Rural Church Planting in Western Canada

By Joell Haugan

Doing church in rural areas ain’t what it used to be. Churches dotted the landscape across the entire populated areas of the Canada….usually all within a few miles of each other. Amazingly, folks could get on their horse and buggy and be at their burgeoning local church within an hour or maybe two at the most.  Which, by the way, account for the normal service time of 11am that churches today still mostly use. And, once you got there, there was no leaving after only an hour to head home. Church in the country was often an all afternoon thing.

Fast forward to 2017. Most country church buildings are actually gone. Some demolished. Some moved to the city for someone’s quaint restaurant. The remaining ones are sitting out in the country, often in disrepair and subject to teenager’s drunken whims.

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Except this one. Bingham Baptist Church in Droxford, Saskatchewan, is a memorial to a time not so long ago.

The congregation stopped meeting here sometime around 2000. The building is pretty much untouched since then with community folks still stopping in to check on it on occasion. This church resides on a depopulated area of Saskatchewan  Thirty-ish years ago this area was full of farms and farm families in their homes usually a few miles apart. Everyone had neighbours that could be walked to if necessary. Now, mega-farms are often 10 miles apart and people commute to work on the farm from area towns and cities.

But, people are still out there. The Rural Municipality that this building resides in (think of a 40 by 40 kms area – this one happens to be exactly 802 sq kms) has a whopping 140 people living in it.  The nearest town has 229.

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Nowadays, folks get in their cars, drive 45 minutes to get to their city church and, if they live in a rural area, may pass by six or seven places where countryside churches used to be. They also may pass many folks and families that still reside on farms and who are no longer connected to a local church family.  Every day they drive to the big town/city for school/work/appointments and doing so on yet another day is beyond the effort. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could gather together with folks from their neighbourhood (read: 10 mile radius) and become a body of believers without the massive overhead that comes from needing a church building to pay for?

What does church planting look like in rural areas of Western Canada?  Can we do “local” in such sparsely populated areas?  I believe we can. I also believe we should. But local might end up looking different and might end up needing the support of a nearby city/town church.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a functioning church, regardless if there is a building, every 10 miles throughout the Canadian countryside like there was in the old days. Well, not really like the old days.

BTW, the answer is “yes”!

Joell

The Route to Fruit

By Cailey Morgan

The theme of CBWC’s upcoming Banff Pastors Conference is Life on the Vine. I find this tagline quite fitting, as John 15 was the focus of study at my church recently. Man, what a gutwrencher!

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Not only is this teaching of Jesus full of beautiful imagery, but His simple if/then invitations have poked and prodded me in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. My Mission Group has helped me process by examining the chapter together piece-by-piece but also in the context of the broader Scriptural narrative and of our own lived experience. Even with the Group’s help, though, I still found verse 5 to be particularly prickly:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

In some ways, this instruction from Christ is extremely straightforward. I’m the Cord; you’re the bulb. As long as we stay entwined, there will be light in and through you. But without Me–your Source–you’ll be dark and useless (See Ephesians 5:8-13 for the basis of this paraphrase). Do A, and B will happen. Open invitation; simple response; clear outcomes. Remaining = fruit.

But in other ways, I got so tripped up. Take for instance that word remain. My initial reaction to the concept of remaining–or abiding as other translations say–was that it sounds kind of passive and maybe even a bit boring. It would seem Jesus is presenting us a lose-lose situation: either remain (which sounds boring), or go apart (where “you can do nothing.” Talk about even more boring!). However, through yet another processing session with my Group, I came to see the possibility that I’ve got this whole thing upside-down.

Staying Put in the Current

What if my understanding of abiding was less like a passive lack of movement and more like the labour of a fish in a raging river? My life is so easily pulled along in the currents of a culture that is not only yanking me away from Christ’s Kingdom way that I am called to walk, but also panders to my short attention span, my laziness, my habit of watching non-existent people’s problems explode on a screen rather than dealing with my own, my pursuit of self-important busyness, and my robust case of millennial individualistic egomania that lets me believe I am so special that I accomplish anything I put my mind to (and all by myself, might I add). For this fish that is me, the act of actually remaining, abiding in the true Christ-like life that comes from the Vine, facing upstream and staying put as the river pulls past, takes infinitely more effort and intentionality than passively letting the water take me where it may.

