Live at Banff

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Greetings from #CBWCbanff2019! We are thankful for this time to be gathered with our sisters and brothers from across CBWC to be inspired and equipped and encourage each other in our journey of leading congregations large and small, rural and urban towards faithfulness to the ways of Christ. 

Keynote speaker Ken Shigematsu, author of Survival Guide for the Soul and God in My Everything, has been helping us think rightly about our personal journeys of devotion and rhythms of life. His vivid reminders of the love of our heavenly Father help consider how we will live out of the gratitude and peace that comes from knowing that we are God’s kids. We are invited to wear the yoke of the perfect love of the Father where Jesus will rest us. Ken invites us to daily put this yoke on for, when worn, the way we breathe and live and move in this world will be changed.   

Bible study leader Lissa Wray Beal took us on a journey through the Waters of Power, the Waters of Sorrow and the Waters of Comfort through Psalms 144, 137 and 23. Psalm 144 reminds us that our God, the One God, is all powerful and at work all around us, inviting us to join him.  The lament of Psalm 137 invites us to recognize that sorrow and pain are a part of this world and how to find our offering of praise in the midst of our anguish, anger and angst and to allow ourselves to be transparent and honest to selves and to one another as we minister and pastor.  And finally, after acknowledging our God is One and All, who walks with us in the midst of the sorrow, we find that oft elusive comfort of the Shepherd’s Psalm which helps reorient us again in our faith, our hope and our joy as the people of peace who rest in our Creator’s great love for us. Banff-pastors-3175.jpg

At the Church Planting booth, we’ve been asking questions with that lean towards communal practices through the spiritual rhythms of life. What does it look like to grow together, as congregations, toward Christ? Where do Shared Practices fit into the missional discipleship of our congregations? Some interesting feedback has emerged as we’ve asked these questions:

What value do you find in being around a table with your people?

  • Common goals
  • Time to connect relationally
  • Accountability, sharpening and spurring each other to good works
  • Fellowship
  • A Place to belong

What do shared practices look like for your congregation?

  • Practicing the spiritual disciplines
  • Book group of moms meeting to encourage each other weekly
  • One-to-one discipleship to read the passage together before Sunday morning

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Many of us hope to discover ways to develop shared language in the rhythms of our church communities that take us deeper into connecting relationally, into missional discipleship, into table gatherings where hearts, joys and sorrows are shared, prayed for and where living a life of faithful presence together becomes the core value of the church gathered and scattered.  Most of us who care for and love communities of people long to find ways to develop spiritual practices that grow both the congregation and the individuals into a deeper communion of loving God, others and selves with all our hearts, minds, souls and strengths.

Shared Practices form and shape us into a community on God’s mission together. Drop us an email to hear more about these and follow this blog forward as we continue the conversation started on this blog a few weeks ago. Click here for last week’s blog to download some of the Advent resources available at our table.

We are enjoying our time around the table with friends old and new. We are inspired as we listen to the stories of church planters and of pastors in long-standing churches who continue to faithfully bring the Good News of God’s already-and-not yet Kingdom to their neighbourhoods 

Please join us in continuing to pray for inspiration of the Spirit, renewal, and perseverance for CBWC’s pastors and their families as they head home today.

Walking through Advent Together

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Can you believe Advent begins in a month?  

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We‘re in a series discussing the importance of shared practices in missional discipleship. As the Christmas season approaches, we’d love you to consider whether Advent 2019 would be a good chance for your community of faith to be introduced to shared rhythms.  

Here’s why: Advent is a defined period of time when churches can focus thematically on reflection, hospitality, Scripture and prayer. During this season, churches likely already engage in shared practices such as eating together, giving generous offerings, incorporating Advent readings into Sunday gatherings, serving the poor, and perhaps even a daily Advent devotional or prayer guide. The kind of intentionality that we find in the weeks leading up to Christmas is a great foundation for exploring what deeper engagement in shared practices could look like in the broader church calendar.

 

The Forge Church’s Experience 

Shared practices as we’ve been introducing are not a new thing at all. The Jewish community of Jesus’ day practiced traditional spiritual practices throughout the year (Jesus emphasizes three of the main practices in Matthew 6, though as correctives to how they were being practiced).  These formed and shaped them into a community on God’s mission together when they practiced them in ways faithful to God’s ongoing redemptive plan of restoring all things together in unity. 

Utilizing the Advent season to introduce shared practices has been a rich and growth-inducing journey for Shannon’s church, the Forge. For two years now they have been digging deeper into what it means to be disciples together on God’s mission.  

