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With the death of Chappo, famous and influential Sydney Anglican preacher/evangelist, the question has been asked by Michael Jensen: Where are the evangelists?

This is a good question to ask and Michael asks it well in this article. And as always he makes a number of great points.

Here would be my thoughts:

1) The world is a different place.

I think Michael’s right about this, as seen in the difference in the Billy Graham crusade in the late 50s compared to those in the late 60s and 70s. The big crusade/gathering has dropped off in effectiveness. Even the smaller, local evangelistic events have dwindled in their impact. And I think Jensen’s right in that part of the reason is because of bad to mediocre preaching at these types of things has meant we don’t trust them much anymore.

2) The title Evangelist is out of fashion

Now I’m not wanting to claim to speak for every person, but my sense is that the title “Evangelist” is unfavourable. People seem reluctant to claim it for themselves or bestow it on someone else.  Part of this seems to be that the title sounds kinda pretentious. Part of it is probably that those of us in the younger generations aren’t overly impressed with titles to begin with, let alone a pretentious sounding title.

But these two factors, and your persuasion-mileage may vary for each of them, aren’t the main issues in my opinion.

3) This is an issue wider than just “Where are the Evangelists?”

Sydney Anglicans are about to enter what seems like a leadership vacuum. The acknowledged and greatly respected leadership of the Diocese are dying or retiring soon. And there’s a vacuum underneath them. And these are great ones who are highly respected and for good reason. Chappo is a good example of one of them. What an impact he has had. A clear leader who others looked to. But this seems a wider issue than simply evangelists. Options for Archbishop are slim pickings.

It seems like the heaviness and influence of those currently at the top has been so great that those underneath haven’t needed to develop much. Not that they aren’t amazing men and women who could have, just that they never needed to or had the space to.

My point is this seems wider than just Where are the Evangelists. This seems more like: Where is the next layer of leadership? It appears like it’s skipped a generation and so now it’s the young leaders in the Diocese who seem like they are the next leaders in the Diocese. And yet when we’re talking young guns we’re still talking about people who are all in their early to mid 40s. What about the young leaders in their 20s and 30s?

4) And here’s the brutal fact

Amazing leaders who are gifted and who can do so much on the strength of their giftedness and personality but who cannot build into the next generation so that it is better and goes further than they themselves ever could are of only limited value. Good but not great.

Leaders who run organisations or Dioceses not perfectly but still brilliantly, but then when they are not around those organisations fall apart or manifest large holes, probably shouldn’t be labelled great. Good but not great.

Succession makes the good great. Investing in the next generation so that my ceiling is their floor is surely one of the main tasks of the leader. And certainly would be high on the agenda in the second-half of a leaders projected tenure.

And certainly it seems the case that the current great ones in Sydney are exceptionally gifted. And maybe in some sense the confluence of all these great ones at one time was a unique moment in history. And I’d guess a case could be made for that that would be fairly persuasive. So I don’t want to deny the extraordinary gifts of these men, giftedness that simply may not be present in those who follow behind them, though I’d be less persuaded by that point.

But even if that were the case, it would be a strange thing if there was actually a vacuum below this top layer. If such a vacuum did exist that would signal that something has gone amiss in the leadership of that top layer.

Succession makes the good great.

5) Greatness is made not born

And I’m not sure that there are no great ones in the ranks below. Though they may not be great at the moment. But I really believe greatness is made.

Yes people are born with gifts. Yes people have different aptitudes. Yes people have different ceilings for their skills that they will not be able to go beyond. But those gifts and skills also need to be developed. Wisdom needs to be accrued. Experience needs to be gained.

Chappo in his prime was better than Chappo in his early days. He got better.  He had potential that he then grew into and realised as he honed his craft. His greatness was made.  He didn’t come out of the womb a great evangelist. He progressed.

So I dare say there’s probably not someone as good as Chappo currently floating around the Diocese. But there might be someone as good as Chappo was when Chappo had been preaching for the same amount of time.

There’s a danger of comparing one finished product with another that’s still in process.

There may be a someone, or more likely a whole slew of people, currently in the Diocese with Chappo-potential or even greater. They may be in their 40s. They may even be in their 30s. They may even be, heaven forbid, in their 20s. Imagine if they were still in their teens!

Who is investing in them and training them and encouraging them and building them and giving them opportunities?

Now sure, every person has responsibility for themselves and their own development. People shouldn’t wait for things to be handed to them. They should be proactive, even in creating their own opportunities.

And no doubt people are investing in the next generation and training and developing people. But it’s probably ad hoc and of varying quality. But it’s not Diocesan-wide. And if  “the Diocese” wants them, “the Diocese” should probably start looking and perhaps helping invest in them.

6) The Evangelists are out there

Now I don’t know that for sure but I’d be pretty confident it’s true. And I’d be ultra surprised if there was actually literally none.

But they’ll be hard to spot because they won’t be as good as the Chappo benchmark. Because while he was around they never needed to be that good, they never needed to step up.

But now he’s gone. And now they do.

And so now it’s time for a generation to rise up.

And if the 50s and 40s won’t do it, maybe the 20s and 30s will.