“Engage Them on Their Own Turf”: An Interview with Bishop Quigg Lawrence
In our “Bishops on Mission” series, we’re interviewing bishops from around the Anglican Church in North America on engaging culture and best missional practices. Our fourth interview is with Bishop Quigg Lawrence of the Diocese of Christ Our Hope. We asked Bishop Lawrence about barriers to communicating the gospel, his greatest missional challenges, and what Anglicanism has to offer our culture.
With Bishop Quigg Lawrence
Q: Why do you think engaging culture with the gospel is important?
Bishop Quigg Lawrence: I love the story about Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, who in his early days as a minister, was looking out of his church office window. He saw many teens—none of whom went to his church. The Holy Spirit spoke, “Jim, how will they know me if you do not get out of your office and go to them?” Rayburn did go, and God used his humble obedience to begin a relational ministry with teens that would become Young Life. Rayburn saw. Rayburn cared. Rayburn went. Rayburn loved. Rayburn discipled.
Too often what I think is important on a given day is my own comfort, safety, riches, food, sport and being liked. Basically, the idols that my flesh gravitates toward. But as one whom Jesus Christ has rescued and made a child of God, I no longer have to be enslaved to my wandering desires; my desires no longer have to be center stage; I have new marching orders and a new reason for being.
In Mt. 28, Jesus clearly commands us to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…teaching them to obey everything I have taught you…” The call to engage the lost with the Gospel and to make a respectful defense of it is taught clearly in 1 Peter 3:15, “…honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”. The Gospels show Jesus, again and again, going to where the people are and engaging them on their own turf.
I have recently considered how completely selfish it is of me to hoard the Gospel. To experience the love of God in Christ and to keep it a “secret” from friends who are blinded and piercing themselves with many griefs as I was.
Q. What kinds of questions/topics do you find helpful to bring up when engaging a post-Christian culture?
QL: The most effective questions/topics definitely depend on who you are talking with. Christians are famous for “scratching where the lost are not itching,” which irritates the heck out of the lost and quickly frustrates us. So, the question to ask is, where is this person I am friends with hurting? Where are they expressing frustration? Where are they broken? Where are they hopeless? What robs their peace of mind?
Everyone thinks all non-Christians want to talk about is abortion and homosexuality. Those certainly are important subjects to many and I am not afraid to engage in those conversations, but I would argue that day in and day out, most (lost) people have other, more pressing personal questions and struggles.
Jesus asked a lot of questions. So should we. And we should listen to both what people say and what they communicate indirectly. When they reveal “where they are itching,” we must scratch there. In other words, respond to their needs.
Q. What are the biggest challenges your diocese’s churches are facing as they engage culture with the gospel?
QL: I think many of our churches are doing a great job engaging culture; I am blown away by how many of our clergy read and think deeply and spend significant time in coffee houses, pubs, ball fields and other places the unchurched gather for the expressed purpose of getting to know them and hopefully developing a relationship that opens the door to things of the kingdom.
One parish, Church of the Incarnation in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has set a high-water mark of creatively engaging their city. Through their Café Veritas they bring in some of the Church’s sharpest minds to address the challenging questions that people in their city are wrestling with.
But we as a diocese and as Anglicans definitely have to overcome some barriers. Many Americans think Christians are narrow-minded bigots. Many think we only care for babies while they are in the womb. There is a false narrative that “break-away Anglicans” broke away because we hate gays. That is a lie. Most of our churches are not break-away churches; many of us were kicked out or are new church plants. And we are amongst the most gracious people I know because we ourselves have received the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.
One of the challenges in the ACNA is that many of our churches are very small and most are under resourced, operating on 15-20% of the resources God would give if we were serious about teaching stewardship. Some of us, myself included, may love our comforts and particular practice of religion too much…more than we actually love the lost. That sounds harsh and I cringe to even consider it, but we must always look at the fruit of our lives and ministry. Look at the number of new disciples being made per dollar given. By the power of the Spirit, we can do a lot better. I can do a lot better.
