Shared Practices in the Midst of Self Isolation

By Shannon Youell

How then, shall we, the church, respond? 

Over the last few weeks weve been taking a look at Mike Frost’s BELLS approach to Shared Practices: Bless, Eat, Learn, Listen, Be Sent. However, in our present global reality, how do we engage shared practices? As Bruxy Cavey reminds us, love is wise and it is nimble...We may, in certain situations, love well by actually keeping our distance from people, by staying away. So what now?

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We’ve taken another look at these 5 shared practices and want to share some stories and resources with you about how we can continue to show God’s love to each other and the world even in the midst of self-isolation: 

Bless 

Times of crisis can turn even the most kind of us into Mr. Hyde! We’ve seen this in the buying out of common needed items and groceries in our stores in the past weeks – empty shelves facing those who only were buying what they needed for that week and for those who lack the resources to buy a months worth of food/products at a time.   

I faced those empty shelves for the sixth day in a row, looking for just one package of toilet paper as we were down to our last couple of rolls (yes this is, sadly, a toilet paper story – but it has a good ending!) 

On day six, four 8roll packages remained on the shelf of the local grocery store. And it was only eight in the morning!  I bought one, praying that three more people could buy the others. I also discovered that there were a dozen or so containers of disinfecting wipes miraculously on an otherwise empty shelf, so I bought two of those.  

The next morning, one of my sons dropped by to leave his young child here so as to get his shopping for the week.  Same store.  No toilet paper, no wipes, no soup, no pasta.  So I gave him my package of toilet paper and a package of wipes.  All will be well, I thought.  

Next morning someone in our community stuck her head in my driveway gate to drop off a piece of frozen salmon she wanted me to have.  Standing at a safe distance from one another, I asked why it took two bags to hold one piece of fish.  “Other stuff.” she said.  Looking in one of the bags I laughed out loud. There was an 8roll pack of toilet paper and a baggie of wipes that she packed from her container of wipes she has at home.  She had no idea I had just given mine away to someone else!  She said it must have been some kind of “God radar. 

Can we all put up our “God Radar” on how we can bless those in our neighbourhood and extended communities during this time?  Take the time to look out your window and see who you can be a blessing to.  

Eat
It’s difficult these days—but not impossible—to make mealtimes a hospitable activity. One family in Cailey’s Mission Group gathers together daily at 3:30pm for coffee and snacks. This routine was in place long before COVID-19 came on the scene, but has become an even more important connect point for them in these times.   

This family—comprising parents, two adult kids living at home and a third in high school—has even taken “Coffee Time” to the next level in the past couple of weeks by inviting other families “over” via FaceTime. For 30 minutes to an hour, the two families share in conversation online while enjoying hot drinks in their own homes. Why not try to share your meal or snack time with another person or family, even once a week? 

Learn
In some ways, this one’s easy—has there ever been a season with more educational resources available at our fingertips? However, when Michael Frost says “Learn,” what he’s saying is learn Jesus for the sake of becoming like Jesus. This practice means more than buzzing in and out of webinars and Reddit.

Frost goes as far as calling us to “marinate our minds and souls in the story of Jesus Through biblical study, theological reading and even the viewing of films (no matter how limited each of them might be), we slowly but surely orient our lives toward the things of Christ, and we become deeply familiar with His story so we can share it whenever anyone asks us for the reason for the hope we have in Him” (Five Habits of Highly Missional People p34).

Listen 
Remember, it’s still Lent! It might look different with kids around or your spouse trying to work from home in the living room, but try to find a way for fasting, solitude, and meditating on Scripture to help you hear what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you and your community.  

Be Sent
I was talking with another pastor yesterday of the minute by minute evolution of our ‘new notnormalsin the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.  He, like so many of us is scrambling to figure out how to keep the congregation connected when we can no longer gather in our buildings and homes.  He mentioned how this seems to be dominating the minds of every pastor he has also been speaking with.  He is also self-isolating and is unwell, so he’s been stressed about that as well. 

In his accounting, yesterday morning, after being confined to home and having his every waking moment dominated by getting the church service online and his own health concerns, he looked out his window to the neighbourhood outside his walls.   

That’s when it hit him – he had been so focused on ensuring his own safety and well-being and that of the congregation that he forgot about his neighbours – in fact, he realized, he hadn’t seen any movement whatsoever in the home across the street where an older couple lived.  

Many churches have adopted the missional language of “being church.” Here, then is an opportunity to do just that, though in ways we haven’t even thought of as we navigate our way back to ‘normal’.   For my pastor friend, the Spirit reminded him of the calling of the church is both to be gathered and scattered.   

Here is the time, scattered as we are in the confines of our homes, to shine.  