The Forge has offered to share two resources: the Advent Guide they used when first implementing an intentional framework of shared practices for their congregation, and also the guide they used a year later as the shared practices were more established. As the folk at The Forge grew deeper together, so did their shared practices—and you will see that reflected in these two guides which are a year apart. 

The guidebooks are only one of the tools Forge uses to make room in their everyday lives to spend time both with God individually and as the scattered community of disciples who gather for a few hours during the week. 

 

Advent Shared Practice Resources 

Here are some other resources that you may find helpful in gathering your congregation or household in shared reflection and action throughout Advent: 

  • Advent Conspiracy is a multi-faceted movement to “celebrate Christmas humbly, beautifully, and generously.” They offer tools from inspirational videos and kid’s curriculum to a full-fledged book and small group series. Great to engage as whole churches or as a family, Advent Conspiracy was the basis for The Forge Church’s Advent Guide provided above. If you look further into the Advent Conspiracy resource, you may wonder how children felt about their parents engaging in the Spend Less (on yourselves) and Give More (to those who have less/not). Overwhelmingly, from small to teen, the kids at The Forge embraced this idea. So that’s just a plug for those of you who fear your kids not feeling like Christmas is Christmas. 
  • CBWC’s Advent Page provides samples of Advent devotionals, Advent readings and Christmas Eve service orders. 
  • Saturate’s “How to Make a Plan for the Holidays” is a short, simple and very practical guide to preparing for the season before it bulldozes us. Intended for use in small groups. 
  • Marva Dawn’s brief daily devotional Follow the Story takes a reflective bent as she walk slowly through the story of that first Christmas and invites us to enter into the anticipation of the coming Saviour alongside ancient like disciples Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Joseph and Mary. 

What other resources have you found helpful around Advent? Let us know by leaving a comment!

 

Why Shared Practices?

By Shannon Youell

I was listening to classic rock today and heard this song lyric: “Your own personal Jesus; Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares; Your own personal Jesus.”

The song bothered me. Not because I don’t have a relationship with God-With-Us that is quite personal in that I can talk with him and walk with him. Jesus is present with me, he saves me. But the lyrics bothered me because the prevailing god of our culture—in cahoots with the gods of consumerism and materialism—is individualism, the idea that my apprenticeship with Jesus is solely a personal journey that is all about me. Individualism leaves the church in the place where we no longer need one another to be Kingdom people.

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Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, tells a different story. He tells of a body that is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” He tells of how, as each part or individual works with the rest, the body grows and is built up. That “body working together” is what matures the whole and, thus, the individuals of the whole.

We certainly struggle with Paul’s teaching today because we place a high value on our personal journey with Jesus as the ultimate intent of our being Christ’s disciples. Mark Roberts in his commentary on Ephesians says this about 4:7-16:

The growth of individual parts is only implied. But verse 14, by use of the plural “infants,” shows that corporate growth and individual growth go hand in hand. If the body of Christ grows, then individuals will no longer be spiritual babies.i

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their workbook Missional Essentials have this to say about it:

Living in the 21st century presents a unique set of challenges for those of us in the developed world. Modern conveniences and technology certainly make chores and routine tasks easier, but they also coincide with a lifestyle of disconnectedness from others around us. For the most part, our lives are compartmentalized in such a way that we live with a lack of integration. We speak of our work life, recreational life, family life, and spiritual life. The result for many of us is a disintegrated life.

Many in the church are realizing that in order to counter the gods of consumerism, materialism and individualism that haunt and disintegrate our lives we must rediscover the ancient ways of living life together on mission. Many churches have discovered that rhythms of Shared Practices have made huge differences in the lives of their church community and in the discipleship of their members.ii

In my own church community, we have been perplexed—if Christ transforms us, why are we not seeing transformation in so many who are still stuck in the same cycles of spiritual immaturity? After several years of praying, discerning, and wrestling, we came to realize that all our good leadership, our good programs, our good teaching was designed to feed people. Jesus and the early church shaped communities of people, and in that shaping, needs were met and transformation of hearts, minds souls and strength were evident to one another and to those in the world they lived, worked and played in.

God created us to be community, in continual communion with one another, as he himself, is community: Father, Son, Spirit. Tod E. Bolsinger says this:

My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church—The People of the Table. I believe and want to convince you that “it takes a church to raise a Christian.

Here’s a caveat to keep in mind: we are not engaging in Shared Practices for the sake of doing something good together. We are engaging in Shared Practices so as to become more and more the image-bearers of God, in Christ, thus living lives both inside and outside the church that display the good news of God’s Kingdom life here on earth as it is in heaven. Shared Practices help many churches become counter-cultural and discover life in Christ in deeper, transformative ways.

