I remember as an Anglican priest Archbishop George Carey launched a big initiative called “The Decade of Evangelism.”
It was more like “The Decay of Evangelism.” It was a big flop.
From time to time in every church the leaders feel they must give evangelism and renewal the old college try. They form committees and the committees form working parties and the working parties form action teams and the action teams form focus groups and the focus groups organize deanery meetings and the deanery meetings promote parish surveys and the parish surveys recommend parish discussion groups and the discussion groups decide that the diocese should do more to promote evangelism.
Then they produce little paperback books with study guides and they publish posters to put up in the parish on bulletin boards and maybe nowadays they get a website up and maybe even an app for mobile phones and they get special speakers for special events and they all work so hard and in the meantime God’s people yawn and scratch.
The old timers say, “I’ve seen this all before. When they’re gearing up for the mission it’s all ‘Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’ and after the mission its ‘As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.’ “.
The fact of the matter is that genuine renewal in the church is never from the top down. Its never done with Diocesan initiatives or big ideas by bishops.
Genuine renewal is always a grass roots movement. It starts local with ordinary people hearing God’s call and doing what they can with what they have where they are.
Read the lives of the saints. Each one was just an ordinary person who heard God’s call and obeyed. They did what they could with what they have where they are.
Of course Diocesan funds and manpower can help, and that’s exactly what the bishop and his team should do. They should be listening to what God is doing in the parishes, in the local schools, in the local communities and then supporting, funding and promoting that work. The bishop and the diocese should be there to serve the parishes and the priests, deacons and people.
Grass roots renewal is at the heart of the church in every age. It is always there with one priest, one sister, one brother, one lay person who catches the vision and gets on with it.
I remember when I was a Catholic layman for ten years before ordination and I was wondering what I should be doing. A very wonderful English gentleman said to me, “Dwight, in the Catholic Church don’t wait to be asked and don’t wait to be thanked.”
In other words, just get on with it. As St Mother Teresa said, ” God doesn’t expect us to be successful. He expects us to be faithful”
If we’re faithful in doing what we can with what we have where we are it is amazing how God will bless and prosper that work.
If we’re doing a work of faith he will answer prayers, bring the people we need, provide the funds and move things on.
Finally, God plays a long game. We want instant success because we’re Americans and like Frank Sinatra and our hamburgers, we want everything “Our Way”.
We want instant success, but the history of the saints reveals that the ones who were most “successful” in the long run were not necessarily recognized as a “success” in the short term or even in their lifetimes.
Instead they planted seeds. God watered them. The Holy Spirit shone on them, and they grew, became a great tree and bore much fruit.
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