Ok, we’ve gotten past presumptions of boringness to an active picture of remaining. But my next hangup came with the fact that my new definition of remaining sounds like a life of lonely and impossible striving. Kind of like religion for the sake of religion. But thankfully, at that point I had not considered the rest of the characters in this story.

Not Alone in the River

Abiding in Christ is not passive (Ephesians 6:10-17 and Colossians 3:12-13), or easy (John 16:33), or boring (John 10:10). And it’s also not one-sided. I’m not alone in this river. The Message version of John 14:4 suggests that Jesus was saying “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” As we learn to cling to the Vine, to our Source of life, love, identity and purpose, He is clinging right back.

And how is it that we actually do remain? John 15:9-10 reminds us that we remain in His love by keeping His commands. Thankfully, He spells out what He means by “commands” in verse 17:

My command is this: Love each other.

So Lord, what you’re saying is this: You give me Your love so that I can love others as a way for them to receive Your love while I show You my love by obeying Your command to love others as they love You by loving me. Huh? Sounds like these Vine and branches are a big, tangled, intertwined mess, maybe like the structured-organic Kingdom family I wrote about last time.

My prayer for all of us as we seek to abide in the Vine is that we would have the patience and endurance to bear much fruit:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.

They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do…

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory (Psalm 1:1-3, Isaiah 61:3).

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Organic Structure

by Cailey Morgan

God is amazing. He’s so creative. I don’t know why I haven’t introduced more people to Him—I’m pretty sure they’d think He was epic if they got to know Him.

Miracle Beans

I planted some green bush beans in a pot on my front deck a couple weeks ago. It began rather anticlimactically: I took dried up little beans out of a paper bag, I put them into some dirt, and I walked away. But in a matter of days, tiny, beautiful, broad-leafed plants began popping up all over! Now when I go out to my deck for my morning coffee, I get so distracted by this miracle, this sustaining power of God being shown right in front of me. Incredible.

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My beans.

This morning as I was watching my beans mysteriously soak up water from their soil, I got to thinking about a quote from a Mandy Smith article I read awhile back on the molecular or yeast-like nature of God’s Kingdom:

“Organic” has become a catchword in recent years, to describe new (old?) ways of doing church. In some settings it’s code for “unprofessional” or “disorganized.” But organic things certainly have structure and bear fruit—it just seems mysterious to us because we can’t always predict or control it.i

I’d have to agree with Mandy that the level of structure in our churches is an important point of discussion. We need to always be examining our traditions to ensure that they are producing—not hindering—spiritual growth, and constantly exploring a broad range of ways to be the Church for the sake of reaching every subset of our diverse neighbourhoods. But I’m concerned that sometimes we’ve gone too far and brushed aside structure, misunderstanding the very definition of “organic” and cutting off the Body of Christ at the knees.

I can’t make my beans grow, or predict which ones will pop up at which time. But what I can do is create the best possible environment for them to flourish as God intended. He’s the one sustaining them by constantly holding this universe together in the structure He knows will work best: keeping the earth on its axis and its rotation around the sun, allowing water and nutrients and amazing biological processes to all mix together and somehow produce delicious veggies for me to stir-fry. And the way I contribute to that environment is through structure: planting the seeds at the correct time of year in a firm pot that contains a specific amount of the right soil at the proper density and following up with regular, scheduled times of watering and care. In that context of macro and micro structures, these little organic shoots can flourish.

Suffocation and Skeletons

I’ve been guilty of commiserating with my millennial compatriots about the seemingly hyper-structured nature of the Western Church:

“Why all the denominational rigamarole? I can’t stand this bureaucracy!”

“It feels so constricting when I’m expected to be at the same place at the same time every Sunday morning, or am told what to study or given guidelines for shared prayer.”

“Can’t the powers-that-be stop suffocating me and just trust me to be mature enough to sort out my Christian growth on my own?”

Well, no. Because that actually is impossible.

Christian growth is growth together (cf. Acts 2. In fact, cf. the whole Bible. You won’t find anything in there about “letting Jesus into your heart” or “a personal walk with the Lord”). Christian maturity means things like love, selflessness, encouragement, patience, kindness, leadership, forgiveness, hospitality, speaking the truth—none of which I can practice on my own. I do talk to myself about how awesome I am sometimes, but there’s nothing spiritually mature about that!

Fact is, as we grow into Christ’s Body—together—we need Him as the Head to guide us, but we also need a skeleton to keep us strong, give us the ability to move as one, and actually exist as something more than a soggy pile of organs and muscles on the floor.