 


 

i. Roberts, Mark: The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians

ii. There are so many resources, ancient, classic and new to help us lean into this. A few favorites are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luken, BTW by Derek Vreeland, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod E. Bolsinger and books by Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Mike Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco, Preston Pouteaux, David Fitch and so many others.

Creating a Culture of Shared Practices

By Shannon Youell

I know, I know, when you read today’s title, some of you are already thinking we already share practices in our congregation: each week we faithfully gather together to worship, fellowship, pray for one another and hear teaching on Sunday and, often, we gather in smaller groups during the week.

Yes, we do already share these rich times together. So good! We also encourage one another, rightly so, to spend time daily with God in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, confession and reflection for our own personal growth when we are not together. 

Yet, we believe there is a thicker definition of what it means to embody this kingdom life we’ve been called to. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he is always talking about a community of people who are 24/7 citizens of that kingdom participating in the practices, the devotions, and the mission of the kingdom together. And he frames it all in the midst of discipleship, something that one does not pursue individually, but rather in relationship to others. 

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Like many of our human innovations, the proliferation of published books/information has both enhanced humanity immensely and also fed into the disconnection and fragmentation of community.  There are so many amazing and wonderful devotionals, spiritual formationals, Bible studies, theological reflections and any other genre of book written, and we celebrate those and continue to encourage disciples of Jesus to pursue knowing God deeper, enriching people wherever they live, work, play and pray.   

However, partnered with our western-world philosophical adherence to individuality and self-help, and distrust of anyone telling us what to think or do, our endless Kindle reading lists can actually separate us from the ancient practices that built and sustained communities of the faithful, which made those early disciples distinguishable in the places where they were embedded and participated in the new kingdom community marked by the Jesus way. In our current reality, discipleship itself has become optional, an add-on for those who are wanting more than the service on a Sunday morning or who are viewed as more religious. 

Both Jesus and the early church demonstrated a journey of discipleship that was done within a community. Putting the idealized Acts 2 church into perspective, the people did not sit on the temple steps 24/7, forgoing work, family, civic duties and all the other components that make up humanity’s days.  I believe the point of that passage in Acts is that they were intentional to gather and be discipled together and that they were equally as intentional to continue these practices when scattered, resulting in a community that were being both shaped and influenced together.   

They were building a culture of discipleship that incorporated shared practices while scattered and that also enriched the shared practices of their gathered times. 

We like to say this is a thicker understanding of what it means to be church together because it expands what we do, say and confess as a people together into the other six and half days of our lives.  It takes our theology of what we believe and understand about God and his people to the place of praxis – what does that look like lived out? 

Dallas Willard calls nondiscipleship the elephant in the church.  He continues to say that the elephant is not the “much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing similarity between Christians and non-Christians.” 1 Rather, nondiscipleship is the underlying problem to those failures. It’s the thing that everyone knows fills the room but nobody really talks about, especially when challenged with the part of discipleship that makes us accountable to a community of fellow disciples.   

It is much easier (and safer) to just do whatever one does by oneself.  The barrier the church finds itself up against is that we’ve done a good job of making believers but a dismal pass on making disciples who make disciples, who are on God’s mission together to bring his kingdom shalom into the world. 

The good news is that God is waking up the church to this reality! In fact, it has been the Baptist historical ethos: whenever the church became too involved in self, God stirred up his followers to look around and see what is missing from their life together.  Those who yearn to see the church become distinguishable from the rest of culture recognize that what is missing in our life together is the together part—a people who are devoted to the journey of discipleship that actually continues to transform us more and more to Christ-likeness! The together part is bigger and richer and more formational and thus tranformational, enhancing all the other wonderful rich things we do when we gather for a service.  It is about shared practices—things we do together even when we are not togetherthings we do together as we engage being on mission with God to make disciples of all peoples and then teaching them to do the same. 

In this next series of blogs, we will be sharing what we’ve learned ‘as we go’ in the rich pathway of shared practices, including stories of our own congregations as well as those of other lovers of Jesus who knew there was more to this life as church than what we have been engaging in.   

Our purpose is that all of us as people who are faithful in our lives to God’s work in the world desire to see the culture around us be infiltrated with God’s goodness and kingdom. The reality is that before we can really see that happen, we must first shift our own internal culture into that of disciples on mission with Jesus. 

Follow with us, comment, email us, and let’s share this journey of going deeper and wider together by creating a culture of shared practices. 

In This Together

By Shannon Youell

Can I tell you what I love most about my role working in CBWC? That we are in this together, “we being you and me and each and every one of the people who do life together in our vast family of churches across western Canada.

