Joining God in His work: Evangelism

Featured

By: Rev. Shannon Youell

Here we are talking about that scary word “evangelism” again.  CT News and Reporting, writes about a recently released report on the state of evangelism in our Canadian churches.  The survey was conducted by Alpha Canada and Flourishing Congregations.  The majority of churches that responded were evangelical churches.  The results may or may not surprise you.  A whopping 65% of respondents revealed that evangelism is not a high priority for them in their churches.   Read the full article HERE 

Some of you might find that surprising and some, like myself, just nod our heads. I have lamented often that many Christians are unequipped or unlikely to talk to others about their faith in God and, in particular, Christianity. Please note I am referring to ‘unlikely’ as something that happens outside the church walls – we are much bolder when we evangelize one another within the parameters of the church. 

Add to that our own general discomfort around sharing a prescriptive route to salvation that can be viewed as an intellectual nod or irrelevant to peoples lived experiences, and we can see the complexities that have led to a lack of evangelistic enthusiasm in our churches and in our own selves. 

I may lament, but I also recognize that I can be reluctant to initiate conversations around Christianity myself. Not because I think the gospel of God’s kingdom is lame, or powerless, or ineffective. I believe that when humans grasp the immense implications of God-With-Us, it has the potential to transform our hearts, minds, and how we engage in life and relationships. 

Rather, my reluctance comes from the rhetoric that there is a general mistrust directed towards Christians, and thus our God, based on abuses of power and control that have plagued Christianity putting deep shadows that cloud its life giving message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness of sin, and inclusion of the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.  

I suspect part of our reluctance stems from our own truncated understanding of evangelism, God’s mission to the world, and how the church should equip us to evangelize.  Writer Jeff Banman explores this in his article published in Scot McKnight’s blog space, Jesus Creed.  Jeff points out that Paul himself, while being a beneficiary of the Great Commission, never instructed the churches to ‘train’ the people in evangelism in any of his letters: 

“Paul is not interested in training his churches on how to initiate gospel conversations with their friends and family, nor is he concerned with teaching them how to present the four spiritual laws to a passerby on the street. Paul’s vision of evangelism does not look like ours. Instead of gospel tracts handed out on the street corner, Paul envisages his churches living out the gospel in such a powerful way that their lives and the life of the local church becomes the gospel tract itself!” 

Jeff concludes his article by saying: “Paul’s words to Titus concisely portray his vision of evangelism. As followers of Jesus, we will live our lives in such a way that we “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).” 

His perspective should cause us to ask the question:  In what ways do we, and I, live our lives that “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive”?  If people shun Christianity as the way, truth and life, of good news itself, in what ways have we and I, and thus the church, portrayed God’s kingdom and his love for the world?   

This is not a simple thing to answer. Whether we realize it or not, by the very nature of identifying as Christians, we, you, are evangelizing the world around us. How I navigate my own life, struggles, behaviors, and attitudes, and how I treat others, communicates to the world what I believe about following Jesus.  

Rather than becoming defensive about the perceptions that some (many?) hold of the Church and Christians in general, let’s instead be responsive by looking at our own selves first and honestly acknowledging where we, and I, miss the mark in communicating (evangelism means ‘to communicate’) God’s kingdom good news story in how we live, work, play and pray.  

Ultimately, this is where we all begin to join God in his work, by inviting God to work also in us.

Wise Evangelism” by Jeff Banman used by permission via Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed Blog). 

Joining God in His Work: Reconciliation

Featured

By: Rev. Shannon Youell

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit.”  Ephesians 2:14-18 

Like most I am weary of the increasing divisiveness in our society.  And I am saddened that Jesus followers seem just as susceptible to falling into polarities as the rest of our culture. It hurts me.  It hurts us.  Equally important, it hurts our witness of ‘joining God at work’ in his mission in the world. We preach and posture God’s love towards humanity, his redemption through the submission of Christ and his invitation to follow Christ and to join him in his work of reconciliation and restoration of humans to God and to one another.  

Joining God at work is a phrase often used to describe a posture of participation in his mission. The question we must always be attentive to is what is God doing in that work? The overarching answer is his kingdom has broken into the earthly realm to facilitate his shalom in the human experience through the birth, life, and death of God’s Son. We often simply call it Good News – Gospel. 

Of course, this inbreaking work didn’t stop at Jesus – we are each called to be God’s ministers of reconciliation as a priesthood of all believers. We should not attempt to minister in this alone. God invites us into the work where he is already present and we must take the time to be attentive to him and to what he is doing in that space. 

Reconciliation is a key word in our understanding of the Gospel. Paul reminds us that believers are to be ministering reconciliation – participating in the reunification of people who have been separated by some means, whether political, religious, societal, racial, or behavioral, through the grace, mercy, love, and salvation of God extended through Christ. While the foremost aspect of that reconciliatory work is between God and humans, it extends from there to reconciliation between humans and one another and reconciliation with all of God’s creation. Reconciliation in all three aspects facilitates God’s kingdom of his Shalom. It breaks down the barriers that divide which Paul speaks of in his letters for the purpose of unifying the (two) divisions and making peace – Shalom.  It opens up space to foster healing, forgiveness, redemption.  

Reconciliation (originally named Reunion) is a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos.

Theology professor and pastor David Fitch, in his book Faithful Presence, writes on reconciliation, emphasizing that in times of division the posture Christ invites us to take is one of mutual submission. Engaging conflicts with any other posture perpetuates the us/them divide; the I’m right/you’re wrong divide. Coming together in a posture of mutual submission – submitting to listen and hear one another – allows the Spirit of God, who is present, to guide us to love, grace and mercy towards one another and towards God’s kingdom breaking in.  