The Body is not in existence for the sake of the skeleton, but the skeleton is an integral tool for the Body’s existence and thriving. God designed it that way, in the same way that He designed my beans with the structure to be able to get water to all their extremities through capillary action. Health requires structure.

Take for example our Canada Day BBQ last Saturday. I anticipated it to be a time of organic relationship-building and fun. But what if my friends and neighbours had responded to my invitation with, “Dude, don’t force me to come on Saturday. You’re cramping my organic style. I’d rather show up when I feel like it.” Um. I guess you’re missing the party then?

Or what about the signs I put up to show people where the bathroom is and what to do with their dirty forks, or the sticky name tags I asked people to wear. The well-defined structure and preparation of the event is what allowed for new relationships to flourish organically, not to mention allow for me to not spend the whole day telling people how to get to the loo.

The way the day played out may not be everyone’s favourite—some people were more partial to a different flavour of chicken than what Kyson offered them on Saturday or think the trivia questions should have been more relevant to their subculture—but the point of the whole event was relationship, not personal taste, and I’m pretty sure all of our guests understood that intention.

We Need Us—Including You

The reality is that the structures that shape our shared life as God’s people won’t always feel comfortable. I get that and feel that and wrestle with that; I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone. We all have different personalities, ways of learning, ideas of how to make mission more effective. But I’m begging us—especially the entrepreneurial, inspired young generation around me—to not give up on the community because it cramps our style.

Come to the table and bring your offering! I know sometimes existing leaders have a hard time making space for us, but they have wisdom and experience and a depth of relationship with God that we need to learn from, as well as roadblocks they need us to help eliminate. Choose to humbly engage and eventually you’ll be asked to pull up a chair. Learn, listen, and the time will come to lead.

Please, please see the inefficiencies and deficiencies in the structure of your church not as reasons to leave or start your own thing, but as opportunities to grow in maturity and Christlikeness. Embrace the frustration and roll-your-eyes moments that come with being a family, and offer your needed input in the midst of love and participation.

The Christian movement has survived because of where it exists—in human hearts—in the relationship between God and human, between one human and another…You are one small piece of something beautiful and active and powerful.ii

—–

i. Mandy Smith, “The Church’s Transformative Power is Molecular” (March 8, 2017): http://www.missioalliance.org/churchs-transformative-power-molecular/

ii. Ibid.

Leadership and Post-Christendom

by Mark Doerksen, Heartland Regional Minister, CBWC

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Shannon asked me to write a piece on leadership, and I am happy to oblige.  These thoughts on leadership have been percolating in my mind for a while now, so I’ll attempt to get these thoughts into some semblance of order.  I’m grateful for the opportunity, and grateful for the work of Cailey, Shannon, and Joell (the French pronunciation) for their work in church planting.

I was able to attend a class led by Darrell Guder at Carey Theological College in January of 2017.  For fun, Guder works on translating Karl Barth’s work into English.  So I wasn’t surprised to find out that Guder has also been instrumental in teaching David Bosch’s game-changing book, Transforming Mission.  Guder is no slouch; he’s currently the Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology Emeritus at Princeton Theological, and has taught in the area of the church after Christendom for a long time. He has used Bosch’s text as his main text book since Bosch’s book was first published, and really enjoys helping others understand the implications of Bosch’s work.

If you’ve read Bosch, you know that you may be tempted to skip a paragraph or two, but you do so at your own peril; seemingly each paragraph is rich and full of information that you don’t want to miss.  I appreciate Bosch because of his sifting of vast information, and his ability to formulate nuanced arguments for theology and mission, even today.  For example, if you were to attempt to get a definition of evangelism out of Bosch, you would have to read 9 pages with 18 different points, bearing in mind that mission and evangelism are not synonymous, though ultimately linked together.  Brevity isn’t his strength.

So too is Bosch’s treatment of leadership for the missional church today.  In Christendom, the responsibility of ministry lay mainly with the ordained, a power structure comprised mostly of men to lead the work of the church.  There is a shift in this thinking, as a movement is afoot to take this responsibility of a few ordained men and to make it the responsibility of the whole people of God (Bosch, 2014, 478).   Bosch describes this new reality as a rediscovery of the “apostulate of the laity” or the “priesthood of all believers,” a concept that isn’t new to Baptists (481).

