DISTRICT EVANGELISM ENABLER
DISTRICT EVANGELISM ENABLER – JO SIMPSON
As District Evangelism Enabler my role is to be a resource for the District and to support and encourage evangelism and outreach initiatives in a wide variety of settings. I am fortunate in my work as I get to travel round and meet lots of people who want to find new ways of putting their faith to work and are rising to the challenges of the twenty first century thinking.
The calling of the Methodist Church is to respond to the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission. It does this through Worship, Learning and Caring, Service, and Evangelism.
Evangelism is a word that inspires many reactions in people, from fear to excitement and it is a hugely important notion that we must explore together if we are to build the church of the future. The Methodist Conference in 2020 to be held in Telford is going to be considering a major new strategy that is currently the subject of consultation called “God for all – An emerging Connexional strategy for Evangelism & Growth”. This is an exciting new initiative that will bring many opportunities for us to share in the energy of the Gospel of Christ. The report explores what evangelism is, and this is just an extract;
“Authentic evangelism is an intentional orientation to the Good News in all of life – not only our beliefs and ideas, not only our practices, not only our relationships, but a holistic integration of all three. Evangelism serves as the foundation and matrix of all of our discipleship – our living out, listening for, and speaking of the goodness of God. As such, evangelism is not merely a list of invitation techniques or communication skills but a way of reflecting on all we are and do as Church. If we are committed to authentic evangelism, we review our mission and ministry and ask, “How is this activity orientated to the Good News (or not)?” Our crucial commitments to social justice, beautiful worship, small groups, youth and children’s work, property development, hospitality, etc., find deeper life with that question in mind and heart.
Authentic evangelism is thoroughly relational. It invites depth, vulnerability, curiosity, and joy in relationships between church participants themselves and between the church and neighbours in its community.” [God for All – 2019]
What does that mean for us here in the Plymouth & Exeter District? My focus is on building relationships and supporting people who are trying to develop their response to the Methodist call to evangelism.
Some of the ways I do that are through;
Networking and connecting
Part of my work is staying in touch with new ideas and initiatives that are going on around the country and bringing the best of the ideas to our District. There is a network of District Evangelism Enablers and sharing experience and good practice helps keep us all on our toes. Being an encourager is an important part of what I do and if you are working on an idea, I am happy to help find out if there is experience and learning from elsewhere that might help you.
Supporting and encouraging
I am often asked to come and be a catalyst for some new thinking in a church or group or just to help kick off some new ideas which is always a privilege to be part of. Helping groups to “look outwards” and reflect on the communities in which they are based and what they know of them is often a starting point. Helping map out both what a local vision might be and what barriers need to be overcome is often an essential starting point if a project is to move from being a good idea into one where we have a plan for managing change and achieving the visions we have set out.
I have been active in delivering the “Mission Shaped Introduction” course across the District which is a resource to help churches and groups think differently and learn from the experience of the Fresh Expressions movement to open us up to new ideas and approaches. If you think this would help your church or Circuit, do get in touch.
Leading and consulting
I continue to find that the most fruitful projects are those where I can accompany a group of people on a journey from inception to independence. This type of project usually starts with a conversation/request to meet with a group from a church or Circuit to ascertain need.
The initial conversation is then followed by a series of interactive sessions (dependent upon need) to establish possibilities. These give time to work with a group to establish a project and deal with any ‘teething problems’; suggest alternative routes and other missional possibilities, as the project evolves. The use of Appreciative Inquiry as a consultancy and problem-solving tool is developing and is, so far, is proving to be a helpful approach.
Following interactive sessions, I then work with a group until they feel able to independently continue the development of the project. Consultancy support, in the background, then continues for as long as is necessary.
Coaching and Enabling
Growing people is my passion! Putting faith to work in new and bold ways takes fresh energy and confidence and we have many people in the District who are inspiring in their tenacity and purpose. But being a pioneer or a new thinker in some settings can be difficult where change can be seen as uncomfortable. Part of my role is providing encouragement and support to change makers around the District. I use coaching experience and connecting people into encouraging conversations to help people feel affirmed in their mission and purpose.
Listening and learning
If we want to grow as we live, we never stop learning if we listen and engage with the people and places around us. “Everybody knows something we don’t know” is a good starting point to be curious about others and what God is doing in and through them. Finding beauty and wisdom in surprising and vulnerable places continues to be an exciting and awe-inspiring part of my job. Sometimes being content to sit in the midst of things we can neither explain or understand is a place of spiritual calmness and insight that we need to find the confidence to dwell in together. The poet Mary Oliver put it beautifully in her poem;
“The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.”
[Mary Oliver – A Thousand Mornings]
Christian Communities in Conversation (CCiC)
The “Christian Communities in Conversation” project is my biggest piece of work and is a
CCiC is an integral part of the District Evangelism Policy and is a five-year project that seeks to grow confidence and experience in rediscovering spiritual conversation.
What is CCiC?
CCiC is the District evangelism project that grew out of a realisation that in many ways we have lost the art of conversation about spirituality and frequently get stuck in outdated ways of operating.
CCiC is a fresh approach to evangelism and has as its purpose;
“To grow a community of people who are confident and excited about having spiritual conversations based on experiences of life, living and encountering God”.
CCiC works alongside local Christian communities as part of a culture shift to support outreach and evangelism and the heart of the project is about growing people in their own context and not about training or imparting knowledge.
The initiative asks what it would be like if we could create spaces where;
- We could have meaningful conversation about things which really matter.
- Where evangelism happened through honest conversation.
- Where we could safely examine our own faith statements.
- Where we could build, sustain and deepen relationships.
- Where we could carry curiosity alongside our deepest convictions.
- Where we carry questions alongside answers.
- Where we can explore how we encounter God in our lives and stories.
So CCiC is about changing culture and growing a community of people who will enable others to engage in spiritual conversation. It’s about growing people in their own context. We seek to create safe conversation groups which are;
Our experience is that many people want to talk about things which matter, not to be told what to think. They want others to be interested in what they think, they want conversation that is relevant, contextual and spiritual.
So far CCiC has been growing a community of practice across the District to share ideas, learning and growth in different localities. The project group of 20 interested people gathers from time to time and we are growing a group of people to learn to be facilitators of the groups through reflective practice and coaching. It has been an exciting learning process and we have been encouraged by the stories emerging from the conversation groups that have already taken place.
”It has helped us have honest conversation”
“I felt I could speak as I didn’t feel I had to know all the answers”
“People contributed who don’t normally speak in groups”
“It was a new experience to be really listened to”
We are learning about rediscovering the art of civil conversations, about generous listening and the delights of being curious about other people. By finding positive experiences in groups that operate in ways that we are not used to, we can change our culture because “what we practice, we become”.
There is a dedicated website for CCiC where you can find out more about the project and how you can get involved. We are currently developing the second phase of the project and would love to hear your thoughts. Visit the CCiC BLOG and join in the conversation. It is all about sharing in good conversation that changes us from the inside out so come and talk!