When I spend time with others each of us have different ways of viewing the world and those views are not only shaped by ‘those who believe’ and those who are ‘not-yet-believers’. I have found that when I back off the argument aspect of different opinions, (even though I can personally thrive on those hearty discussions!), and am attentive to discovering how my neighbour thinks, then I am more aware of how they came to a particular conclusion.  

It opens up space for a deeper kind of conversation and makes me aware, if I am attentive, of not forging ahead for God, but rather recognizing that God is already at work and I am joining with God as he enacts his Gospel in the hearts of each of us.

Engaging Mission with Coaching and Cohort Opportunities

Featured

Wow! Fall is looming up before us already and most of us are making plans for how we can be salt and light, the Church, in our neighbourhoods in this next season, whatever it may hold for us in the ongoing changing landscape of life disrupted by a pandemic and other world events!

It also means deadlines for engaging in some of the amazing opportunities and pathways available to you and which you can read more details about HERE including the contacts for registration.

This past year (September through March) two of our CBWC churches participated in the Year One Course From the Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age. One of those churches was where I attend. Five of our leadership team took part in reimagining engaging in mission right in our own area. This has benefited us greatly in understanding together how we can move deeper in shared practices within our church community and engage more relevantly and meaningfully by discovering where God is already at work bringing his presence, his shalom, into our neighbourhoods. The good work we did in that course and the consultation with Tim for our whole Leadership Team (board, elders, staff) is now being fleshed out with a larger group of our folk as we endeavor to discern together how God is forming and reshaping us to engage in his mission. Registration is open now for a mid-September start!

More than a decade ago when I was an Associate Pastor at another church, I brought some our leaders to an event brought to Victoria from The Forge Missional Network and facilitated by our own Cam Roxburgh (who I did not know back then). This opportunity was sponsored by our City-Wide Ministerial, and leaders from a wide range of churches and denominations in Victoria attended this workshop/course Friday and Saturday. It changed and began to reshape my understanding of evangelism, discipleship and mission, and gave words to what had been a growing passion in myself and the leaders who attended with me. Fast forward to today and we have The Discovery Project pathway to begin the conversation with your church and leaders. “Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question.”  Registration for this pathway is flexible as is church specific but don’t delay as space fills up!

For our churches who are already exploring what it means to be the Church in our day as missional engaged people, The Neighbourhood Project is here to help! This pathway brings together cohorts of groups to explore, equip and implement what the Spirit is leading them to. This pathway is filling up so fast, its now added a second and likely a third cohort and there is still some room so don’t delay!

Again, you can access more information and contacts for registration HERE

Don’t miss out on these great opportunities as we all desire to participate in the advancing of God’s kingdom here on earth!

RE-THINK; RE-IMAGINE; REMISSION-COHORTS & COACHING OPPORTUNITIES 

Featured

It is likely no secret to any Christian pastors, lay-leaders and many churches that our world and our culture has and continues to shift rapidly.  For us the question is not how do we get back to the place where the church and Christian faith were central to society in general, but rather, in the midst of a changed world, how then do we, the church, re-engage our neighbourhoods, towns and cities as local missionaries called to be faithfully present to the people who live around us with the glorious story of God and his mission of shalom, salvation, reconciliation and restoration.  

Coming out of the success of the CBWC January Webinar, Allowing the Spirit to Reorient us Around the Mission of God, staff at CBWC are excited to endorse three further opportunities for our churches and leadership teams to resource, strengthen and widen the ministry and mission of the local church in this rapidly changing world – both within the church and beyond into our neighbourhoods, towns, and cities in which we live, work, play and pray in. 

Currently there are three pathways to learning and coaching available and being offered to our CBWC churches.  Each has been developed, facilitated, and taught by long time CBWC pastors who love our denomination and family of churches.  Joined by other gifted teachers and missional leaders they bring their decades of experience to teach and coach church leaders, pastors, and lay folk locally and far afield within cohorts.   Their desire is to share with their family of churches from their wealth of knowledge and experience to equip our churches as we join God on his mission as local missionaries deeply rooted into our neighbourhoods.   

If you are longing to learn and discover ways to re-engage your church with the community in which you are situated but are not sure where to begin, there is a Pathway for you!   

THE DISCOVERY PROJECT

The Discovery Project is designed for those just putting their toes in the water and exploring what it means to join God on mission in their neighbourhood. Immersing ourselves in the text, we will explore what it means to bear witness to who God is through loving Him with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and by loving our neighbours as we love one another. Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question. Facilitated by Cam Roxburgh, this Pathway will encourage a response and equip us for mission.   
There are 2 types of delivery systems: 

  1. Church Specific – a weekend seminar that covers all the same material as the online option plus the advantage of church specific input and consulting.  The fee for this option is $1500.00 plus travel expense (we are working on possibly offsetting some of the travel costs for qualifying churches).   
  1. Online offering of 6 sessions of 2 hours each.  Cost is $59.00 per person or $300 per church.  6 weeks bi-weekly from mid September to end of November.  This option is not church specific.   