David Fitch offers this simple but open-postured example of a note they’ve been leaving in their neighbours’ mailboxes: 

Hi neighbors, 

It’s Dave and Rae Ann Fitch. In light of the fact that some of us are likely to get sick from COVID-19 in the next little while and will need to stay home in isolation, we just wanted you to have our number and email address. If you run out of supplies like toilet paper or need someone to pick up groceries and drop them off at your door—we’re happy to help out as much as we can. 

Sincerely, 

The Fitchs” 

You can check out his whole blog article Faithful Presence During a Pandemic here.

 As I was praying the other day, I was prompted by the Spirit to move from prayers of “God, where are you?” to “God, where are you at work right now and how can I join you?” We pray that all of us in this time will be able to notice and join the good work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, homes and communities. 

BELLS Video #5: SENT

As part of our series on Shared Practices, we’re sharing Mike Frost’s brief videos about the 5 Shared Practices that his missional community practices together: the BELLS method of Bless, Eat, Learn, Listen, Be Sent.

This 3-minute clip wraps up the series as Mike Frost asks about how we live as sent ones in the world. Did the people you encounter throughout the day see Jesus reflected in you in a way that strengthened them, engaged them in conversation with you and heard Jesus’ love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness through you?

We encourage you to try out the practice yourself. Does it come naturally to you, or is it a stretch?

How did you mirror God’s word in your world today? How can your community of faith engage this practice together?

BELLS Video #4: LISTENING TO THE SPIRIT

As part of our series on Shared Practices, we’re sharing Mike Frost’s brief videos about the 5 Shared Practices that his missional community practices together: the BELLS method of Bless, Eat, Learn, Listen, Be Sent.

In this 4-minute video, Frost shares how his community practices listening to the Holy Spirit.

We encourage you to try out the practice yourself. Does it come naturally to you, or is it a stretch?

Think about examples of Jesus and the early church partaking in this practice. What might it look like today in your church family? How will you create space to sit and actually listen and see where God is already working, in order to join Him?

BELLS Video #3: LEARNING JESUS

As part of our series on Shared Practices, we’re sharing Mike Frost’s brief videos about the 5 Shared Practices that his missional community practices together: the BELLS method of Bless, Eat, Learn, Listen, Be Sent.

5 Minutes

We encourage you to try out the practice yourself. Does it come naturally to you, or is it a stretch?

In what ways are the folks in your congregation shaped by Jesus? How would our neighbours respond if we began talking about Jesus in the same way we talk about someone else who know inside out?

 

BELLS Video #2: EAT

As part of our series on Shared Practices, we’re sharing Mike Frost’s brief videos about the 5 Shared Practices that his missional community practices together: the BELLS method of Bless, Eat, Learn Jesus, Listen to the Spirit, Be Sent.

These videos are not meant to tell you how to do Shared Practices in your congregation, but rather show a great example of the kinds of simple missional habits that we as the embodiment of Christ on earth are to foster. Take 2 minutes to watch this video and consider your perspective on Frost’s second practice: Eat.

We encourage you to try out the practice yourself. Does it come naturally to you, or is it a stretch?

Think about examples of Jesus and the early church partaking in this practice. What might it look like today in your church family? How can the table be a mission zone in your home, your church facility, your neighbourhood? What are the road blocks, and what are the opportunities? Let us know what you think!

Perspectives on Shared Practices: Michael Frost

“Evangelistic mission works effectively when we are living generous, Spirit-led, hospitable, Christlike lives as missionaries in our own neighbourhoods—and when the gifted evangelists in our midst join us in sharing Christ with our neighbours. That’s not just good evangelism strategy. That’s the biblical model” (Michael Frost, Surprise the World, NavPress 2016). 

These words from Michael Frost, an Australian church planter, theologian, missiologist, and cofounder of Forge Mission Training Network, speak to the heart of the series on Shared Practices we’ve been sharing for the past few months. Yes, Shared Practices are at one level meant to help already-Christians grow in the kingdom way together, being transformed more into the likeness of Christ through important facets such as accountability, Bible study, hospitality and prayer. But really, the whole point of the gathered and scattered people of God is to make disciples who make disciples—to be a winsome people who, as Frost puts it, “announce and demonstrate the reign of God through Christ.” Shared Practices are inherently missional.

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Over the coming weeks, we’re going to share Mike Frost’s videos about the 5 Shared Practices that his missional community practices together: the BELLS method of Bless, Eat, Learn Jesus, Listen to the Spirit, Be Sent.

We’ll share a new clip each week, giving you time to experiment with the practice. These videos are not meant to necessarily give you a plug-and-play model for Shared Practices, but they are a good starting place to foster conversation in your congregation.

These approximately 4-minute videos give us a new way to approach some of the habits or tendencies that we already have as human beings, and today we’ll begin with the first B: BLESS.

