And the Lord added daily…

By Cailey Morgan

I held the tiny cup of wine and the flour-dusted triangle of pita bread in my hands, thanking God for the tangible reminder of His love. Surrounded by people I’d only met once, as I ate that bread that symbolized Christ’s body I declared that we are part of His body, the church.

Twenty minutes later in a downstairs room with a piece of cake in one hand and steaming cup of coffee the other, I stood next to a woman simultaneously sister and stranger. The moment seemed almost as sacramental as the breaking of bread we had just shared in the sanctuary above. Her eyes gleamed as she shared stories of what God had done over the past year: “It’s like we’re living in a miracle,” she said.

Before I could respond, applause broke out across the fellowship hall. I must have looked confused because the woman laughed as she informed me “that woman over there just decided to give her life to Christ. See! God just keeps doing this!”

Conversions like this are common at Emmanuel Iranian Church. Larry and Erna Schram and I were at the gathering on January 4 to celebrate the launch of EIC’s Coquitlam campus, a multiplication out of their mother church in North Vancouver. The North Van campus, a young church plant itself, baptized over 300 people in 2019.

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During the service Larry shared from the early church’s way of life in Acts 2, pointing to both communion and meals together as remembrances of Christ’s body.

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It was my honour to participate in commissioning Pastor Arash Azad and the congregation to join God’s Kingdom work among the Farsi-speaking population in Coquitlam, and then joining EIC in Scripture study, prayer, communion and fellowship—living out the words Larry had spoken over us.

Although each of us may live out a little bit differently, all CBWC’s congregations are  linked together as a people through elements of life together such as those four: teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, prayer.  

Next time you partake of communion with your local community of God’s people, take a moment to remember that we are as much a representation of God’s love and sacrifice to world as the wafer or morsel of bread you twirl between your fingers. The way we live and love together as congregations and as a family of churches tangibly speaks of the reality of Christ’s reign in the world.  

Next time you drink the wine—or juice—of the new Covenant, swallow it down with abandon, purposing in your heart to cling to one another and to these shared practices just like the early church did in Acts 2:42-47, stubbornly pursuing Christ and community for the sake of the world. 

As Emmanuel Iranian continues to walk in the ways of Christ and the footsteps of the early church, my prayer is that they would indeed enjoy the favour of all the people, and that God would continue to add to their (our!) number daily those who are being saved. Amen. 

 

 

 

Celebrating a Decade of Engaging in Mission

By Shannon Youell

One of my year end research projects has been answering a request from one of our churches. In the gathering of the information to respond, I was reminded, again, of how God is always with us and at work even when we are so close to the work that we don’t quite see it.

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I will be candid here: I can personally become discouraged and slightly cynical, in that as we pour ourselves out to serve Christ in our world, are we making any inroads, any difference at all? Are lives being transformed towards God’s goodness and Shalom, are churches thriving, are those living in darkness being exposed to the light of the world? 

And the answer, of course, is yes, because God is ever present and at work always—we simply join him! I invite you to reflect on these handful of reminders and allow your hearts and spirits to soar with the joy of participating in the good, true and right work of the kingdom of God in our midst. 

The task of the little research project was to go back ten years and report on how many churches have been planted, established and affiliated with CBWC since 2010. What a delight to put the information on a page that stared out at me stating CBWC churches are truly Engaging in Mission! New churches planted and coming into affiliation with our family are churches reaching people we hadn’t and haven’t yet reached. This is mission! This is what we are all called to be engaged in: go and make disciples everywhere that people are not yet following Christ’s ways. 

Since 2010 our CBWC family has planted and welcomed 27 new congregations! Five of these are in their first five years. Another three are currently in their pre-launch year which brings to a total of eight currently in their first five years! We anticipate those three groups to launch in 2020 bringing 30 new congregations in 10 years! We also have new congregations planted within existing churches as part of their expanding engagement in their communities. To the best of my knowledge we currently have six of those congregationsall new in the last ten years! That’s a total of 36 new gatherings of people who are growing in discipleship and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

I hope you are hollering out a hearty Praise God!  