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD PROJECT

The Neighbourhood Project is designed for staff and lay leaders of churches who have been serious about exploring what it is that God is doing in the midst of the crisis the church is facing. Covid is but one of the issues that is causing the rate of change to accelerate and shining a spotlight onto the reality that much is amiss, and God is doing a new thing. This is good news. TNP is for a select number of leaders and churches that get the conversation and are wanting to not go back, but forward into what God is doing.  This is a cohort of leaders journeying together with Allan Roxburgh, Cam Roxburgh and facilitators from The Missional Network and Forge to:  

  • Learn to discern God’s activity in your neighbourhoods.
  • Equip your people to join Jesus in your communities.
  • Explore how to lead in disruptive times.
  •  Shape congregation life from Sunday-centric to neighbourhood-rooted.  filling fast so register today! 

This Pathway is an online offering including monthly sessions, one on one coaching with churches, and cluster cohorts.  There are reading and experimentation expectations.  Cost per church cohort is normally $3000 but with a generous grant we are offering it at $1500.  An application process is required.  Course begins September 2021 and runs through June 2022.  This is filling fast so register today! 

FORMING & REFORMING COMMUNITIES OF CHRIST IN A SECULAR AGE

Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age:  this three-year course in Missional Leadership is geared for congregational teams and individuals offering both onsite or online accessibility and will resource, strengthen and widen the ministry of the local church.  With Tim Dickau, Darrell Guder & Ross Lockhart plus many practitioner guests.  Cost includes lunch for onsite and a private team consultation with Tim.  Cost: $250 per person ($200 online).  $500 for a group up to 5 ($450 online) per year.  This course is geared for teams that have already determined the need to rethink church and are beginning their own internal culture change.  Year 1 begins September 2021.   

We believe this is the right time for churches to begin pursuing one of these Pathways, especially as we emerge with all we have learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. Talk to us about which Pathway is best for your church and leaders!  Contact us to assess which Pathway is right for you and your church. 

Shannon Youell
CBWC Director of Church Planting
syouell@cbwc.ca
 
Cam Roxburgh
Facilitator/Leader of The Discovery Project & The Neighbourhood Project
cam@southside.ca

Tim Dickau
Facilitator/Leader CML course Forming & Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular World
dickautim@gmail.com     

Ken Nettleton 
Facilitator & Lead Pastor New Life Church, Duncan BC
ken@newlifechurch.ca

Summer Reading 2021

Featured

by: Shannon Youell, CBWC Director of Church Planting (and initiatives)

It’s time for my Annual Summer Reading List! 

This year I am featuring books that I’ve read or am working my way through.  This past year I’ve been working my way through some of the books around topics that challenge the church.   I offer two of the ones that I found most helpful in seeing the historical, theological and ethical contexts. I also include a commentary that I am thoroughly enjoying, and a couple of books helpful for us as we re-think and re-form our church communities around the mission of God in our time.  Without any further ado, let’s dive in!  Let me know if you tackled any of these and perhaps consider writing a review. 

Two Views on Homosexuality; the Bible; and the ChurchMegan K. De Franca, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes, William Loader – from Zondervan’s Counterpoints Series – editor Preston Sprinkle (from the Center for Faith and Sexuality) 

I have read a variety of books from differing viewpoints on this topic.  I find this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read as the essayists both articulate their viewpoint and interact with one another’s essays.  Contributors are four “accomplished scholars in the fields of biblical studies, theology and topics related to sexuality and gender”; two from an affirming position and two from a non-affirming position.  For each view, the editors “intentionally enlisted one theologian and one biblical scholar to articulate and defend each of the two views.  I quite appreciated the respectful, academic, theological, ethical and pastoral tone with which each approached the topic and how in each essay I discovered things that I both agreed with, disagreed with and was challenged in my thinking on. 

The making of Biblical Womanhood:  How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr 

Anyone who knows my husband knows he is a history geek.  I, regretfully, was not, (being far more of how-do-we-live-now-so-we-do-well-in-the-future kind of thinker), until I studied Church History!  Then I started reading history in general and realized that as much as I love Church history, reading it removed and outside of political, economic, social and cultural histories was reading it out of context.   

Beth Allison Barr is a historian, a Christian and a professor of history at Baylor University.  Her studies in history, and in particular her academic specialties in European women, medieval and early modern England, and church history disrupted her understanding of complementarianism that she understood from her Southern Baptist roots.   Written with well-honed academic muscle in a very accessible narrative, Barr tackles the idea of Biblical Womanhood from scripture, history and church practice over the centuries.  She poses, using and citing historical evidence, that the concept of “Biblical Womanhood” was constructed by the patterns of patriarchy in societies and cultures and how, over the centuries, they seeped into the church.  

Whatever your view of women in the church, this is a must read and, in my humble opinion, should be added to the reading list of all seminaries.   

The Story of God Bible Commentary:  Genesis by Tremper Longman III 

This is the seventh commentary in this series that I own (thank you Kindle!).  This Commentary series delves into the meaning of the text both in the past and for us today.  Each commentary uses the pattern of Listen to the Story; Explain the Story; and Live the Story.   I love reading commentaries and I am really enjoying this offering written by Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.  Genesis has always been one of my favorite OT books (to be honest there are many!) and Longman guides the reader through the richness of this book of ‘beginnings’.   

What is the church and why does it exist?  by David Fitch 

Practices, Presence and Places.  These 3 P’s shape Fitch’s recent book calling the church to renewal in our disruptive times.  As Fitch writes in his Introduction: 

“When things get chaotic, and no longer seem to make sense, we must go back to the “what” and the “why” questions. We must ask all over again: What are we doing here when we gather as the church and why are we doing it? Only then can we get to the “how” question. Only then can we discern how to be faithful to who we are and the mission we have been given. Perhaps this is a cultural moment that offers us an opportunity to reset the church in North America. Perhaps this is an ideal time for Christians everywhere to reexamine what it means to be the church. It is an occasion for us to ask all over again what we are doing here, who we are, and how we should live as a part of the local church.” 