Take note that the original word bless means “add strength to one’s arm.” Remember that God strengthens with His right hand or arm and that strength is what blesses the person. When we do likewise (as imitators of Christ) we bless.

We encourage you to try out the practice yourself. Does it come naturally to you, or is it a stretch? What might this practice look like in your church family? What similar practices already exist in some way in your congregation? Why is this practice important for disciple-making disciples of Christ?

Perspectives on Shared Practices: Mike Oshiro

As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview another of our churches who are on this journey: The Forge Church in Victoria, BC. Pastors Mike Oshiro and Shannon Youell (whom you know!) share their journey with us. ~ Cailey

CBWC: Why Shared Practices?

Mike Oshiro (Lead Pastor) and Shannon Youell: As a congregation we had gone through a reboot ten years ago. A significant part of that reboot was in moving from being a Sunday gathering of church members to a community who lived out covenant with God and one another by committing to faith life being one of discipling one another. This reboot required us to also change how we do church leadership together, which has resulted in a deep trust in one another. We are convinced that this trust is the platform that enabled us to move into developing shared practices.

We began moving in the direction of shared practices after we began evaluating where we are and realized that intentional discipleship for most church people is an optional “add-on” to life in Christ. As leaders, we had capitulated to the worldview of consumerism and individualism, while at the same time trying to form a covenanted community on mission with God. It just wasn’t working.  Intentional discipleship in community just can’t be an add-on.

CBWC: What was The Forge Church’s experience of developing shared practices?

Mike and Shannon: Jesus called us to make disciples who join God on mission. After much prayer, we knew we needed to reimagine and rethink how to do that. We especially were drawn to the writings of Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Mike Lukens and so many others who had found themselves in the same place in their own church experience. We began to look at how to begin making a shift from individuals with personal faith journeys to a community on mission together to shape one another in Christ-like-ness so the community is a witness for Christ to our local community.

We entered into conversations with Cam Roxburgh and Cailey Morgan from Southside who gave us more insight into what it takes to move into Shared Practices as a church.

After a year of teaching towards this “culture-shift,” we began developing Shared Practices Guide for Advent of 2017. It was basic and simple.

January 2018 saw us with our first full-version weekly guide of discipling one another together. At this point we still did not have anything formed around some kind of small groups. We were very intentional about not moving into this too soon.  Cam wisely counselled us to take some time with our Leadership Team (LT) before we launch it with our congregation. And we needed it!

Part of our teaching focused on the idea that journey with Christ was always meant to be a corporate journey, not just a personal/individual. Shared Practices helped us to focus. Our concern was that it would become an optional Bible study with no engagement, so we wanted another small group with purpose, that would encourage our church to become a discipling community.

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

Mike and Shannon: Over the last 2 years all of our teaching seemed to come back to the Shema, as Jesus expressed it in Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Initially when we began using the Weekly Practices Guide, we didn’t have small groups (which we call Connect Groups). Our encouragement was to join with the rest of our church community to in doing the daily exercises or shared practices.

Our Shared Practices are Prayer (Heart), Study of Scripture (Mind), preparation for Sabbath (Strength), being a good neighbour (Love Your Neighbour), Personal Practice and Reflection (Love Yourself) and Gathering together on Sunday and in Wednesday Connect Groups (Love One Another).

Focusing on these practices as a whole church community gives us common conversation to begin to form deeper relationships with one another.  We still encourage people to read Scripture or “have devotions” as they have found meaningful, but we also strongly encouraged the church to join this shared journey of prayer, study, reflection, eating together and creating a meaningful community life seven days a week.  This was not an increase in church activities or programs, rather a new rhythm of doing the things we normally do in life with more intentionality of being a gospel people together.

CBWC: What’s been the hardest or most frustrating thing? 

Mike and Shannon: Even after teaching and preaching on being Christ’s disciples both in our personal lives and corporately, when it came time to introduce the concept of Shared Practices, people pushed back. There were so many reasons people felt they couldn’t engage: “I do my own devotions” or “what if I don’t want to read that Scripture this week?” or “I have no time in my day to pray or spend time with God.”

We realized we needed to go back a step, so we practiced with our Leadership Team for about four months by meeting weekly for a shared meal, conversation, discussion and praying together for one another. Much to our surprise, the majority of push back on our LT came from those who we thought would be most supportive. Most of our leaders struggled with leading a small group (Connect Group) as they didn’t feel ready, or didn’t think they have enough biblical knowledge, or are introverts. We reiterated over and over that we were not doing question-and-answer Bible studies, but rather practicing life discipleship together.

We had said from the beginning that if our LT wasn’t fully on board for this we wouldn’t pursue it until they were. That has been one of the most fruitful pauses in moving forward that we could have done.