In making this shift, people turn to texts like Ephesians 4 to think about leadership in this post-Christendom environment.  The history of interpretation of this text has not been smooth.  Calvin suggested that the only gifts necessary were pastors and teachers.  Some have suggested that the office of an apostle has long disappeared.  But missional theologians and thinkers like this passage because it speaks of the collegiality of leadership.   Leadership is not suited for one individual; instead, there are a multiplicity of gifts and abilities required for leadership.  Leadership is a community within a community.  The notion of a solo pastor making all the decisions for a community that bears witness is not a model that is as welcome as it used to be.  Instead, collegial, cordial, shared leadership amongst folks with different gifts seems to be the model moving forward after Christendom.  Folks like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write a lot about this model of leadership.

If Alan Hirsch is right about this, and if his church experience is to be an example for us, churches need to make a deliberate shift to this sort of leadership.  As he describes in The Forgotten Ways, the leadership of his church made a deliberate decision to embrace this leadership style, with each ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) having a team leader.  This posture allows for a dynamic learning system embedded in leadership, with the church poised for mission and health.

Of course, there are some theological reservations here.  If your Twitter feed is similar to mine, you will have read that not everyone agrees with the prominence of the Ephesians 4 passage for ministry and leadership.   Must each individual within a community of faith have one of the gifts of Ephesians 4, or are there other gifts?  The grammar police also have concerns; are pastors and teachers different gifts, or the same one, and what do the Greek grammar rules have to say about this?  You get the idea, and you may well add your voice to the concerns raised here.

And yet….  Given all the concerns about this sort of leadership, I personally find this collegial approach to be helpful.  I find it especially helpful and corrective in cases where solo pastors think they are the main people to hear from God regarding a particular community.  Related, this model also helps guard against authoritarian leadership in churches; it helps pastors move away from “thus sayeth the Lord” models to a model which shares leadership and responsibility, and which appreciates the gifts of the others who are leading.  Even my personality resonates with this sort of approach; I’d much rather work together with others than to dictate what has to happen.  As I see it, we’re a part of an upside-down kingdom (Kraybill) where we serve the other, not dictate to others.  Any model that helps us avoid dictator models, even benevolent dictators, is beneficial, though, as already mentioned here, these models need to be discerned as well.

Read an outline of Alan Hirsch’s APEST leadership here. Do you agree with Mark’s analysis? Are you a Bosch fan? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment on the blog or emailing cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

Post-Christendom and Bivocational Ministry

By Scott Hagley

Post-Christendom Ministry

Standing in the middle of a field in Burnaby, British Columbia, I could not help but smile. Hundreds of people from our neighborhood—new immigrants, families, elderly, young professionals— streamed into a park for the second annual “Inclusion Festival.” A youth band from a local music school played on a stage and a Peruvian dance troupe was the next act. Across the field, children worked on art projects, waited in line to jump in an inflatable castle, played games with the city parks staff, and tested their soccer skills against some coaches from a local camp. Increasingly, this is what pastoral ministry looks like in North America: finding a way to be present in the middle of one’s neighborhood in love and hope.

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The Inclusion Festival grew from the vision of a refugee claimant named Sofia. A married mother of two from Peru, she found government-sponsored housing in my neighborhood and began to make herself a vital part of the community. Occasionally, Sofia came to church functions. After a bullying incident in her daughter’s school, Sofia decided that our neighborhood needed a public event focused on the message of inclusion, hospitality, and acceptance.

The surprising success of the first Inclusion Festival drew public attention. City officials approached Sofia and offered a grant to establish the Inclusion Festival annually, with one catch: she needed to find a registered nonprofit to receive the funds and claim responsibility. Suddenly our church became the sponsoring organization for a community event that we did not plan or initiate, and one run by a non-member whose status in the country remained (at that time) uncertain. It was a mess. I like to lead. I have experience running and planning such events. But instead of leading, I found myself in a supportive role alongside Sofia.

She pulled together neighbors and created an experience that we (the church) could not. She blessed the neighborhood. And so did we . . . by supporting her. This, at least in part, is what post-Christendom ministry looks like.

Decline of Christianity in North America

We are all aware of surveys that report ambivalence toward religion generally and declining interest in Christianity specifically across North America. American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reports the rise of those claiming “none” for religious affiliation, while Christian Smith (Soul Searching) describes the Christian commitment of our young people as “moral therapeutic deism.” Sociology aside, we all likely know of a congregation that has closed, a church plant that has failed, or a church building turned into a beer hall. Post-Christendom describes (albeit imperfectly) this reality.