 This book is for those who have long had a sense that God is reshaping us as his church for just such a time of this and for those who just know something has changed and yet don’t know what it all means.  I recommend this for all who love the church that God loves and long to see God’s kingdom flourish right where you live, work, play and pray. 

Why Would Anyone Go To Church? By Kevin Makin 

Kevin Makin is a church planter and pastor of Eucharist Church in Hamilton Ontario, a church associated with Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec (CBOQ).  In his book, he tells the story of the planting and establishing of an innovative and creative community that engages both people of faith and those seeking for some kind of meaning.   For Kevin and his team the big question was planting within the context of the next generation.  They asked themselves big and important questions:  “What does Christian community look like for this next generation?” “Who will it be for?” And the big one: “Why would anyone go to church?”  

Kevin writes in his introduction: “People ask me if I’m surprised that so many are leaving the church. Surprised? Are you kidding me? I can’t believe anyone still does this church thing. And yet they do. For two thousand years, people have continued to be a part of the church, despite war and persecution and corruption and organ music. Why has church survived? Surely something has made it so meaningful to so many people for such a long period of time. That’s what we were trying to understand when we started a new church a decade ago. What we discovered is that few of our peers are interested in competing with the culture around us. The Jesus followers I know aren’t sticking with the church because church is better than a concert or more interesting than a podcast. They’re staying because there are primordial elements of Christian community that are far more rooted than all that superficial fluff.” 

 Kevin’s book is written with humility and candor of the triumphs and challenges of planting something contextual and cultural that invites people to faith whether it is an ‘old’ faith or a ‘new’ faith.  This is a fun and insightful quick read – I read it in a day.  

Eucharist has been recognized as one of the most creative and innovative churches in the country and spotlighted on national television and radio outlets, in newspapers, and on podcasts. 

Pick up one or more of these (or download onto your e-reader) and let me know your thoughts/reviews on books.  Happy Summer Reading friends! 

Shannon Youell – Director of Church Planting CBWC 

syouell@cbwc.ca 

Rebooting What Matters

Featured

(A reflection in response to Shannon Youell’s “How then, Shall We Meet?”) 

By: Mark Archibald – Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Lethbridge First Baptist Church

 Prior to COVID-19, I was WAY off in my ministry approach and priorities.  A friend from several years of summer camp moved his family down to Lethbridge for a 3-month contract job.  In years previous we had very important conversations about life and faith.  This is a good and dynamic relationship, one that continues to grow.   In the three months this important friend was in town, how much do you think we saw each other?    

 ONCE!  And that was to help him move in!  There’s something wrong with my lifestyle, including both busy-ness and work, when there is no space on the schedule for a friend like this.   

 I am busy with community stuff outside of church (a flag football team, school council, and other community connections), and parenting takes its share of work, but the fact that I took zero time to nurture this relationship with a friend is significant!   Much of my busy-ness was church stuff, which doesn’t always have the community building and connecting benefit that it should.    

 See if you relate to this pattern in ministry: 

  •  Step 1 – “I need to help our families with parenting resources.” 
  • Step 2 – “I will prepare an event for families and spend hours and hours investing in it.” 
  • Step 3 – “I need to convince families at my church to attend or I will have wasted my time.” 
  • Step 4 – Advertise and convince families to attend, and be a little sad more didn’t show up. 
  • Step 5 – Begin planning the next event – fingers crossed that more show up next time! 

 There is a LOT of time expended coming up with programs that I think are important, and just as much time convincing people to attend them.  The time spent on programming may have been better spent personally with those attending families AS WELL AS other ones! 

Walk With Me

 I’m trying to shift away from “attend my event” to “walk with me” approach.  That seems to be healthier for everyone and puts less pressure on everyone.  It allows for real community to grow. 

 COVID was bad.  Awful.  But few things have given us permission to shut things down and re-evaluate life patterns as much COVID has.  I have written down “In what ways do we meet again?” on my office white board as a reminder of how we best move forward as a community of believers.    As I reboot, I’m returning to a familiar and favourite verse: “let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).  

How then, shall we meet?

Featured

By Shannon Youell

“The most missional question we can be asking is: in what ways do we meet again’?” 

Summer is here!  Many folks have at least one vaccine and, increasingly, two; Provincial Health Orders are being incrementally relaxed, and people are just aching to get back to normal activities.  Perhaps your church has already started meeting again, (in some provinces, such as BC where I am, we haven’t been able to have even limited church services until a few weeks ago), or you are just now experiencing an increase in the number of people who can congregate.  

Whatever your current situation, I am hoping we are not so excited to finally see our brothers and sisters gathered for worship that we quickly forget everything we have been learning these past fifteen months about ourselves, our societal and church cultures, our mission beyond a Sunday service, our discipleship, and our gatherings. 

So I draw us back to the question I asked last month:  

                                   “In what ways do we meet again?” 

As much as I am looking forward to meeting in person again, I must also confess that some aspects of online is enticing, especially the aspect where I actually have a Sunday left to be present with family, friends and neighbours.  For people involved in hosting, facilitating and ministering on Sundays there is often little time and energy leftover for just hanging out with whoever might be around. 

