An interview with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Church Mission Society will be participating in Thy Kingdom Come, a global wave of prayer for more people to come to know Jesus, which was initiated by Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop John Sentamu. From 25 May until 4 June (Ascension to Pentecost) we encourage everyone in the CMS family to join together with Christians around the world and ‘#pledge2pray’. You can read more at www. thykingdomcome.global
We asked Archbishop Justin, CMS patron, about the purpose of this prayer campaign...
What’s the vision for Thy Kingdom Come?
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples went to Jerusalem and prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The vision behind Thy Kingdom Come is to do just what these first Christians did – to pray, in faith, that the Holy Spirit would come and lead the way in witness and evangelism.
We know the Spirit always comes when we ask. Our prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit” at Pentecost doesn’t just stop with ourselves. We pray this so that we can be empowered for witness. Martin Luther gave us a definition of sin as the heart curved in on itself. You can apply that to the church – it can curve in on itself. The Spirit comes to un-self us, to turn us inside out.
On becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, you announced that one of your priorities would be evangelism and witness. Four years on, how are we doing?
The priority of evangelism and witness isn’t measured by a tick list or the amount of committee meetings we’ve had, or the number of initiatives that have been launched. It is measured by the lives that have begun to be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. It is about changing neighbourhoods, one life at a time.
A natural part of what we do as a church should be activities which introduce people to Jesus – to pray for them to hear his call for themselves and become his disciples. It’s not about initiatives and projects – proclaiming Jesus Christ is what we’re about. For me, some of the most wonderful moments of the last four years have been when I’ve been present to see people make commitments of faith. I think that above all the idea of evangelism is becoming accepted as a natural part of Christian living. Many dioceses in the Church of England and overseas are becoming involved; we recognise that we cannot leave witness to professional evangelists, or clergy, or bishops, but that it is a calling for every Christian. And to get away from evangelism as survival strategy to evangelism and witness as the overflow of what we ourselves have received from God.
People will listen when they see functional, welcoming and honest communities encountering all the problems we all do, but encountering them in the strength of Jesus.
The challenge remains to find the confidence to witness. Hence, Thy Kingdom Come.
Church Mission Society supports many people who are announcing the kingdom in all sorts of ways around the world. How has your own experience of CMS informed your life and ministry?
I’m always thrilled whenever I come across the work of CMS – to see the sacrifice, creativity and faithfulness of lives which are lived in the service of Christ for others. A crucial moment in my own journey to faith was going on the [CMS] Youth Service Abroad scheme to teach in Kenya in 1974; it was there that I first came across people who seemed to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and a whole lot followed as a result!
In these ways, the work of CMS as part of the economy of what God is doing around the world is something I want to take root and prosper.
What is mission to you?
Mission is the joy of proclaiming the wonderful work of God, by word and action, in a dark world, and doing so in response to the experience of God’s action in our own lives, of God having given us life and made us into the church, and in response to his call to be his witnesses.
At this time of international turmoil, politically, sociologically and spiritually, what can we learn from our brothers and sisters around the world where the church is growing despite the challenges it faces?
In particular we can learn that there are no ideal circumstances under which the gospel flourishes. We absolutely delude ourselves if we think the gospel can only be effective in certain environments. We also delude ourselves if we feel that the church can ever be perfect, or if we want to wait until it is perfect before we share the good news of Jesus.
The sacrifice of brothers and sisters who pay the highest price with their lives inspires me daily. The growth of church in those places encourages our hearts that God abandons no one, and works in brokenness and darkness to bring hope and restoration.
How can we pray for you?
I am incredibly humbled and moved by the number of people who pray for me. I think I must be one of the most prayed for people on the planet!
Please pray I would daily know the love and grace of Jesus Christ transforming me. Pray that I would, alongside all God’s people, play my part in serving his purposes at this time, by knowing what to do wisely, being patient to do it at the right time and courageous to do it properly.