The other hard thing is that it does take a lot of work to create the guide books.  However, we as staff have grown deeper into our own discipleship journeys and we have seen our preaching and teaching growing and connecting more and more with people in their day-to-day life. image001.jpg

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

Mike and Shannon:We are now two full years in the rhythm of shared practices and we are seeing some wonderful fruit.

Our community has grown closer and more connected We are seeing an increase in new members and baptisms coming out of these groups.  For us, growing in numbers has never been our goal, but we find that as we grow in depth as disciples, we are growing in numbers as well.

We are also seeing more of the pastoral care happening from within our Connect Groups. We have elders in each group that are part of our LT, and increasingly, needs and concerns are met through people who are walking discipleship out together. This has given staff the needed time to continue developing leaders and disciples who find their relationship with God, self, others and neighbours being transformed.

One icing-on-the-cake bonus is that we have a people of faith who are increasingly intentional in every area of their lives. By the time we introduced our Connect Group, people were understanding the why around Shared practices and the push-back we initially received had died off. At the launch of these very intentional groups we had over 60% of our congregation join with us.

All our new people are connected to a group as soon as they indicate they are interested in The Forge Church as their “home,” embedding them into people who know and care for them, not as strangers who sit across the aisle, but as brothers and sisters following Jesus on mission in their everyday lives.

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

Mike and Shannon: Go slow! Take incremental steps. We didn’t create an add-on program to what we were already doing, but over the course of five years began intentionally reshaping who we are and what we do as witnesses of Christ in our lives.

Don’t be afraid to take a few steps back to help your church re-orientate.  But also don’t allow the culture of consumerism and the individualism of “private faith” distract you or put fear in your hearts! We were prepared that some people wouldn’t delve deep with us and we continue to care for them as community—but the depth to which we are now delving and the growth we are seeing both in our long time folk and new folk, is well worth staying the course.

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

Shared Practices: Starting Small at Brownfield

If you’ve been following this blog throughout the fall, you have noticed we have been focusing on being intentional in being disciples who disciple one another and engage missionally in the places and spaces where we spend the majority of our time. Christ calls each and everyone of us to be salt and light in the world, living out the gospel in ways that reveal Jesus and the good news of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

Intentional discipleship requires us to be, well, intentional, and to be available to one another. Mid-week small group gatherings is imperative to discipleship.  Some might disagree, and that is fine. However, I do want to remind us that discipleship is much more than studying the Bible and learning knowledge about it – discipleship is always relationally based so we can ‘spur one another on’ to being open, honest and accountable to others as we are formed more and more into Christ-like-ness in our attitudes, behavior and how we live out the forgiveness, grace, peace and hope of our God-With-Us, in all our relationships in our lives.

Ashlyn Faber from Brownfield Baptist shares with us how they are encouraging gathering together mid-week, especially for families with children. We offer it here as a reprint from CBWC’s January Making Connections Newsletter. ~Shannon

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My husband and I have been very blessed to have small groups as part of our lives. From being involved as a teen, to helping lead a youth group in our college years, to gathering a cohort of people around us as we raise our own children. There is something beautiful about gathering together in a living room around the fire, or around a table full of food, or even just being on the same text thread throughout the week. It’s not that we don’t see each other Sunday at church, because we do. But this is different. This feels like we get to do life together each week. And when you do life together, you get to know each other in such different ways. Starting off can be a bit awkward, and maybe even feels like work at times. But quickly these people have become some of our dearest friends, and people we wouldn’t want to journey without.

Carving out a time to meet isn’t always easy when you’re melding many busy schedules together. Our group right now consists of five families- ten adults and thirteen kids (ages ranging from nine months to fifteen)- but we’ve found a routine that works for us! We have a four-week rotation:

Week 1 Ladies’ Night

Week 2 Men’s Night

Week 3 Couples’ Night

Week 4 Family Night

Practically, this means that we only need a babysitter one night out of the month. A bonus in this particular season of life! But it also creates and provides a rhythm of down time for the one that gets to stay home and tuck the kids into bed. Most nights we meet in the evening, with the exception of Family Night. It’s special because we share a meal together and our kids are all involved. Each night can be completely different, with its own unique flair, but we always try to incorporate praying for each other. Nothing fancy. Just meeting together.

There isn’t a magic formula, just get a group together and find a routine that works for you. Journey with each other and see what God will do!

If you have been interested in being a part of a small group but haven’t taken the plunge yet, don’t let this year pass you by without giving it a shot. There is no time like the present for trying new things!

What frameworks for discipleship have worked well in your faith community? Share with us by commenting here, or shooting me a note at syouell@cbwc.ca.

And the Lord added daily…

By Cailey Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Celebrating a Decade of Engaging in Mission

By Shannon Youell

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you are hollering out a hearty Praise God!  

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

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