In my role as Director of Church Planting and as part of the CBWC executive team, everything I, the rest of our team, and support staff do is geared towards participating with you in the shared priorities our churches affirm as most important to being faithful in following Jesus in discipleship and mission as the church.

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These shared priorities are your shared priorities! CBWC staff facilitates them on your behalf, because we are also you. We gather and worship and minister and serve in our CBWC churches in our home communities. Let’s re-imagine together how we can engage in that more and more as a whole family.

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1) Cultivating Leadership – I think every church desires to grow deeper in discipleship together and help encourage, develop, mentor, support and resource new leaders, young and old! Jesus calls us, together, to make disciples who can make disciples of others. This is the mission he commanded every one of us to join him on and we all take this seriously. Let us re-imagine ways we can help one another in our family of CBWC churches to see this dream flourish. Let us re-imagine ways we resource and support one another through our CBWC staff and through our partnerships with other member churches. One suggestion made is to help a smaller church support a part-time youth worker to develop the youth they have. Are we willing to add that shared ministry to our budgets?

2) Engaging in Mission – I’m pretty sure our common response to witnessing the baptism of a new believer who has committed to entering into a journey of discipleship within accountable communities of disciples is deep joy. I have had the amazing privilege of experiencing baptisms while I’m visiting churches. My heart rejoices just as much as if I had been a part of that person’s journey and baptized them myself! These are family, people who long to grow deeper and closer to Christ, in community, in the midst of brokenness, bad habits, imperfections and deep internal struggles. What a trust in other believers they are committing themselves to!

We all, as a network of churches, are a part of that story, because we are family! Let us re-imagine participating in our shared work with new churches with financial support, prayer, and joining in some of their local mission work. Churches who partner in this way, even with new churches a thousand miles away, experience the work as part of their own congregation’s mission – of course, since we are called by Christ to a common mission – together!

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3) Investing in Relationship – None of the above happens outside of relationship with one another. Empathy and understanding are activated when we sit down with another and hear one another’s stories, when we invest our time, our talent, our treasure into the lives of others. In my life, I have found my heart shifted so many times just because I took the time to invest in someone’s life who I knew of but didn’t know. When we engage this way, we learn to more deeply pray for one another, encourage one another and support our shared work of being on God’s mission with one another. We have so many opportunities to engage in relationships with one another. If we want to know and understand one another, support one another and pray informed prayers for one another, then we need to be listening to one another and sharing life together.

These are big hopes and dreams expressed by our churches. We are on mission together so let’s dive in even deeper together re-imagining old and new ways of being faithfully present to God, to one another and to the world. In what ways will you engage with all of us?

 

In Vancouver, the Concrete is Starting to Crack

Many of us know the history of our own congregations, but how about the landscape of our city? Do we understand the culture that surrounds us, and do we dream of the God’s redemption in that place? I hope that this article, reposted by permission from Flourishing Congregations Institute, will inspire you to look again at your neighbourhood with Kingdom lenses and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He is at work in that place.~ Cailey

By Frank Stirk

I’ve lived in the Vancouver area now for twenty-eight years, and in lots of ways it’s a different city from when I first moved here. Our immigrant population will soon overtake those born in Canada. Drivers and cyclists watch each other warily on crowded roads. New condos are going up everywhere. And yet housing is so insanely expensive that some are giving up and moving out. (At this writing, we also have the highest gas prices in North America.)

This city was founded in the late-1800s by fortune-seekers eager to exploit the region’s vast natural resources—lumber, fish and gold—and then move on. Most weren’t too interested in settling down, raising a family or building a community.

That’s still much the same today. “We’re a frontier town with a frontier mentality,” says Jonathan Bird, executive director of the faith-based CityGate Leadership Forum. “There’s a make-it-or-break-it, work-till-you-drop attitude. Or it’s ‘I’m here for a little while and I’m not going to sink deep roots, because I know I’m pulling them up in a few years or a few months.’”[1]

Vancouver was and is highly secular and materialistic. Churches have always had a hard time putting down firm foundations in such hard soil. As one visitor to Vancouver in 1911 wrote in her diary, “People don’t seem to worry much about churches out here.” [2]

Or as L. D. Taylor, the city’s mayor for eleven years between 1910 and 1934, explained why he turned a blind eye to prostitution and other such “victimless” crimes, “We ain’t no Sunday School town.” [3]

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And it still ain’t—I mean, isn’t. In 1888, there were six churches in all of Vancouver, which at that time was not much bigger than what’s now called the Downtown peninsula. Flash forward to 1988. As the map above shows [4], despite a massive ongoing influx of people into the area to occupy the thousands of apartments and condos that were going up, there were still only nine churches in essentially the same geographic area. (I don’t include the First Church of Christian Science.)