The Christian church in North America has lost significant power and influence. The fairly recent interest in “bivocational” ministry emerges as one solution. The reasoning usually follows: congregations have less money available for ministry staff and less energy for fundraising; congregations will survive if they have more financial flexibility; therefore we need pastors who are not solely dependent upon the church for income. It argues for bi-vocational ministry as a strategic element for congregational survival. But that argument misses the opportunity that bi-vocational ministry places within the congregation.

The North American church is not the only casualty of changing cultural meanings and social upheaval. Since (at least) the 1980s, observers have prophesied the loss of public life in America—declining civil society institutions, voluntarism, and civic practices crucial for democracy. We face a slate of social problems that seem intractable. Institutions as basic as government, school, law, and family are in various stages of upheaval. As Barbara Kellerman suggests, we seem to be facing a crisis in leadership (The End of Leadership); we have lost a collective faith not only in the pastoral leader, but also authorities in general. We must not lose sight of the fact that our congregational malaise participates in a broader cultural uncertainty.

Bi-vocational Ministry as an Opportunity

Here bi-vocational ministry becomes a Spirit-given opportunity for the church to discover the shape of mission and ministry in our dynamic era. Recently John McKnight and Peter Block have made the principles of Asset Based Community Development practically accessible in their book The Abundant Community. McKnight and Block suggest a gift-based localism, arguing that we will not build community and social trust/capital by consulting experts to solve societal problems. Rather, we will address a variety of social ills by focusing on the gifts already present in a neighborhood in order to cultivate local communities of shared gifts. Cities across North America have begun experimenting with this thesis.

The cry for abundant communities invites us to reconsider the ways that pastoral ministry might be gifted to the broader community. Bi-vocational ministry presents a distinct adaptive challenge to the church. It invites us to think more publicly about pastoral ministry, to imagine different possibilities for sharing life and funds. It is not simply “tentmaking” for the sake of making ends meet, but rather the practice of ministry for the well-being of the neighborhood.

Sofia’s invitation did not fit within the usual bounds of pastoral leadership. Her event was not one organized by the church, it did not promise to grow the church as “outreach,” and Sofia was not a member or in frequent attendance at the church. My work with the Inclusion Festival gave me the opportunity to be present in and with my neighborhood in an entirely different way. Consequently, our church community received an opportunity to participate in the sharing of gifts—Sofia’s vision, our volunteer base, city funds, a host of neighborhood organizations, and the sharing of a collective and public neighborhood event.

In a place described by several polls as Canada’s loneliest city, such an event and the sharing of such gifts certainly reflects some of God’s trustworthy character and work in the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, so-called bivocational ministry provides the push that we need to live in and with our neighborhoods in such a way that folks like Sofia and the gifts of our neighbors might be given fresh expression in the name and hope of Christ.

Dr. Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Seminary and also works with the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative and teaches in the MDiv Church Planting Emphasis program as well as the new Church Planting and Revitalization certificate program. He previously served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada.

This article first appeared on the Seminary’s blog. The Seminary offers multiple programs for those interesting in church planting including the Graduate Certificate in Church Planting and Revitalization, Master of Divinity with Church Planting Emphasis, and the Church Planting Initiative. Learn more about these programs online.

Jim Putnam’s Discipleship Scorecard

By Shannon Youell

Our church has visitors every week. They come, they go, they shop and some even stay.

I, and others in our community, are always watching to greet these visitors, which is what I did a few weeks ago when one caught my eye. I welcomed him and introduced myself, then asked him what brought him here this morning. He told me that he has spent his adult life living in close relationship with God; that he found Jesus through the Salvation Army Church, attending and serving there many years. He said he prayed, worshiped, read and meditated on Scripture every day, though he had not attended a corporate service in seven years since the Citadel removed the pastor he loved.

By measurement of his spiritual life, we may conclude this man was discipled well. He tried in every way to live a good Christian life and was devoted to God. On the other hand you may disagree that he was discipled well since he doesn’t “attend” worship services. Yet, in reality, he was discipled into exactly what many of us consider a disciple of Christ to be: one devoted to God and living a life of integrity and character and attends church services. He and many, many of us are discipled into individual relationship with God and service within the church programs as being the outcome.

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Indeed, this is central to us having relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. But does this describe fully what Jesus discipled his followers to?

Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington, in their book Discipleshift, draw our attention to how we “keep score”—how we evaluate success in our churches and in disciplemaking. I quoted Putnam a few months ago on his definition of a disciple:

If that definition does not end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it.  The bottom line is that a mature disciple of Jesus is defined by relationship. We are known for our love for God and one another.”

