Monday, 16 January 2012

Why evangelicals should go to their diocesan fellowships

I have posted earlier a comment about how evangelicals (I mean clergy especially) treat diocesan evangelical fellowships the way we don't want people to treat church on Sunday, and I believe it is worth highlighting.

Most of us get pretty frustrated if people habitually only turn up for Sunday church when it suits them - when they aren't visiting relatives or shopping or taking the kids to football, and so on.

The reason for this, however, ought not to be that it makes our numbers look bad or makes us personally frustrated after all the work we put in. Rather, it should be the reason given in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed) 
We should be in church for one another's sake - not for our own sake alone. And we should be at the Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship for the same reason.

Goodness knows, we need as much as the laityencouragement to hold unswervingly to our hope (how often do clergy who drift from evangelical fellowship drift, a few years later, from evangelical doctrine?), to spur one another on to love and good deeds, and to recall the coming day of judgement when our own ministry will be revealed as building on gold and silver or hay and straw.

And if your DEF doesn't deliver that encouragement, then take action to make sure it does. But do not give up meeting!

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13 comments:

  1. Canon Andrew Godsall17 January 2012 at 10:44

    My evangelical colleagues tell me that they have stopped going to DEF meetings as they no longer feel welcome unless they share a very conservative position on women in ministry in particular. Most of those colleagues would probably come into the 'open evangelical' category, and many used to go to DEF but indicate that things have changed within the constituency - and not for the better.

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  2. I'll probably regret asking this, but does that mean, Andrew, that there are more conservative evangelicals in the Diocese of Exeter than the other sort?

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  3. Hi John. I would say there were far fewer conservative evangelicals in this diocese. I would estimate that just a handful of evangelicals are opposed to the ordination of women - and a significant proportion of open evangelicals are ordained women..

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  4. Andrew, I am a bit baffled as to how, in a democratically controlled institution, the majority (as you suggest, a substantial majority) can be made to feel unwelcome - at least for more than a very short period of time.

    Who chairs the meetings, who sets the agenda, who welcomes newcomers at the DEF?

    If none of this really suits the majority, surely it is time for them to change the leadership and the agenda and make things work the way they want them to.

    I can't understand how such a circumstance could be allowed to persist. Or am I missing something?

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  5. Andrew Godsall, Exeter17 January 2012 at 19:55

    I'm not sure John. Maybe a clue is in what one of my evangelical colleagues - a woman - said to me yesterday: she would prefer not to be part of a group who seem to define themselves more by what they are against than what they are for.

    Do you think that there are more 'conservative' evangelicals than 'open' ones? My sense, as a member of General Synod, is that open evangelicals are by far the largest group in that body.

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  6. Andrew, when your colleague refers to "a group who ... etc", does she mean "evangelicalism" or "the DEF". If the former, I wonder why she calls herself an evangelical - seems a bit odd to me. If the latter, why doesn't she do something about it. Like you, my sense is that open evangelicals far outnumber the conservatives, but not on evangelical bodies. "Why?" I ask.

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    1. Andrew Godsall, Exeter18 January 2012 at 09:09

      Hi John - she was referring to the DEF - which is why I posted - as it referred to your topic. As to the question why doesn't she do something about it - I guess the answer is that with a very busy job with family etc etc you pick carefully what you put your energy and time into. So New Wine, for example, or Soul Survivor might be more affirming than DEF, and then your time might be better spent engaging with those who you want to win for Christ rather than spend time with those who are suspicious of your ministry because of your gender. I think the issues for evangelical women engaging with historically male organisations are quite complex.

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    2. Andrew, as I said to the other Andrew and Barry below, the advantage of the DEF for evangelical Anglicans is that it recognizes the logic of how Anglicanism works - ie it is a 'diocesan' grouping.

      By going off to a more 'conducive' group we are sometime just being typically 'me' centred, and certainly reinforcing the 'tribalism' that is so much a feature of current evangelicalism.

      Being Anglican often involves us spending time with people with whom we disagree. If we can't cope with disagreements amongst fellow evangelicals, what can we cope with?

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  7. John, thanks (as always) for interesting and stimulating blogging.

    My question here would be where this logic stops. Which meetings do you feel I have to go to? It seems to me problematic to extend the Scriptural command that I commit to my local church into a command regarding other meetings. By so extending Scripture's command, I worry that you have no Scriptural warrant as to where to draw the line.

    For instance, do you make it round each and every Spring Harvest or just go to one or two? New Wine, New Word Alive, all 3 weeks at Keswick, Soul Survivor? Would you say the same about Deanery & Diocesan Synod as DEF? Gospel Partnership meetings? Then Reform, Church Society, Fellowship of Word & Spirt, etc etc? Proc Trust conferences? I could go on listing...

    Is your diary very full or is there a lot of guilt slopping around because you're breaking a Scriptural command?

    To put it simply: Where do you think this logic stops, and why?

    Andrew (Beckenham)

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  8. I think that one reason that evangelical fellowships have declined is that the clergy are far busier these days. I attended when I had one church to look after. Now I have six on a house-for-duty basis. There is not the time for optional extras.

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  9. Thanks Andrew and Barry for your comments.

    Andrew, my concern for the DEF is a strategic one, outlined in my book. Personally, I think another reason for DEF decline was a lack of obvious benefit. But the DEF ought to be encouraging us in 'love and good works', especially the good work of evangelism in our dioceses.

    A DEF makes particular sense because the Church of England organizes itself on a diocesan basis. That is where the policies are made and applied. So a DEF should be what it says, and evangelical fellowship with a diocesan 'remit'. When they are just 'fellowships' then they can seem less relevant.

    Obviously you have to pick your meetings and there are far too many around. In an ideal world, the deanery chapter would do the job of the DEF. Although many of these bodies do a good job, the very multiplicity of meetings is a reflection partly of doctrinal disunity, partly of institutional failure.

    Barry, I can't imagine how anyone looks after more than three churches, which is the most I ever had to care for. If the pattern for the future is more churches, more work, more isolation then I would add 'more exhaustion' to that list.

    On the other hand (he says, only slightly tongue in cheek) bishops look after hundreds of churches in many cases, but they find time for all sorts of meetings.

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  10. Thanks John - I did enjoy the book & found it both encouraging and warmly challenging.

    I do see the strategic / political logic as a good argument. Its then a case of our deciding what to prioritise - and your book was a helpful 'push' to me on the reasons to prioritise our DEFs (though ours has just shut down).

    Andrew (Beckenham)

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    1. Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.

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