I am a walker.  I have walked and prayed in my neighbourhood for more than a decade, usually after work or in the early evenings when the days are longer, and I rarely met other people.    With a one hour service online, my walks have often been in the middle of the day and what I observed was how many people are actually home and about the neighbourhood on a Sunday!  It turns out the one day I may have more opportunities to meet people who don’t know Jesus is the same day I predominantly spend with other believers. 

This has alerted me.  Here are the ripening harvest fields, yet the harvesters are not in the fields but beautifully and meaningfully gathering together in a building.  I will say again as I have previously:  I am not advocating brothers and sisters in Christ cease gathering – I am simply asking the question through a missional lens: “in what ways do we meet again”.   This is a rapidly growing conversation being engaged by pastors and denominational associations and, I pray, by all of us who are followers and co-labourers of Christ. 

As I was writing this article, my inbox box reminded me of unread emails (I hope I’m not the only one who has those!) and one of them was a post from Carey Nieuwhof earlier this week on his blog.  The title caught my attention, “5 Confessions of a Pastor about Online Church Attendance”.  It caught my eye since I am in the mood for confessing.  In the blog Carey confessed his own enjoyment of a more relaxed Sunday and also shared the same observation in his neighbourhood as had I. Hmmmm.

 Read it HERE and let us know what you think; what worries you; what challenges you and what excites you; and where you see God at work amid the things that are shifting.  In everything we’ve gone through and learned during this pandemic experience, what have you been learning about joining God on His mission of reconcilliation, redemption and restoration in the world he so loves?   

Shannon is the CBWC Director of Church Planting (and passionate voice for churches growing towards missional communities).  Drop her an email at syouell@cbwc.ca – we’d love to hear from you! 

House by House

Featured

By: Shannon Youell

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

(Synagogue:  a community house of worship) 

In my previous blog HERE I wrote that church planting can be accidental outgrowths of our right-in-the-neighbourhood missionary impulses of evangelism and discipleship.   

In the early New Testament church we find missionaries going to households where people, who were either Jewish believers or curious and/or God-fearers,1 lived. Often those would be people who lived near and around the evangelists.  Think of Jesus in Luke 10 and “people of peace” but right in your own neighbourhood/community.  There whole households heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus our Lord and Savior and were baptized.  Those ‘households’ then became the church, people who assembled to tell the stories of their faith, eat together (which included the Eucharist), learn together, pray together and share the gospel with one another and others in their community. 

This is in contrast to missionaries starting a service in an area of town that drew people to a building to participate in those same rhythms together.  That came much later.  There is no indication that the first missionaries were looking to erect a common meeting space that would be called the ‘church’, but that these localized, contextual ‘households2’ of faith were indeed the Church.  

One might argue that the ‘first’ church was comprised of those who were followers of Jesus prior to his ascension plus those added three thousand at Pentecost as countering the idea of church in households, but the reality is where did those three thousand go for daily, weekly meals, prayers and participatory worship?  At times they gathered in larger numbers around the temple in Jerusalem but the thrust of life and missionary impulse happened in these smaller ‘households of faith’ that facilitated and were leaders of this new Way.  This is where the ‘adding of numbers’ continued and expanded.  Often the period of the 1st and 2nd centuries and into the 3rd are cited as the most robust period in history for people coming to faith in Christ thus indicating that people predominantly came to faith through interpersonal relationships and the witness of seeing the lives of believers in their everyday rhythms and practices. 

In 2008 a study was done on how many Christians it took to gain 1 convert.  The study concluded that it took eighty-nine.  Eighty-nine to one is not a good ratio!  However, at the same time the author(s) looked at how many Christians to gain 1 convert it took in house churches with a missional ethos:  3:1 & 4:1 were realized in two independent studies.  That’s a large gap.  Whether that 89:1 ratio were 89 people along the path of life who influenced the 1, or a calculation of church membership over new conversions, one cannot miss the correlation that it takes far fewer relationships when people are in regular proximity and in regular social groups together.   If those same 89 where in the smaller more localized churches the extrapolated conversions would be 22.   

Personally, I don’t see the demise of larger church gatherings as a near future event – they will always have a place and purpose.  But I do see the need for followers of Jesus, especially those who have a heart for those who are not-yet-followers to discover ways to engage with them.  Though not limited to any one group, millennials in particular have left the church in stunning numbers, yet for those who have left but not rejected faith in God, they yearn for smaller, more interconnected communities of fellow sojourners.   

What does that mean for our larger gatherings?  How might we re-engage absent millennial Christians in the rhythms and practices of faith?  How can the church make the most impact in evangelism and discipleship in a post-Christendom world that though seeking spiritual conversations would not consider a church building the place to engage them?   How might our church gatherings begin to foster “community houses of worship” in actual houses again?

As churches begin to gear up for a return to meeting together, primarily in buildings other than homes, this is the prime opportunity for us to consider these and so many other questions.  Rather than the question being ‘when can we meet together again’, is the most missional question can we can be asking is ‘in what ways do we meet again?’

Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.   

Covid Opportunities

Featured

January 26th 2021 CBWC Supported Webinar

By: Shannon Youell

Hello 2021!  We have entered our eleventh month of living in a Covid-19 world.  Eleven months ago, we as church leaders and congregations were scrambling to figure out how we continue to be missionally faithful presences in our neighbourhoods, encouraging and discipling our churches.  As we’ve tackled the challenges that have slammed into us, I am hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  Many are hanging on waiting for when things can go back to in person meeting so the church can carry on their practices of worship, prayer, discipleship and joining God in his mission.  Others are catalyzing the opportunities within Covid to rethink, reimagine and reorient their ecclesiology and asking good, hard and revealing questions. 