Often, I hear pastors and leaders lamenting that their good and faithful folk don’t do relationship well. They are kind and generous, but keep to themselves in everyday life. How then are we “known for our love for God and one another?” And how do we reflect being “committed to the mission of Jesus”?

In Discipleshift, the authors walk us through how we need to change our scorecard, the way we evaluate “from attracting and gathering to developing and releasing.”

“Deploying (releasing) means that people in your church are equipped and motivated to demonstrate God’s love and share their faith with the lost wherever they work or live or go to school—any place they interact with other people. They are also able to do life with other believers in relationship connection. They understand that they are ministers who serve wherever they go in the world. They are becoming people who make disciples at home, love a lost and hurting world, and win people to the Lord as they serve as missionaries in the communities where they live. That is the new scorecard for success.” (pg. 214).

They emphasize that our goal in being the church, or starting new churches, isn’t to gather a crowd and give them information, but rather to “raise up biblical disciples and deploy them into the world so they can raise up other disciples. These disciples are to grow into accurate copies of Jesus who rightly deliver his message in his ways.”

I know in my own church, there are many different ideas of what a disciple of Jesus is. Which creates part of the problem we have with being credible witnesses to those who do not yet know Christ or have decided they are good with their own personal life of worship and devotion.

Could our challenge be to relook at this and teach into what the Bible says about discipleship in the gospels? Here are several questions the book challenges us to look at with open minds and hearts:

  • How does the Bible define discipleship?
  • What does the Bible say a disciple look like?
  • What is the discipleship process as we see it happening in scripture?
  • What are the specific phases of discipleship, as seen in the scriptural models?
  • How will everyone in our church come to know this process?
  • What characteristics (values) must be present for real-life discipleship to occur in our church? (values include love, acceptance and accountability.)
  • How will our church (at every level) emphasize the discipleship process?
  • How will our church practice keep the focus on discipleship by making church “simple” and “clear”?
  • How will our church raise up, reproduce, and release disciple-making leaders?
  • How will our church serve as an attractional light on a hill?
  • How will our church send people out to serve incarnationally in the community?

I am going to start with the first three questions. I will do my best to put aside my already conceived ideas of this and honestly look at this. If I can’t do this, then what am I testifying about what Jesus mandated the Church to do? Who would like to travel this journey with us? Could we begin some dialogue about it? Then we can ask ourselves, our leadership teams the next questions and prayerfully begin to redevelop some of our methodology that has perhaps grown stale and ineffective to mentor and apprentice all those who choose to gather with us for services to participate more comfortably in God’s mission out to the world He loves.

Listening to your Community as Social Agency

By Scott Hagley

listening-is-missional-300x300.gifLast fall the Pittsburgh “Latte Art Throwdown” was held in my neighborhood. Baristas from coffee shops all around the city gathered to compete with one another in creating elaborate latte designs on demand. The organizer called baristas forward, rolled a die with different latte-art designs, and then invited the barista to make the design with a single shot of espresso and steamed milk. I’ll admit I went because the sign said “free lattes,” but I stayed because the social scientist in me wouldn’t let me go. An entire city sub-culture emerged within this small, crowded coffee shop.

It wasn’t just the disproportionate number of mustaches and beards, tattoos, piercings, and skinny jeans; it was the fact that so many in the room seemed to know one another. It was like I had stumbled into a chapter of the Pittsburgh Barista Association and then given a free latte and dessert.

I watched and listened to the conversation around me buzzing with hopes and dreams. I began asking questions. I learned that the man on the sidewalk selling tacos under a tent recently moved from another city and hopes to build a client base and open a restaurant. His vision is sustained by a secret family recipe and a carefully-plotted strategy. Later on, I listened to the owner of the coffee shop counsel a young entrepreneur who plans to open a café in the next couple months. She offered not only advice, but resources like plates and cups to aid with the start up. At one point in the evening, I asked someone about the origins of the “throwdown,” and I received an impassioned plea for community and the important role that the neighborhood coffee shop plays in building such community. It was an education. And great fun.

It was only after I got home, however, that I realized how little I talked throughout the evening. I was, of course, a stranger at the margins of the gathering. However, I found many people more than willing to tell me about themselves, about their event, about their entrepreneurial plans. As I listened, I not only learned a lot about one part of my community, I also discovered a place at an event where I clearly did not belong (insert obligatory Sesame Street song here). Listening, especially when we are operating at the margins, provides a place or a standpoint within a community. Listening connects us.

