“…Let your light shine before others….” — Matthew 5:16b
1) General Board considers mission, love, and unity.
1b) La Junta Nacional considera la misión, el amor, y la unidad.
2) Board sees first results from sociological study of Brethren.
3) Moderator returns from tour with praise for Nigerian church.
4) ‘Unbinding the Gospel’ offers groundbreaking study of evangelism.
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1) General Board considers mission, love, and unity.
The Church of the Brethren General Board met March 9-12 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. Chair Jeff Neuman-Lee led the meeting on the theme, “Continuing the Mission,” from Matthew 5.
The agenda focused on mission with reports from Church of the Brethren missions in Brazil and Haiti, and also included an interim report from the committee studying ministry options at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., among other business items and reports.
Special events included a report of a new sociological study of Brethren, a report from Annual Conference moderator Belita Mitchell about her just-completed trip to Nigeria, and a presentation by the author of “Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism” (see stories below).
Mission in Brazil:
Marcos and Suely Inhauser, mission coordinators in Brazil and leaders of Igreja da Irmandade (Church of the Brethren in Brazil), reported the new church’s experience over its first six years. They thanked the board for the opportunity to share both progress and disappointments. “It is a hard task for me to be here today,” Marcos Inhauser said as he spoke of his deep discouragement over setbacks in the last year or more.
The board authorized the start of the mission in March 2001. Weeks later, the church had already held its inaugural worship service, and in a few more weeks some 150 people were worshiping. Over the next couple of years the Inhausers helped the church call pastoral leadership, place a dozen people in theological training, and plant five congregations.
“Excitement does not equal commitment,” Inhauser said as he listed some “tough lessons learned.” The Brethren church leaders are faced with cultural pressures and opposition because they are “doing a different style of church than Brazilians are used to,” he said, which has led to internal tensions among leaders. Other setbacks are the closing of two congregations and declines in attendance in others, and financial difficulties. In a disturbing incident that is becoming common in Brazil, the church treasurer was kidnaped and forced to withdraw church funds from the bank.
The Inhausers also celebrate active ministries such as the teaching of handcrafts to low-income people to help them support their families, a clinical therapy ministry that Suely Inhauser offers, and the church’s website that is regularly used as a resource by pastors in other denominations. The Brazilian Brethren have been encouraged by the arrival of two new community outreach workers, placed through Brethren Volunteer Service.
“Even when we have problems, God supports us,” Marcos Inhauser told the board, adding that he can see signs of hope. Board members and others responded by gathering around the Inhausers, surrounding them with laying on of hands and prayer.
Mission in Haiti:
Ludovic St. Fleur, coordinator of the mission in Haiti and pastor of Eglise des Freres Haitiens in Miami and the Orlando (Fla.) Haitian Fellowship, reported as well. “In Haiti there is both bad and good news,” he said.
In 2003 St. Fleur was called to return to Haiti to begin the Church of the Brethren mission. Over four years, a congregation and two preaching points have been started. The church has baptized more than 35 people.
However, kidnapings are also terrorizing Haiti, where church attendance has declined and a children’s ministry has been affected because people fear leaving their homes. The children’s ministry has fallen to an attendance of some 75, from a high of around 125, St. Fleur said.
But the church is continuing in faith and continuing to meet. St. Fleur gave examples of the committed people who are a part of the church, including Sister Mary, who had been a part of the church in Miami and after returning to Haiti hosted the first gathering of Brethren in her house. She has since passed away.
Challenges in Haiti include the need to move the church building because it is in an area designated for development by the government.
“We need your prayers for how God can open doors for the Church of the Brethren in Haiti,” St. Fleur said. He added a request for prayer for his congregation in Miami, which has been a chief financial supporter of the mission. Following the original planning of the Mission and Ministries Planning Council (MMPC) and the General Board, so far the mission has received minimal financial support from the board. St. Fleur’s report also concluded with laying on of hands and prayer.
Problems of locating and recruiting funding for mission work was the subject of discussion during financial reports and following the reports from Brazil and Haiti. In part to address this, the board passed a resolution requesting the Annual Conference officers to “give annual opportunity at Annual Conference for the marketing of General Board ministries especially for the current emphasis.”
Brethren Service Center:
“We believe the Brethren Service Center should be continued, strengthened, and undergirded with new vision,” said the Brethren Service Center Ministry Options Exploration Committee, in an interim report presented by chair Dale Minnich.
