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.

Summer Reading

By Shannon Youell

Ahhh, the warm, laid back days of summer. As I write this, I am looking longingly at my summer vacation reading pile, tempted everyday to delve in now but knowing I must stay on task and not be distracted! So I thought it was a good time to let you know what we’ve been reading and what some of our staff has been and will be delving into this summer.  

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We would love to have your reviews and feedback from books you have read too. You know where to find us and we encourage you to send them along to cmorgan@cbwc.ca so we can share what is impacting your heart, mind, soul and strength as we labour together with Christ in our church communities. 

  • The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider: Kreider shares important characteristics of the early church that drew others to consider a life of faith: practicing patience as a virtue, living a Christian life, careful formation and teaching, and worship. This book helps us understand the shared practices, the rhythms, that helped form the early Christians and through this formation, made them distinguishable, not solely because of their testimony, but because they lived their ordinary lives in a way that was distinguishable to the norms of the culture and society in which they lived.  Looking at early church sources, Kreider develops his thoughts.  Here is a piece from his introduction:

    “The sources rarely indicate that the early Christians grew in number because they won arguments; instead they grew because their habitual behavior (rooted in patience) was distinctive and intriguing. Their habitus—a term I have learned from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu—enabled them to address intractable problems that ordinary people faced in ways that offered hope. When challenged about their ideas, Christians pointed to their actions. They believed that their habitus, their embodied behavior, was eloquent. Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”

  •  A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight: Several of us are reading or have read this book recently.  Here is a bit of what inside cover reveals:  

    “Author Scot McKnight believes that your local church determines what the Christian life looks like for you.  Essentially, local churches matter far more than we often know.”  

    McKnight begins by describing his own formation in what the Christian life looked like, growing up in a church where everyone basically was “the same” in colour, ethnicity, and tastes in music, worship, sermons and lifestyle.

    Delving into the theology of the early church and the practices and issues they were engaged in, McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, helps us see how those first Christians tackled the reality that the world is full of “differents” and how they wrestled and prayed through sharing life together “…as a new kind of family, showing the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life togther is designed by God to be.  He encourages Christians to embody belief, to be holy and loving as we attempt to follow Christ.

    I found the chapters “The Table of Connection,” “We is Bigger than Me,” and the whole of Section 4 on Holiness, very helpful and hopeful as we more and more live in a world of differents in ways that continually point to Christ and God’s kingdom gospel story of redemption, reconciliation and restoration of all things. Having said that, that takes the reader to about the half way point of the book and I anticipate there is more deeply thoughtful and grounded content to come.

 

  • Survival Guide for the Soul: How to Flourish Spiritually in a World that Pressures Us to Achieve, by Ken Shigematsu: Ken is our Banff 2019 speaker.  I have gone through this book twice and now, with a friend, going through slowly and intentionally.  He takes us on the journey of finding the ways to make space to flourish spiritually in the midst of living in a culture that acculturates us to accomplish, succeed, and be validated for the things we do.  

    “Drawing on a wide range of sources—including Scripture, church history, psychology, neuroscience, and a rich variety of stories from his own life—Shigematsu offers a fresh perspective on how certain spiritual practices help orient our lives so that our souls can flourish in a demanding and competitive world.”

    My recommendation: pick this up prior to Banff as I think there will be a rich layering as he shares with us there.

  • Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison: Another book drawing us deeper in community living as people of faith in ways that reflect God’s heart for all humans.  Here is what the authors say about Slow Church:

    “Slow Food and other Slow movements hold important lessons for the (church).  They compel us to ask ourselves tough questions about the ground our faith communities have ceded to the cult of speed.  And they invite all of us—clergy, theologians and laypeople—to start exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of Slow Church.  Not as another growth strategy, but as a way of reimagining what it means to be communities of believers gathered and rooted in particular places in a particular time….Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods.”

 

  • Reimagine Church, by Nic Harding: If you are deeply invested in discipleship that forms disciples who make disciples who make disciples, this book is one that we are currently reading (and have passed a few around to you).  Nic directs us to understanding that “missional discipleship is not just an activity or job description, but a call to embody the message with your lifestyle, and apprentice others in the way of Jesus.”
  • If you, like me enjoy reading text books and commentaries I would like to recommend two I have been reading or 2 I will be reading. 
    1. Tremper Longman III & Scot McKnight are the editors of a commentary series called The Story of God Bible Commentary.    At my local church we have recently used the commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew and a whole separate one on the Sermon on the Mount.  I am currently going through both Philipians and Genesis in this series.  
    2. The other a classic is EP Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism,  the 40th anniversary edition.  