In other words, the net increase in the number of churches in the course of a century was a mere three.

But this is where it gets interesting. Through the 1990s and the 2000s, the number of churches in the peninsula grew slowly. But then starting in 2010—possibly as a result of the Winter Olympic Games that year that put Vancouver on the global stage—the numbers rose dramatically; by mid-2015, there were twenty-eight churches and church plants of many denominational stripes on the peninsula.

Never in Vancouver’s history has the city seen so much new Christian activity. Since then, a few of those churches have folded and a few have relocated outside the peninsula while a couple of other churches have relocated to the peninsula. But most of them are doing surprisingly well.

Alastair Sterne, the pastor of St. Peter’s Fireside, a conservative Anglican church in downtown Vancouver, recalls that even before the church began holding services in 2012, “someone on our launch team shared a prophetic word with me that has stuck. He saw God plant a seed in downtown Vancouver, and it grew roots beneath the streets, and it slowly expanded under the city. But eventually, what started as a small seed blossomed and grew and broke through the ground, the concrete, and filled every crack; what blossomed was seen all throughout the city.” [5]

I wonder—and I hope and pray—that other cities are experiencing this kind of divine activity.

Frank Stirk is the author of the new book Streams in the Negev: Stories of How God is Starting to Redeem Vancouver (Urban Loft Publishers).

——

  1. Jonathan Bird, interviewed on 21 May 2014 and 19 October 2016.
  2. Grace Morris Craig (1981). But This Is Our War. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 15
  3. Amy Logan (9 November 2017). “Exploring the hidden stories of Vancouver,” Metro Vancouver.
  4. City of Vancouver Archives, Downtown Church Directory, Vancouver, B.C. PAM 1988-72. Source unknown. It’s from a brochure that may have been printed jointly by downtown-area hotels and made available to their guests.
  5. Alastair Sterne (19 February 2018). “Remembering Jesus in Fog-Land.” St. Peter’s Fireside Blog,

 

Speaking a Different Language

By Shannon Youell

Sitting at the beach and staring at the waves, caught up in the rhythms of the immense forces that push and pull, I found myself in a pensive mood.

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I had earlier passed a church sign that read: “Wondering how you can be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved!” Traffic was stopped at that point and I stared at that sign, turning the words around in my mind until traffic began to flow again.

Watching the waves, I pondered that sign. Who in our North American context is actually asking themselves how to be saved? Who would even know what it meant to believe in Lord Jesus? The answer of course, would be people who had some sort of assumed knowledge of the God of the Bible, of Jesus as Savior and Lord. The sign makes sense to those folk even if they are disinterested, disengaged or done with church and religion.

But what of our increasingly secularized culture? We now have men, women and children who have no context to place that into. To them the sign is meaningless, and when stopped in traffic and reading that sign, would only give it a cursory glance as it is in a foreign language.

The unchurched people I hang around with and know are rarely asking themselves that question.  They don’t see themselves as needing saving, and indeed, they don’t see themselves as sinners.

For all intents and purposes, these friends of mine are the “Nones“.  They have no historical or cultural memory of the Christian religion and do not consider themselves religiously affiliated at all.

Which brings me to the tension I see in that church sign. How can I talk about God, Jesus and gospel to people who have no context or even belief in a God who actually cares about the world?  To many, our assumed ways of talking about the gospel are like a foreign language.
 
“Could you tell a gospel story in a way that resonates with the nones? 
What would it sound like? 
What does re-imagining the Gospel sound like? 
(I’m not suggesting re-inventing, I’m curious about re-telling.)”  Rohadi 

Rohadi, a young pastor in Calgary Alberta, expounds on this further in his blog on telling the gospel story without using church language, here.

Which brings us to our Engaging Gospel Series. The series is shaped to help us re-shape our language and find multiple entry points to engage the Nones and Dones in our lives and neighbourhoods.  We learn the language of the day so we might engage in conversation that can open doors to journeying with folk towards God, the cross and then to the understanding of how we can be saved in the midst of the brokenness of the world we live in.

The Engaging Gospel Series is a good place to start in your churches and your small groups, to learn a “new” language to help us tell this wonderful story to the culture of our day.  This is what missionaries do and have always done: learn the language and the culture of the people with whom they wish share God’s Big Story.

Engaging Gospel: A Fall reading list

By Shannon Youell

As in any recommended reading list, there are books that have challenged and stretched our thinking, books that we highlight every page, books that we can’t quite grasp the view being taken (yet feel compelled to explore further) and books that transform our thinking.  Though we may not agree with everything being developed, we have found within the pages much to help us understand the Good News in refreshing ways that encourage us to press in to being devoted, obedient followers of Jesus on mission.