Many have become aware of things Covid is exposing in our lives, our relationships, our work and our worship and how it is accelerating what was already happening. Often what we see is not surprising, we knew it was lurking around us all along and we managed to keep it from breaking the surface, but there are also things exposed that surprised us as well.  The challenge, I believe, is to be open to the Spirit of God to work in the things exposed as opportunities rather than curses that lead us to discern how we are church both amid Covid and beyond.  

One such church is New Life Church in Duncan, BC.  I spoke with Pastor Ken Nettleton a few months ago about the shift this congregation is making in reidentifying themselves as a people on mission with God in their local neighbourhoods and beyond.  As Covid descended last March, the strategy they adopted is a three-fold model of:  House Church, Village Church, Cathedral Church.  Each is dependent on the others with the shared purpose to “train and equip Jesus’ followers in the mission they are on”.  This, of course, sounds like the mission statement of most churches.  But the delivery is different.  (for a brief overview of how each element connects to the whole click HERE  

Full disclosure:  New Life had already been working to reshape themselves, especially in the area of small groups.  Their experience with small groups is likely your experience – add-ons to Sunday Services viewed by many congregants as optional and consumeristic.  Ken and his leaders also conceded that while attendance was increasing and baptisms were happening, “measuring church health by attendance, buildings and cash” is the wrong metric.  Rather, church health is measured by engaging relationally with each other and asking, “important questions of ‘how are you following Jesus this week inwardly and outwardly – how is that going?’ and being really intentional about that.”  Shifting the metric meant also acknowledging that intentional committed discipleship happens primarily between Sundays, not on Sundays.  “We needed to structure Sundays to resource our House Churches instead of expecting committed Sunday attendance but optional small group attendance.  We wanted our people to eventually see their small group (House Church) as their most important community gathering.”      

So, New Life focused on small groups, renaming them House Churches, and is working on shifting them in people’s lives from optional ‘add-ons’ to the most important gathering of the week.  And thanks to Covid these House Churches have become right now the only community – where a small group of Jesus followers gather and are pastored by the House Church leader – a volunteer identified as someone called and willing to be equipped by the pastors to shepherd 8-15 people.  These House Churches begin with the youth group who are organized and led in such clusters and carry on into adult ages.   

Ed Stetzer, planter, missiologist and host of the New Church Podcast describes the differences in Episode 63.  He says that home groups are ministries of the church whereas house churches are churches:  they baptize and administer the Lord’s supper; they teach and preach for the purpose of deep, intentional, accountable disciple making; they have a mission.  Ken agrees, and again points out that Covid has created exactly this opportunity to reorganize, learn and grow.    

Ken also notes that house churches must look ‘outside’ themselves.  “They have to go out into this valley as 35 churches that are New Life, each having a specific mission in this valley – and the mission isn’t the same.  We should be having an impact all over this valley, working with non-churched people who are also committed to addressing issues of justice and mercy, and bringing Jesus with us as we do.”  

Again, it’ is important to point out that New Life had already committed to shift in this direction prior to Covid, and see this pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate what God was already up to in our Canadian culture.  “As I prayed about things, God impressed upon me that many of us have been asking Him to renew and revive His Church for a long time, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that the answer to our prayer would look like this.  “What were you expecting my refining fire to look like?” were words that burned into my heart, and I had to admit that God’s activity almost always brings external pressure and change.”   

 As 2021 unfolds and we are all hopeful that we will begin to see restrictions relax, New Life is bringing imagination and good questions as to how best to gather in the ‘Cathedral’.  As Ken explains, not all things work as well in House Church in a similar way that not all things work well in Cathedral.  That is why all three aspects of House Church, Village Church, and Cathedral are integral and necessary.  The strategy is to continue using the opportunities Covid has gifted us with as we wrestle with asking good questions and reimagining, through prayer and discernment, how God is shaping his church for the future.    

What opportunities are you seeing in your church community?  In what ways has the Spirit been encouraging you to reimagine being church?  What good questions are you asking yourself?  

Come join CBWC January 26th for a CBWC supported event for Pastors and their teams in an interactive webinar with Ken Nettleton, Cam Roxburgh and Tim Dickau and myself.  We will hear stories both ours and yours and have time to ask good questions together.     

 Details and Registration HERE 

Flexible Existentialists

By Guest Blogger Kevin Vincent – Director of the Centre for New Congregations Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada

Recently I heard Simon Sinek explain his philosophy of “existential flexibility”.  He said, “existential flexibility is the capacity of a leader or an organization to shift 180 degrees and begin to plan and behave in an entirely new way, given an entirely new reality and environment. It’s the capacity to make a 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”

In addressing that specifically for churches, he said that as the church moves past the COVID-19 chapter, many faith leaders are simply moving back to the way it was, to what they know and to what they have always done. He said, “They know they can’t do what they used to do, but they don’t know what to do!” 

Perhaps you can relate.  As it relates to your church, you would say, “I know we can’t go back now!  But I don’t know where to go now!”  Let’s be “flexible existentialists” for the next few minutes.  Let me prompt your thinking by heading down what would be a 180 degree shift for most churches moving forward and let’s begin with a radical question. Here it is.