Happy Summer reading and don’t forget to send Cailey your reviews of these or other books to share with your CBWC family of readers!

Update on Emmanuel Iranian

By Shannon Youell

At Assembly in May, we welcomed into membership Emmanuel Iranian Church, a church plant in North Vancouver, and as of May 4th, a second plant in Coquitlam.

On June 23rd, EIC held a service of celebration in which BCY Regional Minister Larry Schram and his wife, and myself and Cailey as the church planting team welcomed the congregation into our CBWC family of churches, and what a celebration it was and is!

The warm and embracing welcome we received as guests was incredible and we met so many lovely people that we now consider family. It was like a family reunion where we were meeting relatives from afar for the first time, and they us. Hugs and cheek kisses were abundant as the joy of the Lord active and living in the community poured out upon us.

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As we participated in vibrant and alive worship singing (in Farsi), and in prayer for the congregation and the pastor, we were aware of the presence of the Spirit and to the church’s obedience and response to both Spirit and Word. This is a community who are fully alive in Christ and hopeful in their challenges because Christ is with them.

Larry and I both spoke, with Pastor Arash interpreting.  I warmly welcomed the community to the CBWC fellowship of churches, speaking of our shared labouring in the Gospel and commending the church as they continue in our deep and rich Baptist heritage of people who join God at his work of redemption, reconciliation and restoration of God with humans, humans with one another and with all creation itself.

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Larry spoke from Colossians 1:9-14, reminding the congregation “…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He then encouraged and commissioned the church to the ministry of the gospel, just as they are doing and an extended time of prayer for EIC and Pastor Arash concluded the service…..or so we thought!

As the last amen was spoken, something beautiful unfolded as one by one, twelve people stepped out of their chairs and came up to the front and declared they wanted to submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord. It was incredible!  I was standing beside Elder Kam, who was taking down names for discipleship follow-up. I asked him if this happened often. “Every week,” he responded! He looked back on the last month and counted more than 25 commitments! Twenty-five new followers of Jesus, in one month. God is present and working in this place.

Talking with people after the service, we heard stories of those who felt as though God himself had plucked them up and placed them at EIC and the obvious response was following Jesus, many for the first time. We also heard stories of personal challenges of life as new Canadians and of prayers for those who are still back home in Iran. 

And the celebration continued from there. Then there was cake! And food and an exhibition by the communities artisans. More hugs, stories, photos, kisses and joy to be a part of God’s family.

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“…thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”

What a celebration. What a welcome. What an aroma!

Engaging Gospel: A Resource

By Shannon Youell

“I’ve never had someone ask me, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ But I have had many people ask me, ‘Where is God?’ As the three-tier view of the world has collapsed, people are not seeking God ‘up there’ but want to find God here and now.” ~Diane Butler Bass 

Often times when I meet up with people, they ask me what’s happening in Church Planting in CBWC. I love to tell the stories of the men and women who are engaging in the gospel in both new works and from within existing congregations. As I shared some of these stories yesterday, the people I was with were curious about why all our current plants in process and prospective are within ethnic-specific groups, to which I replied several observations. I included my often expressed observation that Canadian Baptists, in general and across our nation, haven’t continued our Baptist value of building an ethos of evangelism by discipling our people to be missional disciples who join God on mission into their everyday worlds. Evangelism, or talking about Jesus as both Lord and as Savior, is the best approach to church planting, and many of us just aren’t comfortable going there.

The result is that we don’t disciple our own folks to be local leaders and planters of new communities. Rather, we disciple people to be good Christians, which is right and true, but we leave the missional call of Jesus for us to be light of the world up to osmosis or chance or something. Jesus was never so unintentional.

It isn’t that our folk don’t believe in church planting. They do. We love to hear the stories of people coming to faith and the inspirational curiosity of new believers that re-sparks our own passion for being devoted followers of Jesus. The difficulty is that we regular, ordinary, everyday folk stumble around even articulating the gospel to which we profess has captured us. We are confused about the gospel, so we leave it to the ‘professionals’, evangelists or church planters or preachers.

And as Diane Butler points out in her statement above, we have difficulty answering our friends, family members, co-workers and neighbour when they ask questions that require more than a four-point process to salvation. What do we do with our deeper human questions about where is God in the midst of all the world’s woes and tragedies, or how can God love me when….or does God even care? The answer we often give addresses the avenue to eternal life, whilst not being able to articulate the here-on-earth part of the story of the Good News of God’s kingdom found through Jesus the King.

It is with this in mind that CBWC Executive Staff  began to work on a resource to help begin conversations that will help us have conversations about the gospel wherever we are: as ordinary everyday people in ordinary everyday realities of the human experience of life on earth.