Each books here has, in its own way, helped us to understand the Good News of God’s Kingdom both here on earth through Christ’s followers, and into all eternity beyond.

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The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – in the context of the Whole Story of God and Humans: Here is the main reading: the first four books of the New Testament. My premise is that we often forget the in-between story. We focus on the birth and the death and resurrection, the cross and the forgiveness that flows from that sacrifice, but somehow minimize  parts of the story in between.

All of it is the Gospel! All of it equally important to our understanding of God’s redemptive and restorative work in his world. Read these again and again and again. Find Good News in all of it.  Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord of all our lives, both now and forever.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard: The Gospel, which is Jesus, is thick and full when we integrate the salvation actions of Jesus (his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sinful natures and actions and his resurrection of invitation to new and transformed lives beginning here and now) and the teaching of Jesus.  It would be remiss to skip over the teachings, which Jesus spent the majority of his time in ministry saying and which pertain to how we live life as his salt and light in this life,  and just get to the wonderous glory of eternal life with God after our physical bodies leave this world.  They are not separate from one another.

Willard’s classic has shaped and reshaped Christians understanding of this for decades.  His treatment of the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, brings living colour to the mission of Jesus here on earth to inaugurate God’s kingdom creation of redemption, reconciliation and restoration to all his creation and created.

Living the Sermon on the Mount by Glen H. Stassen: In the same vein, Stassen and his earlier work with David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, helps us to see richly into the kingdom of God Jesus taught those first followers to live into.

Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us by Scot McKnight: Here’s a review of this book from pastor and author John Ortberg. “For too long, grace has been misunderstood as being nothing more than punishment avoidance. But God’s grace was flourishing long before the first sin was ever committed. Scot McKnight, in his thoughtful and provocative way, helps us think again about the comprehensiveness of grace and the robust nature of the gospel. This is a book for people who want not only to be ‘saved’ by grace, but to live by grace.”

And here’s what Ross Wagner, Professor of New Testament Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary has to say about it: “With grace, humility, and wit, (this book) offers a compelling vision of the breath-taking scope of the gospel—that in Jesus Christ, God is at work restoring broken people to full humanity in loving community with God and with one another, for the salvation of all creation…This is a message to be pondered, savored, embraced, and embodied.”

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper: “For all of us struggling with how the good news of Jesus should impact not just our own lives, but also speak to the injustices in our world, this book brings the threads together and paints a glorious picture of God’s redemptive work in creation.”  Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College.

We need to recover the whole Christian Gospel, the wholeness of the church, the wholeness of relationship….My wish is that Christians, and non-Christians alike, read this book.”  Jim Wallis, author

Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good by N.T. Wright: “What if the good news Jesus came to announce is much bigger, much better, and includes much more than merely what happens after we die? Scholar N.T. Wright reveals what the gospel really is how it can transform our todays just as much as our tomorrows.” Here’s a video from Tom Wright on the topic.

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright: Here’s the GoodReads synopsis: “New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reveals how we have been misreading the Gospels for centuries, powerfully restoring the lost central story of the Scripture: that the coronation of God through the acts of Jesus was the climax of human history. Wright fills the gaps that centuries of misdirection have opened up in our collective spiritual story, tracing a narrative from Eden, to Jesus, to today. Wright’s powerful re-reading of the Gospels helps us re-align the focus of our spiritual beliefs, which have for too long been focused on the afterlife. Instead, the forgotten story of the Gospels reveals why we should understand that our real charge is to sustain and cooperating with God’s kingdom here and now. Echoing the triumphs of Simply Christian and The Meaning of Jesus, Wright’s How God Became King is required reading for any Christian searching to understand their mission in the world today.”

Evangelism for “Normal” People by John Bowen: John was Professor of Evangelism at Wycliffe College from 1997-2013. I found this book incredibly helpful in understanding that very scary evangelism word. Cailey recently heard John speak and his comment was that he would only change one thing in the book if he were to write it again: He would move chapter 10, “What is the Gospel,” to the very beginning of the book.

John helps us see the Gospel and the things we believe about it in a way that takes the scary out of sharing the incredible Good News to those who are looking for good news in so many areas of life.  He looks at the many different ways the Big Story of God engages people…what might be amazing news that God is Father to one, may not get the next person so excited–but they might find God in the story of the creation of all things, or in physical healing or in deliverance from a shame they have carried around as a millstone. Good news must actually be good to the person hearing it and Jesus has shown us many ways to engage people and draw them into God’s Story.