Is it time for your church to cancel your Sunday morning worship service?  Is it time to say that the current model of how most of us “do church” has run its course? Is it time to embrace the reality that the culture has shifted, people have little interest in weekly, larger, group gatherings and POST-COVID it’s not coming back.  Is it time to abandon a tired old model of church?

If I’ve already said enough to tick you off, stick with me because I’m much more hopeful than I’m sounding.

A recent survey in the United States by the UNSTUCK group reported that churches that have re-opened have seen about 36% of people return.

Now I know those are American statistics. Hold your fire!   BUT at least anecdotally, even if we don’t have as clear Canadian survey results, a lot of pastors are experiencing the same and are wondering, “Who’s coming back?  When will they come back?  Who’s not coming back?” 

Let’s just imagine that we’re twice as good as the Americans (Canadians like to think that!).  Let’s imagine that we get 70% of people back!  Are we OK with that?  Is 70% good enough?  Perhaps we should just conclude that those that don’t return are simply the hard soil, the rocky and thorny ground, of Jesus’ parable. They’re a good excuse to clean up our membership list.

Even more shocking is that the American survey discovered that only 40% of those under the age of 36 prefer larger in-person gatherings.  That means that 6 in 10 church-goers under the age of 36 aren’t sure that they care about your Sunday morning worship service anymore and aren’t looking to return. So should you cancel Sunday?

I believe the answer is No!   But let me suggest an “existentially flexible”, new way forward that was true pre-pandemic and has been dramatically accelerated as we move toward becoming a post-pandemic Church.   Here it is.

The future of the church in Canada will not be grounded in a single site expression but in a multiplicity of congregational gatherings, meeting at different times, in different places, with different people.

Single site. Single gathering. Single location. Single time. See you Sunday at 10:30 is not the future.

Now what could that look like for your church if you adopted that type of a posture?  Is there still a place for a Sunday morning worship gathering?  Of course!  There are many who love that expression of church.  In fact, 70% of the church-going Boomers surveyed want to go back to that traditional Sunday gathering.  It’s still meaningful.  It’s what they know and love.  We can’t steal that. Moving forward it needs to be a piece of the reimagined church.

But the great majority of younger generations don’t share that conviction. They’re finding connection in the digital church.  They’re enjoying a house church that has emerged with 4 other families.  They’re creating dinner church experiences with a dozen friends on a Thursday night.  They’re a Sunday morning “huddle church”.  Some are creating their own “worship gathering and liturgy”.  Others are joining together for a “watch party” of their church’s online service.

What would it look like for your church to consider a multiplied model?  What would it look like to embrace a true hybrid expression of church that still celebrates the traditional Sunday gathering but also cheerleads and celebrates multiple, smaller congregations meeting during the week, in various locations, at various times, with many groups of people? 

I think I can already hear some push-back.  “Yeah but we’re a little church!  We’re only small! We can’t multiply anything!  That’s a big church model!” 

No it’s not!!  Don’t take your “existentially flexible” hat off yet!   What if there were 31 people meeting on Sunday at 10:30am in your church facility.  Perhaps there’s another group of 14 on Thursday night over dinner?  And another group of 23 on Tuesday night over coffee in a café?

And what if fellowship happened?  What if care happened? What if teaching happened?  What if you started serving together?  Could that in fact be a true congregation by New Testament standards?  Could that simply be another expression of your church, another congregation, at a different time, in a different place, reaching different people, tethered together as multiple congregations and still ONE church?

Could THAT be a new forward?  Could that be the answer that your church needs to consider?  As Simon Sinek asks, “Do you have the capacity to make that 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”  We must! It’s a new day for the Church!   Jesus is still building His Church and His cause is too great not to try!

Kevin Vincent is the Director for the Centre of Congregational Development with CBAC. He is part of Canadian Baptist National Cohort along with Cid Latty from CBOQ and Shannon Youell from CBWC. Together we dream and vision and work towards sharing resources and imagination for our churches as they join God in extending the Good News into multiple communities in which the folk in our churches live, work, play and pray. And we laugh a lot.

Could the principles of café church transform your community?

BY: REV. CID LATTY, Congregational Development Associate Canadian Baptist of Ontario & Quebec

The now almost legendary TED talk by Simon Sinek about the essentiality of understanding ‘the why?’ is worth considering before you contemplate any new venture especially one that will affect the lives of people.[1] The idea is simple, if you are strong about the ‘why’, you are clear about the ‘what’ and it’s easier to do the ‘how’. Therefore when thinking about micro church or a version of them like café church we must begin where any good seminary student begins, with good biblically based theology (the why) so that we can work out in our practice (the what & the how).  Thankfully I don’t have to use much space here developing a theology of place or the repercussions of atonement as this has been done extensively elsewhere[2] however let me summarize how I read a key scripture that I see as giving us a strong enough ‘why’ for the what that I’ll illustrate in the form of café church later on.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in John 1: 35-38 where we read:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