We often don’t think of listening as a form of social action or agency. It is not a medium for us to offer our ideas or to change people’s minds. It is not a way for us to be memorable or to change our world. But changing people’s minds and shaping our world might not be the immediate thing God has for us. Perhaps it is to learn to listen.

Several years ago, Nancy Ammerman wrote a book called Congregation & Community, where she studies congregations in changing neighborhoods. After studying more than 20 congregations, she concludes that congregational health is linked to its ability to connect with the spiritual energies of a neighborhood. Ammerman’s book was published as the “missional church” literature began to take off, and seems to agree with the many models available to help churches become ‘outwardly focused’ and activistic regarding justice or evangelism. Most of the time, we equate ‘missional’ with studying a neighborhood so we know how to engage it. However, I wonder if much of our missional activism misunderstands the basic requirement of cultivating relationships, of what James Davison Hunter calls “faithful presence.”

I would amend Ammerman’s argument to say that congregations need to learn how to join their neighborhood as a people of shalom. This is true especially if our neighborhood starts to look and feel different from what it used to be, and we feel like we are at the margins of someone else’s party. The first thing we need to do is find the free lattes and turn up our hearing aid. Learning to listen is a profoundly missional activity. Ask questions, and listen . . . we just might get in on the party.

Dr. Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology and also works with the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative and teaches in the MDiv Church Planting Emphasis program as well as the new Church Planting and Revitalization certificate program. He previously served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada.

“Listening to your Community as Social Agency” first appeared on the Seminary’s blog March 16, 2017. The Seminary offers multiple programs for those interesting in church planting including the Graduate Certificate in Church Planting and Revitalization, Master of Divinity with Church Planting Emphasis, and the Church Planting Initiative. Learn more about these programs online.

Potential Impact Report

By Shannon Youell

Do we approach God and His calling on our lives with fisted hands, holding tightly to things we have already determined or with open hands, willing to allow God to inform and shape our futures? Do we allow God to fill our empty cups and then are we able to drink the cup he has given us?

This was the opening focus to more than twenty young adults from Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan, gathered at Gull Lake Camp April 27-30 to challenge the next generation to focus on spiritual direction, an openness to ministry potential, and general calling and leadership in their life. Facilitated by CBWC ministry leaders and pastors, the Potential Impact conference metaphor quickly formed around the charging rhinoceros, who can see only twenty feet in front of itself yet knows that to see the next twenty feet requires stepping into the unseen-ness of the future.

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Using a three-fold framework of Spiritual Direction, Deeper Personal Understanding, and Openness and Exposure to Ministry Potential, we went on a journey of self-discovery of Who Am I, Where Do I Fit, How am I Unique, What am I to do and Where have I been/where am I going. Facilitated by Chris Maclure, Tammy Klassen, Dennis Stone, Mark Archibald, Steve Roadhouse, Debi Burt and myself, these topics were engaged through sessional teachings and activities, faith stories, small group coaching, worship, prayer, reflection and–of course–by rambunctious times of basketball, floor hockey, arrow tag, ping pong tournaments, campfires, star-gazing, sharing meals, to name just a few of the things we did together.

The call to join God where He is at work no matter where life leads was dominant in both the presentations and in the small group coaching. In these peer sessions, participants could wrestle with the presented material and “engage in the topics of identity and call” with speakers and coaches who “were awesome, encouraging, helpful and practical.”

The conference organizers are keenly aware that engaging and empowering young people for ministry potential is crucial to continue in the work of the kingdom of God generationally. This is, after all, a component of making disciples who make disciples. Developing and raising/releasing leaders into whatever their sphere of influence as “ministers of reconciliation” will be, is our responsibility as the generations before them. And it will be their responsibility to the generations who come after them.

Prototyping Churches

By Cailey Morgan

I was recently listening to the Thom Rainer Leadership Podcast. Their guest was Jimmy Scroggins, a pastor from Florida who tells the story of his church, which moved from a mega-church mentality, rebooting into a neighbourhood-centric church and eventually planting into a network of these smaller local congregations.

His story caught me, partially because of his attitude toward success. He had stopped worrying about how big or how fast the church was growing, and how fantastic their facilities were, and started thinking in terms of reaching everyone in their city.