Each one of these new churches and gatherings are the result of much prayer, much discussion, much wrestling, sorting, planning, training, coaching, encouraging, dusting off and going forward on the part of the planters, the core members and the Church Planting staff. Investing in Relationships and Cultivating Leadership, one to another, is how we roll! We have been blessed with the immense privilege of walking with these groups and have grown deep heart relationships with so many who labour in the Kingdom work. 

As we all look forward into 2020, let us treasure up these things in our hearts as an encouragement and a testimony of God’s working in us and through us for the glory of Christ, now and forever! 

Reflection on Psalm 42

Although Advent is now over and we look ahead to the New Year and what it brings, we thought it important to take one more glance back into that season of waiting and longing.

As we step into 2020 what will our intention be around our pace and posture as children of God? Consider this Advent reflection from Anglican minister Rob Crosby-Shearer and don’t let the moment pass you by without an internal look at the state of your heart. This article was originally posted December 16, 2019 and is shared with permission from the New Leaf Network. ~ Cailey

By Rob Crosby-Shearer

If you grew up in pretty much any part of the church in the 1980s or after, you probably have memories of the almost-acceptably-cheesy praise song “As The Deer” which is based on one of our readings for today – Psalm 42.

If that is the case, and you have some baggage around that version (or even if you love it) – I’d like to ask you to reconsider this Psalm as a deeply resonant, powerful statement of trust in God, call to rest – and (even!) to rage against oppression.

I’ve been an activist, involved in radical faith-based non-violence civil disobedience movements for about 25 years now. At first glance – and especially if we have the 80s song running in the background as our soundtrack, it’s probably all too easy for us protestor-types to feel that a Psalm like Psalm 42 is little more than a distraction to movements for change.

But way back in the 4th century, the North African Bishop, St. Augustine noted that, for him, Psalm 42 summarized all the longings of the Church. Of course, we often read it more individually (as in the praise song!) – and that’s okay, too.

There’s something deeply compelling about the idea that our “souls longing after you” is not just about Jesus being “the apple of my eye” (yes, the 80s song included that in one verse – though it isn’t from the actual Psalm).

Perhaps Augustine’s take that this Psalm isn’t just about the individual – about me-and-God, or me-and-Jesus – but it also about the Church – or even the whole Creation longing – perhaps that helps with this.

“Longings,” Augustine said. Advent is, for us Jesus-followers, a season of longing. Longing for peace.  Longing for wholeness. Longing for the coming of the Prince of Peace. Longing for the whole New Creation to take root. Longing for a world where we are blessed with the very presence of the living God.

O come, Emmanuel. We long for you.

We long for the world to be made right. Come. Be with us.

And I think that the activist in me might also dismiss this Psalm if I hadn’t burnt out 2 or 3 times now on the protest and truth-speaking side of my Christian life. For the longing is so deep – and we are in need of God-with-us to root us in something bigger.

Years ago I came across a quote from the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton – which spoke deeply into my own activist life and the cycle of work and burnout that it was inadvertently fostering:

Merton said this: “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Place that Merton quote beside Psalm 42, which, undoubtedly, he would have known well – since he would have chanted all 150 Psalms each week.

What a gift then, is Advent. To slow down and seek after the Living God as an out-of-breath deer seeks water.  And what a gift is a Psalm like Psalm 42 which roots our call to protest and truth-telling in the trust of the living God. What a gift that we are part of a grand scheme where in the mystery even “deep calls to deep.”

Which is good. But we still might wonder – with all this pastoral imagery about deer and water-brooks, thirsting for God, and longing – sure, it touches on our need, but does it do much more to rage against the death machine?

Well, if you read on in the Psalm – there is a fair bit of truth-telling, too – though those lines don’t make it into our praise songs so much.