I am not suggesting we dispense with robes, ritual or rubrics, but I am suggesting that until we have the broken heart of Jesus who stood weeping outside Jerusalem saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling”…then we will not have the internal motivation to risk engaging culture, risk their rejection and risk lowering the ramp to help the unchurched understand what we do and why.
Q. As a bishop, what are your biggest challenges in the area of cultural engagement?
QL: My biggest challenge would be my inordinate love of the world and slothfulness; both are snares that keep slow me down and divert me from the King’s business.
Q. What are some of the tools and resources you’re using to equip your clergy?
QL: We try, albeit imperfectly, to model engaging culture with the Gospel. Not just from the pulpit—anyone can do that—but in our day-to-day lives. There is no tool in the tool bag more effective then saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ” and “Do what I do” rather than “Do what I say.” Spend time with lost people. Pray for lost people. Love lost people.
Our ordinary, Bishop Steve Breedlove, has done an incredible job consistently teaching and mentoring our clergy at synod, clergy days, regional retreats, clergy retreats and in many other ways. He is humble enough to bring in the brightest and best to help stretch, equip and grow us.
Q. How do you encourage a missional culture in your diocese?
QL: It may be a pretty obvious answer, but we invest a high percentage of our treasure of time and money in mission. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart as well.”
Our diocese invests right at 50% of all pledged income into missional church plants. We spend a majority of our time together thinking, praying, planning, strategizing, and executing mission. It is not relegated to a small committee. It is in our DNA. My own parish invests approximately 30% of our general income to mission outside our church.
Q. What do you see that Anglicanism has to offer our culture?
QL: The Lord. Word. Sacrament. Community.
We have Jesus Christ and His Word to offer. To paraphrase pastor Jim Cymbala, the Lord and His Word are more wonderful than all the changing fads and gimmicks being served up in place of the Gospel. Not only is cleverness ineffective but it is counterfeit. Cleverness has no power to bring life.
Many of our churches are in the Bible Belt and attract formerly churched who have never experienced the power of weekly Holy Communion. 1 Cor 10:16 says, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? John 6:53-56 makes a strong tie between taking the Lord’s flesh and blood and life, even eternal life.
New people that come to our church often remark at how our worship services so clearly focus on the Lord and how highly participative our worship services are.
Those coming from a non-denom background find the spiritual accountability of the Anglican Church a welcomed safeguard and also LOVE the worldwide, multicultural nature of the Anglican family.
Q. Where do you see God working in today’s world?
QL: Ironically, I see the Lord at work in the bitter acrimony of political division, sexual brokenness, social media wars and painful broken lives and families. Those who are well have no need for a physician. But those who are sick do! God, in a brilliant show of mercy, is using the brokenness and ugliness that our flesh and the Devil produces to bring men and women, boys and girls to the end of themselves and to turn to Him.
Q. What encouragement can you offer clergy who are on the ground engaging missionally?
QL: Stay connected to Jesus Christ, His word and His Church. He is our Vine. Apart from Him we can do nothing.
Q. Do you have suggestions for books or other missional resources?
QL: My office at home and at work is filled with books. I have learned a good deal from a few of them. But the best missional resources we have are the Bible and those mentors who are bearing missional fruit. Dave Ramsey might be a little nerdy in his never-changing blue shirt, but I love his advice: “If you are not good at something, find someone who is and learn from them.”
Bishop Quigg Lawrence is the rector of Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Virginia, and Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Christ Our Hope. He was consecrated in 2013 as a bishop of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and the Anglican Church of North America. Quigg’s passion for missions has led him to church planting in 4 countries and establishing new Young Life areas stateside. Quigg and his wife Annette have been married since 1986. They are a powerful team as they partner in life, ministry, and feeding uninvited guests. Outside of church, you can find Quigg pursuing one of his many hobbies including hunting, cycling, and any sport where you can hit something.