In January, eleven E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism gathered in a web conference in which they shared how they are expanding beyond changing and equipping new leaders to focusing on evangelism in the local church. These experts in Wesleyan-tradition evangelism logged in from the U.S. coast to coast, as well as from Germany and Russia.
While the professors have gathered on an annual or biennial basis in the past, this virtual meeting was a first for the group, and future gatherings like it are planned. The participants shared that it was great to hear what their colleagues were working on, and at several times during the conversation encouragement was given, connections were made, resources shared, and suggestions given for collaboration.
Several themes became apparent throughout the discussion. A need to equip small churches was voiced, especially in areas where attendance is declining. Several shared of their experience with students eager to try new models of evangelism applicable to their context such as “Dinner Church” and “House Church” as well as church gatherings that take place in and address the needs of the community. Most of the professors shared recent publications or those in the works. In April, Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe at Wesley Theological Seminary will release, The Adept Church: Navigating Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Abingdon Press).
Rev. Dr. Stephen Gunter, director of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism program for the FFE, reflected that it was good for the professors to be able to connect in this way. By seeing one another and sharing more frequently, it helped them to feel less isolated and part of a larger cohort .
Changes In the Classroom
Technology has changed the way many of the professors teach. Several cited that their seminary has multiple campuses or offers online courses for students working remotely. This use of technology has allowed better engagement with students and has in some cases been a bridge for church leader training outside of the traditional seminary track.
Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale has been leading the “Evangelism for Non-Evangelists” online courses for several years now through Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Having helped Teasdale and other professors lead many webinars in her previous role as Director of Evangelism Ministries at Discipleship Ministries, Rev. Dr. Heather Lear noted that technology has enabled many second career pastors and local pastors to get the training in evangelism they need in an accessible way. Heather is now serving as Teaching and Research Fellow for the FFE and is working on more ways to engage the E.S.J. Professors in training the local church using media and technology as a resource. Last fall, she was able to engage three professors of evangelism (two of which are ESJ Professors) to expand on that webinar and explore the concepts more in-depth. “The E Word” webinar series was offered to previous participants in Teasdale’s webinar as well as a select group of church leaders, laity and Foundation for Evangelism partners and friends.
Connecting Church and Community
Increasingly, part of the work of the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism is expanding to study and facilitate connection between church and community. Rev. Dr. Angel Santiago Vendrell at Asbury Seminary Orlando shared that he is working with a small parish near a difficult area of town to foster relationships between the church which is predominantly white, and the neighborhood which is predominantly Hispanic-Latino. Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe shared about his work with the Lewis Center for Church Leadership (he is currently the director in addition to his position as an E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism). There, he says, he works with students as well as church leaders, clergy and laity to help churches become more viable and engaged with their communities, taking the Gospel outside the church and not waiting for people to come to them.
The Foundation for Evangelism’s president, Jane Wood, shared that as a lay leader in her annual conference, it was great to hear the professors thinking beyond the academic institution and finding ways to prepare leaders – both clergy and laity – for a culture of evangelism in the local church.
Collaboration for Greater Impact
The professors also discussed collaborative projects. Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith (written by Powe and Rev. Dr. Hal Knight) will be translated into Spanish in 2020 through a grant from the FFE. Rev. Dr. Santiago will be the reader on that project. The professors plan to share syllabi to help them shape their classes in evangelism to better equip students. Rev. Dr. Achim Hartner from Reutlingen Theological Seminary in Germany expressed his excitement about presenting alongside Rev. Dr. David Whitworth (Gammon Theological Seminary) and Rev. Dr. Daniel Shin (Drew Theological Seminary) at the 2020 Wallace Chappell Lectures tentatively scheduled for June at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Ga.
Throughout the conversations, it was apparent that The E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism are not just teaching in a classroom but are actively engaged in connecting to and equipping the local church through leadership training and resource development. Each one expressed a love for the local church and a desire to help equip them to be an authentic voice to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with their communities.