“Go Out and Declare Christ”
We are interviewing bishops from around the Anglican Church in North America on engaging culture and best missional practices. Our third interview is with Bishop Julian Dobbs, CANA Missionary Bishop and Bishop of CANA East. We asked Bishop Dobbs about how he models a missional culture for his diocese and his words of encouragement for Anglican leaders.
With Bishop Julian Dobbs
Q. Bishop Dobbs, why do you think engaging culture with the gospel is important?
Bishop Julian Dobbs: It has always been important. It’s what Jesus did and what we are called to do. We are commissioned by Christ to do so. We are sent out by Christ to do so. In every generation, that has been the mission of the church, and it’s the same today.
Q. What kinds of questions/topics do you find helpful to bring up when engaging a post-Christian culture?
JD: When I enter into conversation and dialogue, I find it helpful to think about the result of that dialogue. Is it simply to build relationship or to fulfill the mandate of Christ? If it is the latter, as I believe it is, I have to ask, how do I engage in such a conversation so Christ can be introduced into it?
It starts before the conversation with prayer. I pray every day that God would give me an opportunity to share Christ. I then look for those opportunities in the midst of the conversations I have. It’s not so much asking a question initially as it is looking for an opportunity to respond to a God-given initiative.
That being said, I’ll ask questions about context or about personal situations. It depends on my environment. If I’m in an urban environment, I would usually ask about business, or in regards to political polity and policy. But if I was engaging in a rural environment, I’d ask different questions.
Q. Do you let your conversation partner know your intention right away?
JD: We need to be people of integrity in our conversations. That means declaring our hand as to who we are. I always encourage clergy to wear their clerical collars. We see many other religions on display—Buddhism, Hinduism, secularism. Why should we not display ours? When Christian leaders are not wearing their clerical collars, we might want to say Christianity is on display through our lives. But when I am wearing my collar, I have the most incredible conversations—in Starbucks, security lines, airplanes. People initiate conversations with me.
I urge you to put on your collar, take a book, sit at a Starbucks and see what happens.
Q. What are the biggest challenges your diocese’s churches are facing as they engage culture with the gospel?
JD: Anglicanism is predominantly seen as a religion of the white middle class in every context in which she operates: in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. Our challenge is to recognize that while that may be the history from which we have come, we are in a society that is very different. Our diocese is striving to reach beyond areas of familiarity into cultural contexts with which we might be unfamiliar. Through Christ, with service and love, we are learning to engage cultures that are different from our own.
In CANA, we have a special relationship with the Nigerian community. There are huge numbers of Anglican Nigerians in North America. The challenge to our congregations is engaging our Nigerian brothers and sisters, as well as the community, in relationship.
We must also ensure the community knows we are there. One of the primary ways we do this is through social media. Every single person I have talked to in any of our CANA churches tells me that they came to the church because they first sought it out on social media. The internet and social media is hugely significant to communicate the gospel message. I can think of one person who joined our church because they heard the bell ring, but everyone else has found the church through the internet. Our web presence and footprint are critically important. As leaders, we need to be stepping up our ability to use these tools for the gospel.
Q. As a bishop, what are your biggest challenges in the area of cultural engagement?
JD: My biggest challenge is to recognize that it’s nobody else’s task but ours to proclaim the gospel to the culture in which we live. The Lord has called us for such a time as this. We must all face this challenge, recognizing that Christ has commissioned us to go. He said “Go” then, and he still says “Go” now. It’s our responsibility to find the mechanisms and methodologies. We cannot attend church simply for ourselves. We come for God, to see ourselves strengthened, and to take the message beyond the walls of the church.
Q. What are some of the tools and resources you’re using to equip your clergy?
JD: A number of our congregations have publicly run, out of churches and homes, Christianity Explored. We have found this to be an incredibly well-planned evangelistic tool for post-Christian culture. It is written by Anglican evangelists for Anglicans. I encourage people to look at it as a helpful tool to reach their communities for Christ and engage their people in evangelism.
Q. How do you encourage a missional culture in your diocese?
JD: Mission has to come from the front. I encourage mission in Bible teaching from the pulpit so the narrative becomes missional. People start talking about it because they are taught about it, not from fancy programs or articles, but from their pastors from the pulpit. God the Holy Spirit will empower us for ministry as the Bible is taught. That is one of the tasks of the Spirit, to teach, empower and equip us for the ministry Christ has called us to fulfill.
Q. What do you see that Anglicanism has to offer our culture?
JD: Anglicans are reformed by nature; we’re reformed in our understanding of the Bible. We see the Bible as the word of God—all that’s necessary for salvation is revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments. We are not looking for a supplement for Christ or the word of God. That’s the foundation of who we are in Christ and in the Bible. That’s a great gift.
We also have an ancient yet modern understanding of worship. We have received something that has come down to us from the historic church. People have given their lives for the doctrine declared in our liturgies. We help newcomers understand that doctrine is something deep and rich, that it’s not about just singing songs or having a lengthy sermon. We are coming together to focus on Christ and be sent out on mission through the basis of our liturgical worship.
Q. Where do you see God working in today’s world?
JD: The most important place I see God working is in the fellowship of the Church. It’s Christ’s Church first and foremost. As God’s word is proclaimed, the Spirit is reforming, converting and changing our lives more into the image of Christ. I travel among many different churches week by week, and I see God powerfully at work in people coming out of backgrounds of addiction or abuse and finding healing in Christ in the fellowship of the church. I see God working in equipping men, women and young people to be his ambassadors in the world. All baptized Christians have a vocation. I see Christ working in the business area, the political area, the urban area, the rural area, as Christians are bearing the light of Christ in the world.
Q. What encouragement can you offer clergy who are on the ground engaging missionally?
JD: The congregational level is the highest level at which to serve. There, you have the greatest opportunity to impact the people committed to you for Christian mission and service. It can also be incredibly discouraging. The Enemy is at work to discourage Christian leaders. Tackle these things with prayer. What an incredible privilege to wash the feet of the people Christ has called us to serve, so they can be the people God has called them to be in the world. Look to God and be who he has called you to be.
Q. Do you have suggestions for books or other missional resources?
JD: Understand as much as possible about what Anglicanism is. It’s a gift you can pass on in your conversations with others. Look to Church Society led by Lee Gatiss for the resources they have.
Be sure who you are, positive about being an Anglican, and go out and declare the faith of Christ.
Bishop Julian Mark Dobbs is the Bishop of CANA East and has oversight of the clergy and congregations in the diocese. In addition, he is the Missionary Bishop of CANA and provides leadership to CANA’s ministry throughout North America. He and his wife Brenda, have made their home in Northern Virginia since 2006. Bishop Dobbs is passionate about the saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is committed to empowering congregations, supporting clergy, transforming injustice, inspiring local and global mission, and planting churches.