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Spirit of Invitation

Web posted on May 20, 2017

Hey Jude!

I attended an astonishing mini-conference last Saturday at an Anglican church in Kitchener. What made the event astonishing was where it was hosted and who attended. Thirty local Anglicans, mostly clergy, attended to hear Dr Judy Paulsen, Director of Wycliffe College's Institute of Evangelism, tell them how to reach out to the un-churched and de-churched in their communities.

These are days when 80% of Canadians are not actively attached to any congregation of worshipping Christians. These are days when the Anglican Diocese of Toronto is expecting to close something like 80 churches (did she really say that!) in the next 5 years - and retire 100 clergy.

These are days when a survey of 30,000 American church congregations (the Episcopalians were too small to be part of the survey) tallied only 150 adult baptisms over the course of a year - only one new adult believer for every 200 churches. That gives a new poignancy to Jesus' question: "When the Son of Man returns, will he find the Faith on the Earth?" (Luke 18:8). (Google: "Mainline Evangelism Project".)

As Dr Paulsen pointed out, the obligation to share our faith was one of the promises made at our baptism. But a lot of church folk are reluctant to do so, and a lot of clergy have never taught them how. It's easier, she said, than most of us think - as long as we don't imagine it requires profound theological knowledge or the mastering of a necessary technique (like leading someone through the Four Spiritual Laws).

Instead of that, she emphasized the importance of Christians establishing and maintaining authentic relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and workmates who are not part of our "holy huddle". Within those relationships, as occasion may arise (we should pray for such openings), sometimes all we need to do is extend an invitation or gently share what works spiritually for us - then watch and wait as the Holy Spirit does his thing..

Dr Paulsen noted that while individual Christians should be sharing their faith, church vestries and official boards need deliberately to plan ways of doing so. Which line items in your parish budget, she asked, relate specifically to ministry to people outside your congregation - teaching them the Faith, holding non-threatening social events, meeting community needs, and reaching out with the most up-to-date social media - all with a gentle but deliberate gospel focus? If you don't put money into a thing, it may be wishful thinking, but it's not a goal!

Your church dinner, for example, or your strawberry tea what's it for? raising money that should be coming from gifts and tithes? reinforcing the holy huddle? or whetting invitees' appetites to become mature followers of Jesus? Making followers, she reminded us, is more than just filling pews. We need to be clear about why we're the church - and not get confused about which are our "means" and which are our "ends".

The present state of Canada's mainline churches is, in many places, dismal. But though Dr Paulsen feels concerned, she is not in despair. The Church in China, she noted, experienced its greatest growth during Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when it was deprived of its buildings, its pastors, and even its books. But by the year 2020, she said, there will be more Christians in China than in any other country. She also senses that God is about to do something exciting in our mainline churches. As evidence of that, she cites an increase in clergy vocations, the average age of theology students at Wycliffe being 15 years younger than when she attended.

Dr Paulsen recommended three resources that readers may like to check out on-line:

1. "Jesus the Game Changer", from Olive Tree Media. Ten video episodes, complete with a leader's discussion guide, on ten ways Jesus has changed the world. If you buy the series ($49.95 Aus), note their recommendation to get the download, not the DVD, because Australian and North American DVD formats are different. Also from Olive Tree, the ten episode series "Towards Belief".

2. "Invited". A series of six short films (the longest is only 13 minutes)that seek to explore what it means to engage in genuine Christian invitation. Versions for Anglican and non-Anglican congregations. Also available in text format with discussion guide. Download all formats free at

3. "Christian Foundations". A sturdy spiral-bound interactive student text for teaching the Faith to new Christians - and maybe to some older ones, too! Excellent content and well designed. The $30 price tag barely covers the cost of printing. Facilitator's guide available in PDF. Be sure to ask for the Second Edition, coming out this summer after a year's trial. Go to:

Rev Robert Lyon is the assistant at St. Jude, Guelph, a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada. Robert welcomes your questions and comments, and will be pleased to discuss topics on request. Contact him at Also check out


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Through the Valley of the Shadow
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God and the Grass
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