportunity for that.

  10. Two similar encouraging examples from Australia:
    1) Bishop John Harrower of Tasmania being the speaker at an evangelistic dinner organised by a local parish, in conjunction with a mission trip from Ridley College, Melbourne.
    2) Archbishop Peter Jensen in the lead-up to Connect09 (Sydney diocese year of mission) telling his clergy, "Don't just invite me to come and do confirmations, invite me to come and do mission" (paraphrase, not a quote).

  11. Hi John

    So I can calibrate my sense of celebration, can you clarify whether your good bishop was actually evangelizing — or was he leading a planning group about evangelism? Wasn't quite clear from your post.


  12. Andrew, you are blessed in Australia, and not just with good weather, as you probably know!

    Tony, actually it was both. He'd just come from speaking evangelistically as something or other (I didn't quite get the details) and he was speaking to us about how to plan our own evangelism. I'm glad to say he is 'hands on' with this.

  13. I would add that at the College of Preachers conference at Chelmsford on 26th November Bp Stephen said that most of the sermons a Bishop gives are evangelistic.

    David Brock

  14. Labels (like "evangelical", "christian" etc) are useful. But assessing someone on what they actually do rather than the label they adopt is a very healthy way of looking at things!

    Perhaps evangelical bishops and clergy will be moved to godly jealousy by +Cottrell's actions. If that results in more evangelism and discipling, then bring it on!