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In our Western Canadian context, as much as we’d all agree that our churches want to reach everyone, my guess is that we find most of our growth through lateral movement–that is, Christians moving to our church. We don’t see a high ratio of people coming to faith, and when they do, they have often come from a background that was already familiar with Christianity, or saw the Church in a favourable light.

Prototyping
Jimmy Scroggins’ outlook on the church is that it should look like the neighbourhood. They have diversified into smaller neighbourhood congregations in order to reach the specific type of people that live in each community. This type of multiplication also has the added benefit of being accessible to various types of leaders and removes the pressure of having to conform to certain expectations of what church should be. As he says, anyone can do it:

“Just start. Start with one. You can’t sit around waiting for everything to line up, and get your whole plan together. I am a big believer in prototyping–and anybody can do it.”

We’re doing a decent job at reaching some people with our present forms of church and evangelism, and I celebrate the vibrancy we are seeing in so many of our congregations across the CBWC. But to reach the unchurched and the totally unreached in our neighbourhoods, something’s going to have to change (check out Mike Frost’s brief video on this topic).

Our Turn
Would you be willing to consider participating in some R&D, initiating a “prototype” in your area? Think about your neighbourhood. What does is look like? What does it need? What does it have to offer the greater community? Who isn’t being reached?

And what about your existing church? What do your people have to offer? Who can you train into leadership? What other congregations in the area could you partner with to offer something new to a demographic or neighbourhood that isn’t presently being reached?

“Start something, and try it! If it doesn’t work the way you want, tweak it or change it, or try something different. But every pastor in every neighbourhood–rural, urban, suburban, ex-urban–everybody can be training leaders and trying to figure out how can we start new congregations to reach new populations of people in our area that are not being reached.”

Shannon, Joell and I really do believe that every church is called to and capable of multiplication in some form. That’s why we’re here to pray for, evoke, resource, and support you on that journey to health and growth. Talk to us today!

Find us at The Gathering this weekend in Calgary to chat about what could be next for you and your congregation. We’ll have some resources for you, and would love to collect some stories of life and growth in your area that we can share here on the blog.

Sent or Stuck on Self?

By Joell Haugan

“Missional” is a bit of a buzzword these days in Christian thinking circles, as churches struggle with what it means to be “the Church” in the 21st century. For sure, Christ wasn’t mincing words when He spoke the Great Commission just before He ascended to heaven. Fulfilling this job is the primary work of the Church. Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians by Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw picks up on the “missional” theme emphasizing that all Christians need to see themselves as sent into the world to share and live out the Gospel…thus, “sentness.” This rather pointed quote highlights the need to retain “Great Commission” priorities for the sake of the the Kingdom:

People who have lost their sentness expect their church to deliver on its promises to meet their needs, to care for them, to make them feel good. Pastors who have lost their sentness see their primary responsibilities as organizing services and meeting the needs of the people who are paying the bills. People who have lost their sentness gauge the success of their pastors according to metrics related to sales: more customers, more money and, ideally, a more fancy showroom. In other words, we measure church success by building, butts on seats and bucks in the offering (pg 33).

This quote comes in the “Beyond Consumerism” chapter at the beginning of the book.  I admit, I like the quote.

I also hate this quote.

I like this quote because it really does shine a mirror on how we in the western church have allowed consumerism to creep into our church life. It echoes 2 Timothy 4:3-4 which warns about “tickling ears.”

We may very well be becoming more self-centred, individualistic and, perhaps even narcissistic. I often find the need to help our folks focus on others: others in the church, others in the community and others in the world. Granted, this isn’t exactly a new problem. But it does seem to be worsening as our culture becomes more individualistic.

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When we accidentally shift our “church focus” from others to ourselves we begin seeking answers to the wrong questions. The wrong questions include: “What is in this for me?” or “How did I like the church service today?” or “Was I comfortable today?”

A “sent” mentality starts asking “How can I serve others?” or “Where is God at work in my neighbourhood?” or “What areas of discomfort is God asking me to explore?”

As a pastor I often get asked “how big is your church?” I now usually answer with “we average around 169 pounds.” I then get blank stares. Really, though, it is a consumeristic question.

I hate this quote because I find myself worried about the very things listed: numbers, funds, and Sunday service performance. Is it because I was trained that way? Am I “missionally immature” for worrying about that stuff? These are questions that gnaw at me at times.

I don’t like being gnawed.

Focusing on our “sentness,” while not being the magic bullet, is a step in the right direction, for both pastors and churches.