The committee has identified two main missions of the center: synergy of agencies meeting human needs, and influence on individuals who pass through. “The Brethren Service Center revolves around efforts to meet human need, which continues to be urgently relevant,” Minnich said. He characterized it as a “reservoir of passion” for those who have worked or volunteered there. Two General Board ministries located at the center–the New Windsor Conference Center and Service Ministries–face some management challenges, he said, but added that “we believe all ministries at the Brethren Service Center can be financially viable for the foreseeable future.”
The committee will bring a working draft of a final report to the General Board on June 30 at its pre-Annual Conference meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. Following that, the committee plans a “season of welcomed comments and questions” including hearings in New Windsor and elsewhere. The report will come to the board for action in October.
In other business:
The board heard about work in progress to update the “Ethics in Ministry Relations” document of 1996 and received reports from the Executive Committee’s trip to the Gulf Coast (go to http://www.cobwebcast.bethanyseminary.edu/ for a webcast from the trip, go to www.brethren.org/genbd/ersm/ExCommTourGulfStates2007.pps for a powerpoint presentation), the Global Food Crisis Fund, a Faith Expedition to Vietnam, and financial reports, among others.
The Executive Committee confirmed Stephen L. Longenecker to a four-year term on the Brethren Historical Committee. Longenecker is chair of History and Political Science at Bridgewater (Va.) College.
The board also approved the annual report, spent time in a small-group discussion of the challenges of new information and communication technologies, and heard commendations for retiring employees. An offering received more than $1,500 for the Ministry Assistance Fund, which assists ministers in crisis.
St. Fleur and the Inhausers led opening and closing worship services respectively. Jesus taught two things very clearly, St. Fleur said: unity and love. “Today I urge…the General Board to make every effort to keep unity.” Suely Inhauser preached a sermon calling church leaders to seek their own personal transformation through Jesus Christ. “It’s not enough to be a leader. It’s necessary to have a transformation,” she said. “I want this for my church, I want this for you, I want this for the world.”
Neuman-Lee led Sunday morning worship, speaking on Jesus’ Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem. “When you go with trust in God, and love for others, there will be a resurrection,” he said.
On the final morning the board called on its members and employees to join in a prayer covenant. The covenant urges daily prayer for the programs and ministries of Annual Conference and the Church of the Brethren agencies–the General Board, Association of Brethren Caregivers, Bethany Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace. Participants also covenant to pray weekly with a prayer partner.
“We…have felt the challenge of our Master’s call to love and unity,” the covenant said, “for God’s love and unity to embody all our work and relationships.”
1b) La Junta Nacional considera la misión, el amor, y la unidad.
La Junta Nacional de la Iglesia de los Hermanos se reunió del 9 al 12 de marzo en sus oficinas generales en Elgin, Illinois. El presidente, Jeff Neuman-Lee dirigió la reunión con el tema de Mateo 5, “Continuando la Misión.”
Entre otros asuntos la agenda se enfocó en la misión, hubo informes de las misiones de las Iglesias de los Hermanos en Brasil y Haití y también hubo un informe interino del comité que estudia opciones de ministerio en el Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos en New Windsor, MD.
Los eventos especiales incluyeron un informe del nuevo estudio sociológico de los Hermanos, un informe de la moderadora de la Conferencia Anual, Belita Mitchell, acerca de su reciente viaje a Nigeria y una presentación del autor de “Poniendo el Evangelio al alcance de todos: Evangelismo en la Vida Real” (vea historias abajo).
La Misión en Brasil:
Marcos y Suely Inhauser, coordinadores de la misión en Brasil y líderes de la Igreja da Irmandade (Iglesia de los Hermanos en Brasil), reportaron las experiencias de la nueva iglesia durante sus primeros seis años. Dieron gracias a la Junta por la oportunidad de compartir tanto el progreso como las desilusiones. “Es difícil estar aquí hoy,” dijo Marcos Inhauser cuando habló de su gran desilusión por los percances durante los últimos años.
La Junta autorizó el comienzo de la misión en marzo del 2001. Unas semanas más tarde, la iglesia tuvo un culto de inauguración, y unas semanas después más de 150 personas asistieron a la iglesia. Durante los próximos 2 años los Inhauser ayudaron a nombrar líderes, enviar una docena de personas a seminarios teológicos y plantar cinco congregaciones.
