Bonfires in the Wilderness
Orvin Lao, Community Connections Pastor at Little Trinity Anglican Church, Toronto
Jesus considered His own followers to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Jesus here is affirming that those who claim to follow Him bear His Name and Nature, and thus are the bearers and beacons of divine light wherever they are found in the world. Jesus’ affirmation is also an ontological assertion, meaning that Christian people themselves are in their own nature and being light. Of course, the light of Christians is not intrinsic to themselves but is bestowed to them as a gift and a grace from the quintessential Light of the world: Jesus Himself. Christians then diffuse and reflect this Light of Jesus out into the world. So, just as light washes away the shadows of the world, the presence of Christians (or more accurately the presence of Jesus in and among the Church) dispels untruths, moral ambiguity, evil, depravity, chaos, and the demonic and Satanic forces from the world.
Now, what does this have to do with evangelism?
The classic stereotypes of evangelism are distributing religious pamphlets and tracts at a street corner, or standing on a soapbox and preaching religious monologues with a bullhorn, or knocking door to door to engage people in religious conversations: these methods prioritize the articulation, explication, and the doctrinal content of the Christian message. This approach to evangelism can be called the expositional approach. More recently, popular notions of evangelism involve doing deeds of charity, or being involved in social justice movements, or participating in rallies and protests for humanitarian causes. These methods prioritize the actions, the incarnation, and the practical implications of the Christian message. This approach to evangelism can be called the embodiment approach. Within evangelicalism, these two approaches have often been falsely pitted against each other as mutually exclusive priorities to evangelism.
If Christians are to be the light of the world, we cannot be just expositional or just embodiment. Being just expositional is like being an LED light, which is intensely bright but does not give off warmth. Being just embodiment is like being a space heater, which gives off heat but has no source of illumination. For Christians to be the light of the world, there is the essential element of illumination: the clear and brilliant revelation of God’s truth in the world; and there is the essential element of warmth: the sensation and affection of God’s love in the world. That kind of light resembles the light of the sun, which is the light that gives literal life to our world.
While Christians are not expected to be the ultimate source of light in the world, we can be as bonfires in the darkness of this world’s wilderness. The flame of our Christian faith brings both light and warmth to those around us, that our neighbours may see and feel the light of Jesus in and through us. Jesus affirmed both the expositional and the embodied nature of our light: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Two things: people must visually “see” and observe this light; it must be exposed to them by encountering it by “good deeds”—an enacted and embodied display of the light of Jesus. The hope is for our neighbours who see our light to then return in praise to God; that is, to reflect and bounce back to God their worship.
Evangelism as light is both expositional and embodied: to shed the brilliance and illumination of God’s revelation in Jesus to others, and to affectionately embody and enact the practical goodness of God’s love for all people.
What We Are Reading
The Imperfect Board Member
One of the elements necessary for any congregation or parish to flourish is strong leadership and effective leadership development. Of course, there are various levels of leadership ranging from executive, pastoral or clerical leadership, lay leadership, denominational leadership, and a variety of other levels besides. But one level that seems to be the least understood and/or appreciated is what we would call Board of Council leadership. The degree of complexity associated with any given board and the level of governance involvement expected will vary greatly depending on the nature of the organization.
Jim Brown’s book, The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence, is written through the lens of years of his own personal experience both in the non-profit and corporate worlds as well as his years of walking with dysfunctional boards towards excellence in governance. It is his conviction that boards are to direct and protect, and in order to do that, they must connect, expect, and correct. By avoiding heady corporate jargon and by presenting his material through the story of one board member’s journey, Brown makes the work of a board intelligible and accessible. Applicable insights can be found for boards of large corporations as well as small non-profits – including churches. He writes from the conviction that WalMart greeters get more orientation than the average board member in most organizations. This book is an excellent means of beginning to address this deficiency.
Rev. Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor Emeritus, Ambrose University
Latest Resources from the Institute
Religiosity in Canada and its evolution from 1985 to 2019
In recent decades, the religious landscape in Canada has undergone significant changes, including a decline in religious affiliation and the practice of religious activities, both collectively and individually. Data from several cycles of the General Social Survey were used in this study to paint a portrait of the diverse relationships Canadians have with religion. The study also presents key trends in the evolution of religiosity in Canada since 1985. Download Report.
How might churches flourish after the pandemic? in Faith Today.
This article explores some of the realities that churches might anticipate moving forward, with focused attention given to innovation and engaged laity. Read Report
Report on Catholic Parishes in Canada
This report captures the descriptive findings on perceptions and experiences in areas such as congregational identity, leadership, innovation, discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, neighbourhood involvement, and evangelism within Catholic parishes in Canada. Download Report
Discipleship from Catholic, mainline and conservative Protestant congregant perspectives in Canada
This article investigates discipleship in Canada, with a focus on spiritual and discipleship practices and processes that help to facilitate spiritual growth among congregants. The data shows how those in each denominational tradition understand the spiritual practices and discipleship processes that aid in their spiritual growth, and also reveals the importance of a congregational context that is welcoming, safe, and caring as precursors to effective discipleship. Download Article
Gotta Have Faith | Context
Watch Director of Flourishing Congregations Institute, Dr. Joel Thiessen, on Context, as he speaks about the trend of church attendance and the importance of religion across Canada. Watch Now