Toward the end of the Psalm, we learn that the need for being like a deer seeking water is because of oppression:

“Why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?  

While my bones are being broken my enemies mock me to my face”

How do we rage against such violence and oppression? We do so by seeking to be like a deer longing for a stream as a metaphor for our whole beings longing for God. We do so by rooting ourselves in the living God – and not getting wound up into the violence of our own activity-ism.

And so this Advent we seek to fill our longings in this God for whom we wait – who will set all things right.

And so we cry – O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

And, Lord, until you do come, sustain us in our prayer and protest – for you alone are our strength and shield.

God-With-Us is Hope 

By Shannon Youell

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day? 

How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” 

This plea, this lament from Psalm 13 written by the Hebrew David, King of Israel, may resonate with you—perhaps from a time when circumstances were bleak, dreary, seemingly endless and without any hope of changing. 

Perhaps this is how you feel right now.  

David’s lament, one of many poured from the depths of his soul, reminds us how easy it can be to lose hope when we are not seeing or experiencing the promises of God that we long to know. It is the sad reality of our humanness: it is easy to lose hope. 

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I suspect, however, that when we do lose hope, it is likely because that hope is dependent upon some kind of determined outcome, some kind of action, some kind of mystery, miracle, provision.  How many times have we, in lamenting prayer, reminded God of His promises towards us as a passive-aggressive way to demand they be so for us now. For us, disappointment denotes the absence of hope fulfilled.  Yet… 

 “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
Martin Luther King Jr. 

Finite hope may or may not appear, but infinite hope, ahhh, that is something different all together.  That hope is not just wrapped up in a promise, but a person, and not just any person, but God Himself.  God-With-Us. 

Often, we look to the promises of God as our hope, when our hope is simply Himself. Incarnated. Emmanuel. With-Us. Here amid our sorrow, our how long! pleas and cries.     

There will be trials and disappointments, but God does not leave us without hope.   

There is hope because God is still With-Us. 

Here’s the thing about hope: it may not always look the way we expect it to, but in the end, it always looks like God. God-With-Us. 

Our hope isn’t found in the promise fulfilled. Our hope is that God-With-Us is our hope. 

God-With-UsChrist, Emmanuelpours upon us the hope of His presence and it leads to the way of peace, and to the way of joy, and the way of love and then to promises fulfilled. Hope is not only clinging to a promise of the future, but more so clinging to the Person who is present, now and always. 

This is the message of Advent. Advent is not an extension of Christmas; Advent links our past hope, our present hope and our future hope. 

Our God-With-Us is hope, and that hope restores our hearts, our minds, our soul and strength towards peace, towards joy, towards love so we can worship fully in the knowing that our God never leaves us nor forsakes us. 

David, as in most of his laments, remembers that hope. He finishes his anguished cries with these words: 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
For he has been good to me.” 

God-With-Us is Hope. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 
Romans 15:13
 

An Expectant Hush: an Advent Reflection

By Shannon Youell

In the midst of Advent—the season where we reflect upon God-with-Us in the incarnation of Jesus, in His kingdom both now and yet to come, through his Spirit, and through the expectation of Jesus the King coming again to rule and reign in the new heavens and earth foreverwe can find ourselves once again asking, how do we rest in the wonder of this miraculous event? The demands of the season have us rushing through malls, to parties, to surpassing our neighbour’s outdoor light display, all of which compels us to spend more money on more things that we likely didn’t really need in the first place.   

I love this quote from an unknown source: “Let’s approach Christmas with an expectant hush rather than a lastminute rush.” At first glance, this appears to be an oxymoron:  how can we possibly rest and find quiet to listen and reflect when there are so many expectations upon us? No wonder we miss the expectation and the wonder of this time, replacing it with the idol of consumerism that distracts us from Jesus as our Lord and the Savior of the world.

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The cultural norms of today have deflected our expectancy far away from the Advent Expectancy and we have unconsciously allowed it to become a lord in our life that displaces Jesus as Lord of all and sets His Lordship as a side dish to the Christmas Feast. 