“La emoción no es equivalente a un compromiso,” dijo Inhauser cuando mencionó algunas “difíciles lecciones aprendidas.” Los líderes de la iglesia allí se encuentran presiones culturales y oposición porque están “usando un estilo diferente de iglesia a la que los brasileños están acostumbrados,” dijo él, lo que significa tensiones internas entre los líderes. Además de dificultades financieras, hubo otros percances como el cierre de dos congregaciones y la poca asistencia en otras. En un incidente preocupante que se ha vuelto común en Brasil, el tesorero de la iglesia fue secuestrado y forzado a sacar fondos de la iglesia del banco.
Los Inhauser también celebran ministerios activos como la enseñanza de artesanías a gente de pocos ingresos para ayudarse con la manutención de sus familias, un ministerio de terapia clínica que ofrece Suely Inhauser, y el sitio de Internet de la iglesia el cual es usado regularmente como un recurso por pastores de otras denominaciones. Los hermanos brasileños están muy animados por la llegada de dos nuevos trabajadores comunitarios, quienes están haciendo Servicio Voluntario de los Hermanos.
Marcos Inhauser dijo a la Junta que “aun cuando tenemos problemas, Dios nos ayuda,” y agregó que ve signos de esperanza. En respuesta, los miembros de la Junta y otros presentes rodearon a los Inhauser, les impusieron las manos y oraron por ellos.
La Misión en Haití:
Ludovic St. Fleur, coordinador de la misión en Haití y pastor de la Eglise des Freres Haitiens en Miami y el Orlando Haitain Fellowship también dio un informe. Dijo que “en Haití hay buenas y malas noticias”.
En 2003 St. Fleur fue nombrado a regresar a Haití para empezar una misión de la Iglesia de los Hermanos. Durante cuatro años se empezó una congregación y dos lugares de predicación. La iglesia ha bautizado más de 35 personas.
Sin embargo, los secuestros también están aterrorizando a Haití, por lo que la asistencia se ha ido a la deriva y el ministerio de niños ha sido afectado porque la gente tiene miedo de salir de sus casas. Según St. Fleur, la asistencia del ministerio de niños bajó de 125 a 75.
Pero la iglesia continua en fe y continua reuniéndose. St. Fleur dio algunos ejemplos del compromiso de algunas personas de la congregación, incluyendo a la hermana Mary, quien fue miembro de la iglesia en Miami, y después de regresar a Haití, fue anfitriona de la primera reunión de los Hermanos, y quien ya murió.
Algunos de los desafíos en Haití incluyen la necesidad de cambiar de edificio por estar en un área designado para el desarrollo del gobierno.
“Necesitamos sus oraciones para que Dios abra las puertas para la Iglesia de los Hermanos en Haití,” dijo St. Fleur. También pidió una oración por su congregación en Miami, que ha tomado la mayor responsabilidad financiera de la misión. Siguiendo el plan original del Concilio de Planeamiento de Ministerios de Misión (MMPC) y la Junta Nacional, la misión ha recibido mínimo apoyo financiero por la Junta Nacional. El informe de St. Fleur también terminó con la imposición de manos y oración.
Después de los informes de Brasil y Haití se habló de cómo localizar y reclutar fondos para el trabajo de misión. En parte por los problemas mencionados anteriormente, la Junta aprobó una resolución pidiendo que los oficiales de la Conferencia Anual “den oportunidad de mercadotecnia para los ministerios de la Junta Nacional durante las Conferencias Anuales, especialmente con énfasis actual.”
El Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos:
En un reporte interino del Comité de Exploración del Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos, el presidente, Dale Minnich, dijo “creemos que el Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos debe continuar y ser fortalecido y apoyado con nueva visión.”
El comité ha identificado dos misiones principales del centro: la sinergia de agencias resolviendo necesidades humanas y su influencia en individuos que van de paso. “El Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos funciona alrededor de esfuerzos para resolver necesidades humanas, lo que continua siendo urgentemente relevante,” dijo Minnich. Lo caracterizó como “una reserva de pasión” para aquellos que han trabajado o servido como voluntarios allí. Dos de los ministerios de la Junta Nacional localizados en el centro– el Centro de Conferencias de New Windsor y los Ministerios de Servicio– están pasando por retos de operación, dijo Minnich, pero “también creemos que todos los ministerios del Centro de Servicio de los Hermanos pueden ser viables financieramente en el futuro inmediato.”
Durante la junta en preparación para la Conferencia Anual en Cleveland, Ohio, el 30 de junio, el comité presentará un informe tentativo del reporte final a la Junta Nacional. Después de eso, el comité planeará una “estación de comentarios y preguntas” incluyendo audiencias en New Windsor y otros lugares. El reporte se presentará a la Junta en octubre para tomar decisiones.
