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The Catalyst Conversation - Mandy Bayton

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In July 2020 I was appointed as Evangelism Enablement Officer for the diocese. At the beginning of April, I was also appointed Bishop’s Officer for Evangelism and Outreach. My role is broad and wide and it’s a joy to be in this position. I love what I’ve been tasked to do however, it’s also been quite challenging because it has forced me to revisit what I believe, why I believe it and why I think evangelism is a good idea.It’s an interesting process to stop, think about and to try and articulate what you believe and why. It’s one I recommend because it has benefited me enormously and, as a consequence, has left me feeling more confident in my faith and reminded me of why I am so drawn to Jesus.First, I needed to clarify what I meant by evangelism. My understanding is that evangelism is the term used to describe the speaking about and preaching of the Gospel (the good news). It comes from the Greek word for gospel, euangelion – euangelion described the telling of and the giving of a message of great importance. In our context evangelism is telling others about the good and important message about the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done for us. Most of us who call ourselves Christians, more than likely, had a conversation about Jesus before making a commitment to Him. Someone at some time probably shared the good news with us.In my musings, I have come to realise that I am passionate about evangelism because I believe that knowing Jesus and becoming one of His followers is life enriching and life transforming and I want others to hear that good news. However, I appreciate that evangelism isn’t easy for many of us, to be honest, it’s not something that sits very comfortably with me. I am passionate about it but I don’t find it easy to do. So, I have found ways of having conversations about Jesus and why I am a Christian that make it a little easier and more natural. I’m never going to be a street preacher but with the tools I have discovered, I now have more confidence to share what I believe and why.Some of us may think that evangelism is the vicar’s job and not our role, others of us may be intimidated by the thought of talking about our faith and some of us have very likely been put off because the word evangelical has been hijacked by some pretty extreme groups. I get all this, and I hope to allay some of those concerns as we have opportunities to work together to discover natural and comfortable ways to have good news conversations. I hope to be able to encourage building on what we are already doing really well, whilst reassuring those of us who are hesitant or nervous that whatever our background, gifts or abilities, each one of us has a unique and wonderful part to play in God’s call for His Church.Evangelism doesn’t always have to be preached from a pulpit, although it is quite wonderful when the Gospel is shared in that way, we don’t all need to know long theological words, or be able to read the bible in its original Greek or Hebrew, we just need to have the confidence in what we believe and be able to talk about who Jesus is and what He has done for us.When we become Christians, Christ followers, are saved, born again, whatever phrase we prefer to use, a miracle happens. When we make Jesus, Lord and Saviour of our lives we become united with Him and His Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, His life enters us.As a working-out of that life changing experience, we are called to evangelism. It is part of the Great Commission Jesus urged us to take up in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I have come to believe that this call on our lives is fundamental to each of us who are ourselves disciples, and it is an outward display of our faith to share the good news with others so we can encourage and enable them to become disciples themselves.In the Gospel of John, Chapter 1:14 we read, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ In the Message interpretation, Eugene Patterson interprets John 1:14 as ‘The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.’ I love that, can you imagine Jesus living next door? Our neighbourhoods would be transformed!Ronald Rolheiser in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the need for a God who has skin, that is, physically real and touchable. He stresses that ‘Physicality is important in any relationship and especially in the most important of relationships.’Since March last year, I think most, if not all of us, can probably testify that not being able to hug our friends and family, or shake hands, or simply feel the physicality of another person has made life extremely difficult. Physical presence and contact are of vital importance to our well-being and flourishing as human beings.But what does the need for a God with skin mean and what bearing does it have on evangelism? Over the past few years there have been numerous books, sermons, talks etc encouraging us to move out from our Sunday meetings and our holy huddles and “incarnate”, immerse ourselves in our communities and with the people we are trying to reach. I’ve heard and read that we should be Jesus to those we meet, and people have even said to me “you may be the only Jesus that others will ever meet.” But that doesn’t feel right to me. It also feels like a huge burden to bear. Because if I’m Jesus I’m responsible for people’s conversion, redemption and salvation, only THE Jesus can do that, I’m not able to be Jesus nor am I meant to be.However, I am supposed to be Christ-like. We may not be responsible to be Jesus to people, but we are responsible to carry Him to people. We are the carriers of His life, the carriers of His Spirit, we are the carriers of the life He offers because in Jesus is life and that life is the light for all of humankind.The great commission, the call on our lives is to draw someone to conversion, because, as the Bishop of Burnley said, “to draw someone to conversion is to awaken them to their divine potential, to help them discover the presence of God in their lives so that they can acknowledge their true purpose, their true identity, their true vocation and thereby be saved.” We are encouraged to carry Jesus’ life into our neighbourhoods by living lives that make God real, tangible and recognisable and we are also encouraged to be able to give a reason for why we are choosing to live like that, so that those we are serving, loving, in relationship with, living and working alongside, are drawn to and attracted to the God we love and serve.Over the next few months, I will be travelling around our beautiful Diocese via a Zoom roadshow called The Catalyst Conversation. How I wish it could be in person because I would so love to meet you all.The roadshow will provide an opportunity to talk together about evangelism and outreach in our different settings and for me to be able to share with you how I can perhaps be a resource, and help, to you and your churches. I also hope to encourage people to pray and dream of how we can tell people the good news and discuss what our churches could look like as new people join us.I’m also delighted to say that Tim Hollingdale, Ministry Area Development Officer and our four Children, Youth & Family Officers, Rachel Bunting, Clare Morgan, Sian Parkhouse and Sian Smith will be providing an update via video on the work they are doing. Ministry areas, and children, youth and family work has a synergy with outreach and evangelism that plays a vital part in growing healthy, thriving churches of committed, worshipping, serving and giving Christians.I will also share an update about our diocesan bid to the provincial Evangelism Fund and the project, Catalyst, which we hope to finance. The dictionary defines catalyst as ‘a person or thing that precipitates an event or something that causes a reaction’. We are hoping and praying that Catalyst will cause a reaction throughout the diocese, an exciting, positive reaction that results in our friends, families, neighbours, colleagues, and anyone else we meet, hearing the good news and responding to it.Please join me on the roadshow and let’s discover together how we can be catalysts in helping our neighbourhoods encounter the Lord Jesus Christ.The roadshow dates and times will be issued soon and will be publicised in the diocesan newsletter and through deaneries and ministry areas.