I call this (somewhat humorously) the least preached on verses in the bible. Why would the disciples want to see where Jesus lived? Notice first the context is one where years of prophetic silence have just been shattered by the loud call of the uncommon revivalist John the Baptist. His declaration is simple; Jesus, the carpenter’s son, the one from obscurity, was actually the long awaited Messiah. He is the bringer in of a new epoch who could put right the defragmentation of the cosmos. This was no small matter. It would be life transforming for everyone who believed. Now hear the words again of the disciples who have just been confronted with the culmination of Israel’s history. They say, ‘where are you staying?’ Yes, let me say that again, on the backdrop of a huge paradigm shift they enquire ‘where are you staying???’ This sounds like a strange question for sure. You see I think I might have asked a different question in that moment, maybe something like ‘how will you take away our sins?’ or ‘explain to me what Daniel meant when he saw the Son of Man?’ or better still ‘how will God rule the world when the culmination of the end times occurs?’ No, they don’t ask our good theological questions. Their question is all about hospitality, locality and humanity. In my paraphrase they are asking ‘can we come over for a coffee?’ or ‘Where is your house?’ Or even ‘Do you live like we live with the same mod cons?’ And it’s this line of questioning (not the one I would have) that John gives credit for seeing ‘his glory’ (John 1:14) because the one who was in the ‘closest relationship with the Father has made him known.’ (John 1:18) It seems that through the ability of Jesus to be relatable, accessible, giving people a view into the normal parts of his life they were able to connect with God. Now it follows that our good theology will ask ‘if God is like this how should we behave?’ Our theology will be seen in praxis. What we do as a result of what we see in God will be crucial. So any café church or micro church for that matter will need to incorporate being relatable, hospitable and accessible if it is to reflect the way of Jesus.

This was definitely the basis for what began in 2006 when we started a café church in Welwyn Garden City (a commuter town just outside London in the UK). Our question was how could we incarnate the gospel in the café culture around us? We could see how a thriving café culture was rapidly developing in our town. Coffee shops were opening up everywhere and this was also replicated all over the UK. In fact a staggering 50% of the UK adult population at the time visited a coffee shop (something that was unheard of before this time). Our own church congregation were a part of this café culture with many of them using coffee shops as ‘third places’ between home and work. With this in mind we asked our local Costa Coffee[3] if we could develop a community in their store and were amazed when they said yes.

What we planned then was a themed event with quizzes, a short talk, discussion and live music – all with the added benefit of being served by friendly coffee shop staff. Our purpose was to help people engage with issues like debt, parenting or the environment from a faith perspective. We called it ‘coffee with a conscience’. People would not only be invited to enjoy a lively evening of chat, hope and humor but we would offer them resources and prayer to help them take action after the event was over. All this would form the basis of our hospitable community.

What we ran on that first night proved to be so popular that I began discussions with Costa Coffee Management and a few café churches were piloted in other stores. Due to the success of these, Cafechurch Network was formed. This registered charity was later given the ‘OK’ to put a café church in every suitable Costa Coffee store in the UK. Over the next ten years we would help to start more than one hundred café churches all over the UK.

Running a café church in a main street coffee shop was a win-win for the church and coffee shop. Stores benefit as café church helped them to feel part of the local community. The church would benefit as people who might not enter a more traditional church setting interacted with people who did. This may be one of the first steps for some towards going to church. For others they may feel that café church in a main street location was the kind of community they wanted to belong to. This then challenged us to re-imagine how we could help people in a café context move forward in their faith journey.

When developing a café church (or a micro church) one of the challenges can be the word ‘church’ itself. It can be a loaded word for some people as they may have either misconceptions about what it means or real experiences of pain in a church context that could be off-putting. While running a café church we often found ourselves having to reassure people that what we were doing was inclusive and not accusative in tone and texture. We therefore found that we ourselves had to learn how to communicate differently in a café context. For instance, while it may be acceptable in churches to expect people to sit patiently through whole services, offering only polite contributions and encouraging sentiments at the end, in a main street café context this is not the case. People come ready to talk with each other and are familiar with connecting in a relaxed environment. If the subject is not engaging and the talk is monotonous people will begin to talk among themselves and the whole evening will be lost. I would often say to café church leaders ‘whatever you do, don’t be boring.’ It is better to keep it lively and make a mistake (correcting yourself later) than to be mind-numbingly dull and risk jeopardizing the whole meeting. Part of the thrill of serving in this context is that the content needs to be transformational not just informational. We need to be an engaging presence not just a welcoming one.[4]

The questions I ask today in Canada are ‘what do people enjoy doing?’ ‘Where do they enjoy meeting each other?’ ‘where do conversations happen?’ ‘where do people yearn for hospitality?’ ‘How can we address the pandemic of loneliness?’ If you can think of an answer to these questions then you are a step away from taking the principles of café church (being accessible, hospitable, a relatable community) and applying them to your situation. Our Canadian adventure could be a similar one to my UK story because the needs are the same even though the cultural expressions may be somewhat different. Here is a leaders guide that will help you run an online café church  https://baptist.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/cafechurch-at-home-leaders-guide.pdf

If you can dream about the needs around you for a while, I’m sure that you can also translate your thoughts into doing something good to transform what you see. And as Paul said to the Ephesians God is ‘able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’ Our first step is to begin with our own creative imagination so that we can step into the opportunities with our actions. Café church is a micro church expression that you could do today. The decision is yours. By the way I can hear my community asking me one question, and if you listen closely you’ll hear your neighborhood asking you the same question too. The question is this ‘where are you staying?’ What will your answer be?

Rev Cid Latty Clatty@baptist.ca

Congregational Development Associate Canadian Baptist of Ontario & Quebec


[1] You can watch the talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

[2] I will not offer a list of books and resources as these are readily available and almost without limit however a surprisingly good book that summaries the effects of the incarnation is ‘A community called atonement’ by Scot Mcknight Abingdon 2007

[3] Costa Coffee had at the time 900 chain stores of coffee shops similar in style to Starbucks. Costa Coffee is owned by Coca Cola today

[4] There are some excellent points on how to do this in the book ‘How to revive Evangelism’ by Craig Springer