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we are reminded that God is bringing “all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). He is bringing all things together so that all things are one. One God, One body, together sharing One-ness in our With-Ness. Residing within that oneness we find hope, peace, joy and a love that surpasses all human understanding.  

What does Advent and the Christmas celebration look like through the lens of One-ness, of our God-With-Us? I imagine it looks a lot like the Shema, the “Hear, O People of God” that Jesus exhorted as the most important thing to lean into if we truly want to be faithfully present in our lives, our work, our neighbourhoods and our places of worship and gathering: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). 

This is the journey we are on, in all seasons of course, but in this one season, celebrating the birth, the habitation of God-With-Us on earth, this one we take back from the distortions, distractions and misdirections and reframe it in the very words of Jesus, our Lord and Savior in this world where God has been and is bringing all things back together again.

Discipleship Pathways for Missional Churches

By Shannon Youell

This week’s blog features a webinar from Derek Vreeland, pastor and author of many books. We featured his book By the Way (btw) Getting Serious About Following Jesus in our fall recommended reading and at Banff earlier this month. 

Vreeland is one among many voices and practitioners urging the church to recognize that the commissioned task of the church is discipleship. For far too long in our western context, discipleship has been practiced as an optional “ministry of the church.” However, Vreeland implores us to “think of discipleship, not as a program, but as everything the church is doing.”

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This may seem a subtle difference to how your church community functions, but the difference in the depth and width of the community is the metric that compels us to journey in our own church communities hard and deep towards practices we share as a congregation both within and beyond our Sunday gatherings. The purpose of discipleship is to form us more and more into the image of Jesus so that we join into the work of God right here, right now.  

This webinar is a mini-introduction to some of the thinking shifts we need to incorporate to find our way to these kind of intentional discipleship pathways. We highly recommend you explore both this webinar and Vreeland’s book, as well as the works of many others that have gone this path to delightfully discover renewed faith and passion in joining God’s mission here on earth. 

Perspectives on Shared Practices: Cam Roxburgh

As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview two of our churches who are on this journey. The first, Southside Community Church, has been incorporating and growing in these practices for many years. The second, The Forge Church, began an internal culture shift five years ago that includes incorporating rhythms of shared practices and intentional discipleship for the formation and shaping of a community of believers both within and beyond the Sunday worship service.

As you read this post and the next interview, please note that we are not marketing a product, method or program but rather exploring a pattern–a template if you will. You will find both of these churches’ experiences involve creating environments of learning, reshaping and rethinking as we discover the most meaningful and fruitful ways of being a whole and holistic community together within our contexts and micro-cultures. 

That’s a fancy way of saying it takes a lot of hard work, grace, prayer and repentance all along the journey, but the fruit along the way is sweet, inviting and encouraging.

 ~ Shannon and Cailey

CBWC: What was Southside’s experience of developing shared practices?

Cam Roxburgh, Team Lead at Southside Community Church: Almost twenty years ago, the Elders of Southside went away on a prayer retreat. We had come through the first 8 years of our history and had so many different sayings, logos and formulas. It was hard to keep track of all that we were trying to articulate. It became very clear to us on this retreat that God was asking us to simplify all of these things. So we prayed and talked, and talked and prayed.

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Cam at a Southside outreach event in the 90s.

By the end of our retreat it was clear to us that the form He was calling us to live by was not new at all; rather, it was renewed.

We began to understand that by focusing on loving God with our hearts, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as we loved one another, we were actually bearing witness to the very nature and action of God.

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20 years into this renewed vision of shared life, Southside continues to grow in loving God with everything.

CBWC Church Planting: What Shared Practices do you focus on and why?