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This resource, Engaging Gospel, has been developed as both a sermon series outline for teacher/preachers and with a follow up guide for small group discussions.

Our prayer, our hope and our invitation is that, as a family of churches, we gather in much the ways we gathered for the 77 Days of Prayer and do this together, either as your fall sermon series, or if that isn’t possible, your winter series post-Advent.

Our goal is to help bring back the incredible language of the full, rich Gospel into our imaginations again so that we are not confused by the ‘gospel’, but excited. As Larry Schram expresses in the video attached to the series, “This is indeed still good news – it is the best imaginable!”

Church planting is not a side-program of the church, but is the fruit of the Gospel being richly and fully expressed to those who are lost, least and last into God’s redemptive plan of restoring the human community and all of His creation to places of found, first and favoured.

Ethnic Churches are Sent

By Shannon Youell

Most of us love hearing stories of missionaries who have brought the Good News of Jesus as King–the King who brings the salvation of God’s kingdom now breaking into human reality to those who have followed other gods or not known God in any form or shape. The church has done a good and faithful job of bringing this news to most of the world. Stories of new faith and new communities brings us all new life and hope and energy.

When I was teaching in churches and discipleship schools in India, I had hours of “car” time with some of the pastors whose churches and schools I was teaching (Canada, quit complaining about traffic – it is insane in Mumbai!). Many of them asked why the church in Canada was declining and faithfulness to God was becoming a private pursuit when it was faithful Canadian missionaries who brought the gospel to much of India. My quip back was that perhaps their church needed to begin sending us missionaries to reignite our passion to be faithfully present where we are and to share the Gospel with our neighbours.

For years the pray-ers in Canadian churches have been praying for God to revive us, to reignite our passion for God’s mission, and to breathe new life on us. And we are seeing new life coming to us as God sends us the nations.

At Assembly 2019, CBWC welcomed into full membership four new churches: three Filipino and one Iranian church. Almost all our other plants in process are ethnically based – Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Karen, Kachin, African. We should take note of this….God is actually sending missionaries to Canada! And they are planting churches here.  

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Welcoming new churches into the family

There is two-fold purpose behind their plants: the first is that first generation new Canadians long to worship God in their ‘heart’ language, just as we do. The second is that when Christ followers come, they recognize there are many from their own lands that have not settled into communities of faith, are not following Christ, not engaged in a faith community and in true missionary fashion, they want to share Jesus with those folk. 

There are many conversations around what this trend means, but I think the pertinent point is that God is doing ‘something’. These communities are exciting us with their stories of folk coming to Jesus, in their devotion to gathering, to intentional missional discipleship, to sharing Jesus boldly and courageously wherever they find themselves. Perhaps they are the ‘wake-up’ call our complacent, contemplatively established churches need, to help re-excite us to the reality that Good News is still Good News for the world. 

The question is how do the second and third generations, who will be English speaking and whose culture will now be predominantly Canadian, stay engaged? How does the existing church begin to be a place where ethnic diversity truly has a place?

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, in his book Future Faith, tells us that when non-Caucasian people go to a church where all the leaders are of one ethnicity, they do not see a place for themselves. Our churches themselves are not ethnically diverse. The existing churches that are growing the most are those that have multi-ethnic staffs of both males and females. The interesting piece of his research is that the other ethnic leaders do not even have to be of the same ethnicity as the person seeking to join a church – they just have to be non-Caucasian!

The other important note I want to comment on is something that a Korean pastor of a Vancouver church said in a church catalyst meeting: multi-cultural is not the same as multi-ethnic: multi-cultural means that there is a diversity of cultures and the expressions of faith and worship of those cultures are reflected in the gathering and scattering times. Our warm welcome of all people assumes they will worship, reflect, pray, and minister like our dominant culture does, which would make us multi-ethnic but not multi-cultural.

This is an important distinction to make as our new-Canadian church plants move to the second and third generations who will be looking for multi-cultural expressions of faith to stay engaged in church life. Canada’s young people are growing up in a diverse world and they too will gravitate towards diverse expressions of faith and community. We should be right beside them opening the pathways.

I would like to say this is a near-future challenge for us and for our new churches, but we are past that. This is our challenge now and it would certainly appear as though God is sending the world to us to help us engage together in a place of all nations gathered together, worshiping and serving our God and our King.

Expressions: Underground Network

As we finish up our series based on expressions of the church, we’ll discuss another piece of Chris Morton’s article on the variety of church expressions that seem to be thriving in the United States: The Underground Network. Check out Chris’ article, or watch this clip to get a sense of what the Underground Network is up to:

We interviewed CBWC Pastor Cam Roxburgh, who shares his impressions of the Underground Network and what their success could mean for the Canadian context.