What Good is God by Phillip Yancey: We’ve included the link  here to the introduction of this book as Yancey does a good job of raising questions our not-yet-Christian friends may have.

Do you have books to add to this list? Leave us a comment on the blog!

Find out more about the Engaging Gospel series.

The Gospel and Discipleship

As pastors, we want to lead people into a transformed life of discipleship and mission. But often people aren’t quite as interested or excited about discipleship and mission as we hope they would be.

As I’ve pastored churches as well as coached and consulted with all kinds of churches, I’ve noticed there is something built in to almost every church I’ve ever encountered that sabotages their best disciple-making intentions.

Fly, my pretties!

I remember wondering about this when I first got into all this stuff. My theology was being profoundly reshaped along missional lines. I saw a vision for Christian discipleship that was bigger than just people being nice until heaven.

I was so excited about it that I figured all I needed to do was tell people about it and they’d be excited, too!

All I had to do was announce the possibility of being on mission with God, and people would shout for joy and wholeheartedly dive into it. I thought that all people really needed was permission to live missionally, and it would become an unstoppable hurricane of love.

Well, that didn’t happen. Instead I found I had unleashed a profoundly stoppable puff of wishful thinking.

I was so eager to see all this wonderful stuff happen that I spent some time trying to convince people that it was indeed a good idea. I argued and cajoled and sermonized and encouraged and urrrrrrrged and inspired. All for naught.

Formation required

Something was missing. I began realizing that missional people don’t fall from trees. They are not called forth ex nihilo. They must be formed into the image of Christ before they’d be able to live on mission.

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But why hadn’t they been formed? These were people who attended church services regularly, led small groups, taught Sunday school… these people worked in the nursery, even! Why wasn’t all this activity and service resulting in spiritual formation in the likeness of Christ?

Enrolling in Jesus school

They hadn’t been formed because they had never fully intended to follow Jesus as his disciple, learning from him how to be like him. Faithful churchgoers can be some of the meanest people you’ll ever meet! Why?

Because events and practices (even good ones), in and of themselves, don’t magically make us like Jesus.

We must intend to become like Jesus, and engage in practices that form us in that direction in ways that form us in that direction.

So why don’t people want to become disciples of Jesus? Why don’t they intend to follow him in every area of their lives?

And here we are honing in on that one thing that seems to be built into most churches that sabotages our best intentions for discipleship and mission. This is the hidden reason many pastors can’t make disciples.

What’s in your good news?

That one stumped me for awhile, until I heard Dallas Willard ask this question:

“Does the gospel I preach naturally lead to people becoming disciples of Jesus?”

Putting it another way: Is becoming a disciple of Jesus the natural way to say ‘Yes’ to the gospel I preach?

The forgiveness gospel

Here’s a quick test: One popular version of the gospel states that your sins can be forgiven and you can go to heaven when you die.

How do we say Yes to this gospel? By signing the contract and believing the right things about Jesus. You certainly don’t need to become a disciple to say Yes to this gospel.

People who say Yes to this gospel hardly ever become disciples of Jesus because we can’t fathom why we would need Jesus for anything other than his blood. We are essentially “Vampire Christians” as Willard called them.

The do-good gospel

Let’s test another gospel: Another popular version of the good news goes like this: “We can do something about injustice.”

How do we say Yes to this gospel? We sign petitions and march in the demonstrations and volunteer at the food bank and advocate for the homeless.

Now, these are all great things to do. There’s nothing wrong with them (just like there’s nothing wrong with forgiveness). But we don’t need to become disciples of Jesus to do these things.

Again, discipleship feels like an “extra” thing. An add-on to the “main thing” for people who are into that kind of thing.

Under the logic of these kinds of gospels, why would anyone in their right mind become a disciple of Jesus? What use would it be? It certainly doesn’t help them say Yes to the good news they heard and believed.

Our only strategies are to “should” on people or just redefine discipleship to mean what people are already doing. Neither strategy helps us really understand why we can’t make disciples.

Recovering the gospel of the kingdom

So here it is. Here’s why we can’t make disciples. Here’s the factor built in to almost every church that sabotages discipleship before it even starts…

We aren’t preaching the gospel of the kingdom.

Instead we preach gospels that aren’t necessarily WRONG, but because they’re TRUNCATED they don’t naturally lead people to become disciples.

Here’s the truth to wrestle with: there is a DIRECT link between the gospel you preach and whether or not people become disciples of Jesus in your church.

What’s happening in so many of our churches is that because we preach a truncated gospel, we are inadvertently directing people AWAY from becoming disciples of Jesus.

So what kind of gospel results in discipleship? The gospel Jesus preached. The gospel the New Testament writers preached. The gospel the early church preached. The gospel of the kingdom of God.