En otros asuntos:
La Junta recibió un informe del progreso para poner al día un documento del 1996 titulado “Éticas para Relaciones de Ministerio”, así como informes del viaje del Comité Ejecutivo a la Costa del Golfo (para un informe del viaje vaya a http://www.cobwebcast.bethanyseminary.edu/, para una presentación de PowerPoint vaya a www.brethren.org/genbd/ersm/ExCommTourGulfStates2007.pps) , el Global Food Crisis Fund, una expedición de fe a Vietnam y otros informes financieros.
El Comité Ejecutivo confirmó a Stephen L. Longenecker a un término de cuatro años en el Comité Histórico de los Hermanos. Longenecker es el presidente de Historia y Ciencia Política en Bridgewater College (Virginia).
La Junta también aprobó el informe anual, como un grupo discutió los desafíos de las tecnologías nuevas de información y comunicación, y hubo comentarios de empleados que están a punto de pensionarse. También se colectó una ofrenda de $1,500 para el Fondo de Asistencia del Ministerio, el cual ayuda a ministros en crisis.
St. Fleur y los Inhauser dirigieron tanto el culto inicial como el de clausura. Jesús nos enseñó dos cosas claras, dijo St. Fleur: unidad y amor. “Hoy yo exhorto a la Junta Nacional a que haga todo lo posible por mantener la unidad.” En su sermón, Suely Inhauser hizo un llamado a los líderes de la iglesia para que busquen su propia transformación a través de Jesucristo. “No es suficiente ser líder. Es necesario tener una transformación,” dijo ella. “Eso es lo que quiero para mi iglesia, y lo mismo quiero para ustedes, lo quiero para el mundo.”
Neuman-Lee dirigió el culto de adoración del domingo, y al hablar del Domingo de Palmas cuando Jesús entró a Jerusalén, dijo “Cuando confías en Dios, por amor a los demás, habrá resurección.”
Durante la última mañana, la Junta llamó a sus miembros y empleados a unírse en un pacto de oración. Este pacto exhorta la oración diaria para los programas y ministerios de la Conferencia Anual y las agencias de la Iglesia de los Hermanos– la Junta Nacional, la Associación de Cuidadores de los Hermanos, el Brethren Benefit Trust, En la Tierra Paz y el Seminario Bethany. Los participantes se comprometieron a orar cada semana con un compañero de oración.
“Nosotros… hemos sentido el desafío del llamado de amor y unidad de nuestro Maestro,” dice el pacto, “para que el amor de Dios y la unidad abarquen todo nuestro trabajo y nuestras relaciones.”
2) Board sees first results from sociological study of Brethren.
The General Board was the first group to see results from the comprehensive “Brethren Member Profile 2006,” presented by Carl Desportes Bowman, project director, and professor of Sociology at Bridgewater (Va.) College. The study, based at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College’s Young Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups, has been supported by the Annual Conference agencies, with generous funding also from the other denominations included in the broader “Church Member Profile” project: the Mennonite Church USA and the Brethren in Christ.
Bowman emphasized that the survey is “a study of who we are, not who we would like to be,” as he presented a wide range of information about how it was carried out, the variety of questions asked and topics addressed, and what may be discovered using the data.
“This is all very much in process,” Bowman said, explaining that he is still working on processing the data. A full report of the study will come in the form of a book he is writing for Brethren Press, and an article or series to be published in “Messenger” magazine. More than 20 years ago, Bowman also carried out a comprehensive survey of the denomination, which was published as a Brethren Press booklet and in a series of “Messenger” articles in 1986.
The current study is based on questionnaires returned by a scientific sample of 1,826 Brethren members across the mainland US. All 23 districts are represented, and 127 congregations are represented. The survey was carried out between February and May, 2006. With a return rate of just over two-thirds, “I’m elated, and very confident in the data,” Bowman said.
Commenting that, “I’m a sociologist, and I like to think about where Brethren stand as opposed to the rest of society,” Bowman responded to General Board members who wondered about the source and reasoning behind some of the questions. Some questions were repeated from the 1986 survey to compare trends over time, he explained, while others were asked to provide comparative data with other denominations.