Cam: Since that retreat 20 years ago we have focused our attention and efforts on growing into people who really do love God, each other, and neighbour with everything. At times, we may adjust the specifics of a shared practice in order to grow more deeply in a particular facet, but here are some of the ways that plays out practically at present:

  • Sabbath: Loving God with all our strength really comes down to trusting Him with our time, talent, treasure, and even our bodies. The Sabbath is one way in which we can say to the world, “Jesus is Lord. I am under His leadership, for He has offered a better way to live.” It is not that we come to the end of the week and are exhausted so need to unplug, but rather that we recognize who He is and determine to bear witness to him with our whole life. So from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday, we seek to cease work and commerce, engage in hospitality and time around the table, spend time “recreating” in creation, and gather for worship, prayer and studying the Scriptures.
  • Gathering together: One way we prove our love for one another is that we have covenanted to gather together on a regular basis: all ages on Sundays in congregations, adults Wednesday in small groups (Mission Groups), youth on Thursdays in their small groups, and monthly with discipleship partners. Gathering together is crucial for our growth as His people.
  • Scripture and Study Guides: We seek to love God with all our mind, growing in the knowledge of God and His Kingdom. We share in the practice of daily Scripture study. The core tool for this practice is the study guide, which leads us through personal daily Scripture study and application that also correlates to the sermons on Sunday and our discussion time in Mission Groups.
  • Morning and Evening Prayer: On any given day, whether gathered together, in our own homes, or away on a work trip, we are growing in loving God with our hearts through the practice of morning and evening prayer. Often, prompts in our study guides will help us in the morning to look ahead to the day and ask the Lord for provision and opportunities to share His love, and in the evening to bring confession and thanksgiving as we reflect on our action and God’s action.
  • Hospitality: Christ is inviting us to an abundant life in and through Him, for the sake of the world. We do not ask the question of “who is my neighbour?” but rather “am I a neighbour?” Therefore, we seek to love our neighbours with justice and compassion, practicing hospitality and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But I’ve got to confess that we have a long way to go in this area. We’re learning to be hospitable in our own homes, and also as congregations in neighbourhoods to become a people of welcome.
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A sample of Southside’s Study Guides from the past few years.

CBWC: Have you seen fruit of your intentionality in shared practices? 

Cam: A big area of fruit for us is people being able to point to where they have seen God at work in the world and in their lives. This practice is crucial for evangelism in our context.

Eugene Peterson’s phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” also comes to mind. As these shared practices continue to shape us over the long haul, the Holy Spirit uses them to begin changing our defaults from kingdom of the world mindsets to Kingdom of God mindsets. I have seen countless examples in our people of those small shifts:

  • from tight-fisted to generous
  • from snap, individualistic decision making to Spirit-led, Scripture informed corporate discernment
  • from hurried and harried to trusting God with each hour and day
  • from anxious to thankful

And I could go on. This pathway of walking in step with each other and the Lord is not easy, but more and more I am convinced that it produces the abundant life that Christ promises, not just for us but for our neighbours, cities, nation and the world.

CBWC: What advice would you give churches who are considering taking a step towards a culture of intentional shared practice and life together? 

Cam: There are several things I could add.

  1. Start: I think far too often we are trying to make it perfect and therefore get stuck. So, just start. Get leaders together, pray and act. I really believe God will keep us in line with what He wants when we are seeking to follow Him.
  2. Listen: give opportunity for the people of the church to articulate what they are hearing. There are several exercises that are helpful for this. Doing a timeline of where you have seen God work in the history of the church is one helpful exercise.
  3. Feel free to ask: we started Forge Canada (not to be confused with The Forge Church, which you will hear about in a coming post) out of questions like this. As CBWC, we are a family of churches, so if I/we can ever be of help, I am very happy to start with a chat on the phone. We have helped many hundreds of churches along this road and would be delighted to spend time listening to what God is saying to your church and to be an encouragement along the way.

As per usual, we look forward to further conversation with you and your church as we continue watching God at work and joining Him in His work wherever we live, work, play and pray! ~Shannon and Cailey

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 disciples like 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.