Here’s how it sounds: “A new life in God’s kingdom is available to you right now. This very moment you can reach out and experience a with-God life, no matter your circumstances.”

This is the good news that INCLUDES forgiveness and justice, but so much more! It sounded audacious back then and it sounds audacious today.

Saying Yes by becoming a disciple

But if it’s true… if a new life in God’s kingdom is truly available, how do we say Yes to it?

This is more than signing a contract for afterlife insurance. This is an entirely new kind of life you need to learn how to live. It’s a life that will feel counterintuitive to everything you “know.”

To say Yes to that kind of gospel, you need to trust someone who knows how to live in God’s kingdom. In other words, you become a disciple of Jesus.

Living abundantly in God’s kingdom is what Jesus is “good at.” So listen to him, and trust him. Put his teaching into practice. As you do that, you’ll find that a new kind of life begins to work in you, and transformation begins…

Discipleship flows easily and naturally from the gospel of the kingdom, because the way we enter life in God’s kingdom now is by trusting Jesus.

Trusting him not just for forgiveness. Not just to let us into heaven when we die.

No, we trust him for everything: our daily needs, abiding joy and peace, and power to do the things he said were good and right and true and beautiful, to join with him in his activity in the world.

This leads to formation in character and competence in the likeness of Christ.

Which leads to everyday mission in the name of Christ.

Which leads to more disciples, because we participate in the mission of God by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, which leads to… people becoming disciples!

 

Visit the original article to connect with the Gravity Leadership community.

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

By Shannon Youell

In ministry, in church planting, in new initiatives, and in life and business, humans are always measuring. We weigh, we compare, we assess, we reassess, we deconstruct and we construct.  These processes are all good, useful and vital. However, we must be aware of what metric we are using in our measuring, comparing and weighing.

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What Does it Profit…

In a capitalistic society our metric is usually productivity and profit.  When productivity is high and profit is good, we consider things successful. When our children go to university and acquire a good career, we consider them successful (and we consider ourselves successful too!).  When our church is filled to capacity, we consider ministry successful.

The Gospel, however, demands a different metric; in fact, the entirety of the Story of God and humans demands a different metric. The metric of success as worshippers of God, disciples of Jesus, sent missionaries into our lived spaces, is faithfulness and fruitfulness. Here’s a helpful thought from Forge Canada on this paradigm shift.

Engaging Gospel: What Does Success Look Like?

As our church calendar moves towards the fall, and as CBWC Staff encourage our churches to join in the shared Engaging Gospel series,  we’ve been pondering what our metric or success in this series would look like.

One of our prayers is that, as we engage the gospel of the kingdom of God anew, we will find ourselves rediscovering how amazing and transforming it is. The God who loves us, in the midst of our brokenness, suffering and struggle to find our way, sends His Son Jesus to bring us back to the heart of God’s kingdom story.  Jesus’ great sermon expounds on God’s way of loving God, selves and others. He tears down the hierarchical boundaries of who is in and who is out by pouring out grace on all.

God’s great work of redemption, reconciliation and restoration begins with Jesus, as the one who calls humans back to God’s heart and reminds us of God’s covenant with us; as the one who is the last sacrifice for the sins of the world; and as the one who is Lord of our lives and to whom we pledge allegiance in how we live, work, play and pray.

Engaging the gospel is more than reciting God’s plan for these things, it is actually living into it in ways that bring healing, peace, hope, love, joy and grace to all people’s, to point them ever more deeply towards Jesus as king of our lives now and forever.

As we relearn, rethink and reimagine the gospel, and as we pray for God’s help in moving that gospel into the reality of our neighbour’s lives, we cannot help but be transformed ourselves to love God and others with everything we are and have.

Perhaps, then, we as a family of churches can begin to measure how we engage with people who do not yet know Christ yet. How do we care for those who have rejected organized religion as oppressive, or who cannot see God as loving because of the way humans, including Christian humans, have often treated one another?

Maybe it’s time to start counting the conversations our church members have with those of a different faith. Maybe should measure the instances of gospeling through both word and deed. In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman recommends creating an inventory of the many good deeds that a congregation is already involved with, and then  helping those involved to find words for the gospel that those deeds reflect (for example, what injustice is it addressing and why is the Gospel part of that story?).

Perhaps we can have in our metric the ways we, as already-believers, find our hearts expanded and our minds renewed to be disciples of Jesus who engage in the world in the way Jesus demonstrated and taught.

May we become demonstrators of Jesus’ way not as separated from the world to protect ourselves, but as friends who pour out our lives for the lost, the least and the last in both word and action.