Some general findings: Brethren are “overwhelmingly white, and residing in non-urban settings” with only three out of 100 congregations classified as ethnic or urban. The leading states in terms of numbers of Brethren are Pennsylvania first, Virginia second, and Ohio third, with nearly two-third of all Brethren (63 percent) residing in just four states: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Sixty percent of the church is female; two-thirds are 50 or older; 70 percent live in a small town or open country. Half have been members for more than 30 years, while 20 percent have been members for 10 years or less.
Survey questions also focused on issues of Brethren identity, attitudes about Annual Conference and the effect of Conference attendance on members’ satisfaction with Brethren agencies, the respondents’ theology such as views of Jesus and salvation, the peace witness, importance of moral and ethical issues, and faith commitments. Other questions addressed political views as well as views on controversial issues including abortion and homosexuality.
The length of the survey–20 pages–allows cross referencing of answers on a variety of questions, and allows researchers to “contextualize” answers, Bowman explained. For example, survey results may be used to study how those who are inactive members (20 percent) vary from those who are active in the church, in their responses to particular questions.
Like all survey data, the Brethren Member Profile results will be subject to a variety of interpretations, Bowman noted. For example, when responses by frequent attenders at Annual Conference are compared to the answers of non-attenders with reference to the peace witness, 78 percent of frequent attenders agree with the declaration that “All war is sin,” while only 46 percent of non-attenders agree. The comment prompted one person in the meeting to offer his interpretation, that Annual Conference may not be representative of the denomination. Another person quickly offered a different interpretation: that Annual Conference and Conference attendance may be very important in creating Brethren identity.
Bowman noted that the full survey results will be published during the upcoming celebration of the church’s 300th anniversary. “We need to celebrate and be realistic at the same time,” he said as he concluded his report.
3) Moderator returns from tour with praise for Nigerian church.
Annual Conference moderator Belita Mitchell, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., has just returned from a trip to Nigeria that took place Feb 26-March 9, and gave a compelling report to the General Board.
With her husband, Don Mitchell, and Merv Keeney, executive director of the board’s Global Mission Partnerships, she visited numerous sites of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). EYN leaders Filibus Gwama, president, and Y.Y. Balami, general secretary, accompanied the group, as did David Whitten, the board’s Nigeria mission coordinator.
“We were warmly welcomed as sisters and brothers in Christ and as members of their mother church,” Mitchell said. She described as “humbling” EYN’s veneration of the Church of the Brethren in the US, and the early Brethren missionaries to Nigeria, as well as the Nigerian church’s deep appreciation for continuing relationship with US Brethren.
She noted many ways the US church can learn from the Nigerian church in the areas of church growth and ministry planning. She found “stunning” the number of ministries that have continued to grow and evolve from the beginnings established by the Brethren missionaries. “EYN appears to be doing a good job of identifying needs in their faith community and the community at large, and then tailoring their ministries to meet those needs with relevance and effectiveness,” she said.
She had praise as well for the ZME (EYN women’s fellowship). “It is a well-organized, highly motivated association of women who are excited about the Lord and busy in the work of sharing the Gospel. They have a number of missionary and evangelistic ministries that are designed to make disciples, win souls, and empower women to live healthier, more stable lives,” she said.
Mitchell did not lose sight of her groundbreaking role as the first African-American woman to serve as moderator of Annual Conference. At the EYN headquarters in Mubi and at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN) in Bukuru, she challenged the Nigerian church to consider ordaining women as pastors. Gwama and Balami responded with openness to her message, she said.
Other key Brethren-related ministries that the delegation visited were Hillcrest School in Jos; the Rural Health Department, Mason Technical School, and the historic tamarind tree where the first Brethren worship was held, in Garkida; and the Comprehensive Secondary School, Kulp Bible College, and the Theological Education by Extension program in Mubi.
A main agenda of the trip was to convey solidarity with the EYN congregations that had suffered violence in interreligious rioting. The people of Maiduguri speak of the date of the rioting, Feb. 18, 2006, as Americans speak of Sept. 11, Mitchell said. “I was honored to be invited to speak at…the Dala EYN church,” one of five EYN churches damaged or destroyed in the riots, she noted. Love feast and communion were a part of the worship service.
The US church has given more than $43,000 for rebuilding and to support peace and reconciliation work following the riots, in a Love Offering initiated by the General Board. Keeney reported, “We also heard words of deep appreciation for the Love Offering.”
It was Mitchell’s first visit to Nigeria, and to Africa. “Every person of color I know who has traveled to Africa has said that the experience has been life-changing,” she said. “I echo that sentiment. I would expect the impact of the connections made with African brothers and sisters to strengthen and grow.”