CP: Cam, as you know we are highlighting the work of the Spirit through the Underground Network. We understand that you know Executive Director Brian Sanders, and therefore we thought it might be helpful to get a few words that would help us understand from your Canadian, CBWC vantage point some of what we need to celebrate and pay attention to.

CR: It was only recently that I had the privilege of meeting Brian. I met him last fall through a Forge Canada Missional Training Network event, and then again this spring on two occasions. I brought him to Chicago to speak to leaders through work with the North American Baptists that I do, and we met again in New York only a couple of weeks ago at a leaders’ network. We hit it off, and have agreed to do some work together on a project that I think will be a very helpful tool in encouraging churches to assess where they are at missionally, and suggest some next steps in their journey.

It is really an amazing story. Brian of course is a dynamic leader, but as I have listened to him, read his work, and heard the stories, there is a lot for us to learn and to celebrate. God is clearly at work. My encouragement to all of us, is to get a copy of his book and read it. There is a lot there to chew on.

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Cam sharing at Banff Pastors Conference 2018

CP: What should we pay attention to?

CR: There is a long list, too big for this edition, but here are a few of the top ones that come to mind.

Empowering Others – the very first thing that you cannot help but notice with the Underground Network is that there is a culture of empowering others. This is not a top-down leadership model at all, but rather they look for opportunities to help others to do what God is inviting them to do. They give ministry away at every turn. I heard story after story of them simply asking people what it is that they felt God calling them to do and then as a team finding ways to help make it happen.

Paying attention to God at Work – this was another of the key components. They tried to discern with people what God was calling people to, and where they saw God at work. They spent time empowering people, but empowering people to join God on mission, not just to “do activity.”

Focus on Leadership Development – this was a very exciting element to me. I think Brian has been doing a lot of work around intentional leadership on two levels. First, there is an intentional development of practices for leaders that shape leaders around the life of Jesus (my words) instead of a CEO model. Second, there is a mentoring or coaching aspect that I think is helpful. I think as they mature as a movement, it will be even further developed in intentionality.

CP: What concerns or cautions might you have for us as we consider what this type of model could look like in Western Canada?

CR: I feel a little awkward even commenting on this. I just want to say a big YEAH! For what God is doing in them. But, there is one thing that I think I can mention gently. Brian comes from a parachurch organization – a campus ministry and this developed and grew into a “church movement.” I think this gave life to The Underground, but also injected a parachurch DNA. So, I would say that they are a ministry looking for a deeper ecclesiology, rather than a church (with rich ecclesiology) looking for greater ministry. I am looking forward to them growing in learning to reflect on how everything that they do reflects their understanding of who God is… and I think they are a little lax on this at present. We are all theologians – whether we think we are or not. And we all bear witness to who God is by the way we live together. So we must pay great attention to this in our midst.

CP: Are there Canadian examples that are similar to what is happening in the Underground Church Network?

CR: I think the closest Canadian example or illustration of God doing similar things would be the MoveIn movement. This incredible story, led by Nigel Paul, has spread across Canada into many neighbourhoods. It really is a grassroots movement of people, particularly younger people, moving intentionally into neighbourhoods (poorer usually) to be the hands and feet of Jesus in that place. I would encourage us all to Google what they are doing and then to wrestle through how our churches might be encouraged to do similar things.

CP: What encouragement would you, a CBWC Pastor, have for us in what God is doing in creating movement in the CBWC?

CR: In light of our conversation, I think the simplest couple of pieces of encouragement would be these:

  • First, reading is a good thing and there are many books out there that can encourage missional movement or foster an imagination in us. The Underground Network is a good start.
  • Second, we need to keep finding ways to help our people understand that we cannot claim to follow Jesus without recognizing that we are a sent people. Not just sent individuals, but a sent people. This means both that we each need to do our part – called by God to join Him on mission – but that we embrace the reality that we are His kids, part of His family, that bear witness to the Trinitarian nature of God as we live more deeply as community into our neighbourhoods. This is a massive paradigm shift from the way we as evangelicals have lived in the past. It is hard – but incredibly life giving.

Cam Roxburgh, DMin. Fuller Seminary, is the National Director for Forge Canada as well as the Team Leader of Southside Community Church in Vancouver, BC. He also serves as the VP for Missional Initiatives with the North American Baptists. He continues to have a passion for helping the church to join Jesus on mission in local contexts. He is the husband of Shelley and the father of four adult kids. They live in Surrey, BC.