29 February 2012
Gaining confidence in the gospel
General Director Steve Clifford writes...
Twice a year around 100 senior evangelical leaders gather as the Council of the Evangelical Alliance to influence our work and grapple with some of the big issues the Church and the nation are facing. I’m deeply grateful for these busy people – heads of denominations, CEOs of organisations, senior church leaders, MPs, key influencers in business – who sacrifice their time and energy to be with us.
Last September’s Council could go down in history as one of the most significant of our time. The subject was ‘Confidence in the Gospel’. The contributors included Nicky Gumbel, Rico Tice, Tim Keller, Laurence Singlehurst, Les Isaac, and Chris Duffet of the Baptist Union, Ade Omooba of Christian Victory Group, and Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi (Soul Survivor). As I sat listening to the amazing contributions, I thought back to that little Lancashire chapel where, at 17, I heard the Easter story again knowing deep down that it was true and that nothing could stay the same. I thank God for the power of the gospel to change lives. Over the years I have seen its impact yet remain frustrated that there are still millions across the UK who have never heard the good news.
At Council we reflected on how 20th century evangelicalism, in reaction to what was termed the ‘social gospel’, rejected social engagement, reducing the gospel to an evangelistic campaign – the gospel service, street preaching, or the distribution of tracts. I thank God for the wisdom, bravery and spiritual insight of leaders such as John Stott and Billy Graham who nailed their colours to the mast and declared that a gospel which is true to the life and ministry of Jesus could not simply be about words, it had to involve action. Initiatives such as Message 2000, Soul in the City, and Hope08 have seen churches come out of their buildings demonstrating and proclaiming the love of God to their communities.
So why a Council on ‘Confidence in the Gospel’ particularly when we recognise the impact of initiatives such as Alpha (so far 17 million people have attended a course), Christianity Explored, Hope, More than Gold, or other courses or initiatives which have served the Church over the years? Perhaps the answer can be found in the faith survey which we conducted in 2010. Of the 17,000 surveyed, nine out of 10 evangelicals believed all Christians should be involved in sharing their faith but when it came to it just six out of 10 managed it once a month
(this contrasts with an average evangelical Christian volunteering over two hours per week in their communities). At the beginning of the 21st century, some of us are struggling with the words of the gospel, struggling to find the right vocabulary, metaphors or stories which communicate with a secular society which has little or no background of biblical understanding and no history of Sunday school or church.
I hope the impact of the Council will be seen over the next months and years within our work, including a recognition of the need for fresh, creative and experimental evangelism which reaches people where they are rather than perhaps where we would like them to be. We recognised the need to learn from each other, to tell the stories of what is happening around the country so that best practice can be reproduced and so we can be encouraged as we hear of people coming to faith and of lives being changed. We also recognised the need to explain the gospel in its full biblical context, steering away from a consumer gospel, recognising the call to make disciples, not simply converts.
We will work with our member organisations and churches to explore how we can together raise the bar in the confident Holy Spirit-inspired communication of the wonderful good news of the gospel across the UK. We’ll commission research on bright spots across the country, and bring together thinkers and practitioners, helping shape our theology and sociological understanding.
We’ll study trailblazing churches to explore creative and experimental evangelism in practice. So watch out for the stories and articles here in idea, on our website and in our email communications.