“It is valuable to connect the Annual Conference moderator with the global church,” Keeney observed to the board, “both for broadened perspective of the moderator and also for mutual support and encouragement with churches in other lands. Sister Belita’s encouragement and challenge to Nigerian brothers and sisters in Christ will echo and bear fruit for years to come.”
–Janis Pyle is coordinator for mission connections, for the Global Mission Partnerships office of the General Board.
4) ‘Unbinding the Gospel’ offers groundbreaking study of evangelism.
“The more we engage in prayer, the more God has a chance to work with us,” Martha Grace Reese told the General Board as she presented the results of a four-year study of evangelism in mainline Protestant churches. A minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reese is author of “Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism” (Chalice Press, 2006; findings of the study were released Jan. 1 this year).
In addition to giving an evening presentation to the board, she also met informally with staff of the Congregational Life Teams.
Reese directed the study of evangelism, funded by the Lilly Endowment. The “Mainline Evangelism Research Project” was based on studies of 150 congregations and interviews with more than 1,000 people.
The book presents findings of the project and serves as a study guide for congregations interested in working on evangelism. It offers encouragement and advice to pastors, and gives practical how-tos for getting started. It also draws on a Disciples of Christ pilot project in congregational revitalization.
The evangelism study deliberately targeted a segment of the Christian church doing “the worst” at evangelism: mainly white congregations in the north and west of the country. Reese explained in the book the “dim” prospects for mainline Protestant Christianity: over the past 40 years the mainline denominations have lost 20 percent of their membership, during a time when the US population grew by 100 million. “Looked at as a percentage of the population, mainline church membership decreased almost 50 percent in 40 years.”
By design, the study took out of the pool congregations in the south and racial/ethnic congregations, which have been doing relatively well in bringing in new believers. “You could say that our Southern and racial/ethnic churches are ‘covering’ for the primarily Caucasian churches,” Reese explained in the book. “…Primarily white churches are hiding behind better statistics that don’t belong to them! Therefore we decided that it would be most helpful to take an undiluted look.”
Seven mainline Protestant denominations were included: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Reformed Church of America, and American Baptist Church USA. In these denominations that practice infant baptism, the researchers selected the congregations that had baptized five or more adult believers in a year–which came to only 150 congregations out of some 30,000 across the US, Reese said.
What characterizes successful evangelism? There are three factors for success, Reese said: the successful congregations love Jesus, their members and pastors know how to express their faith and talk about what it means in their lives, and the pastoral leadership is open to new things.
“It’s so rare to find a mainline church with the motivation to do evangelism,” she said, “and pastors are worse than the laypeople. They don’t know how to talk about their faith, and pastors have had no (seminary) training” in how to talk about their faith personally, she said.
From her extensive interviews and interactions with mainline pastors, she reported candidly, “We have an agnostic clergy, or exhausted clergy.”
Reese herself came to know Christ through the faith sharing of a college friend. Reese grew up completely unchurched, and her college friend was “the first smart Christian who talked about it. She talked about Jesus like he was real,” Reese remembered.
But her key recommendation for congregations and pastors interested in evangelism is to begin with prayer. An example came from her first connection with the Church of the Brethren, when she was pastoring a struggling congregation, and the group began using “People of the Covenant,” the small group study series published by Brethren Press. “You turned around the congregation!” she told the Brethren. The experience of People of the Covenant “changed the entire spirit of the congregation,” she said. “They studied, they prayed.”
When asked how to do evangelism while maintaining Brethren identity, Reese responded that “trying to reason people into our interpretation of the Gospel doesn’t work.” She urges a way of faith sharing that is not defensive, and is appreciative of another’s perspective. Relational evangelism works, she said, “and being honest about our faith. That’s the whole ballgame. That’s the only thing that works in our culture.”
In addition, she advised the General Board to “move heaven and earth to identify young leadership,” even to go so far as diverting money and resources from other ministries that seem important. “Do everything you can do to get a generation of pastors and church planters,” she said to the Congregational Life Teams. Even the simple asking of a question of congregations, “Who do you have that you could call to leadership?” may change the culture of the church, she said. She also urged the planting of new congregations.
“Does a denomination like ours have a future?” a Congregational Life Team staff member asked Reese. “I have no idea,” she replied, “but I know we can do something, if everybody starts praying and asking what to do.”
“Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism” may be ordered from Brethren Press for $19.99 plus shipping and handling, call 800-441-3712. For more information about the evangelism study go to http://www.gracenet.info/.