Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

By Cailey Morgan

While our homes and neighbourhoods should be seen as perhaps our primary mission field, we cannot forget the large amount of time that many of us spend away from home: at work, or in shared public spaces.

Second Place: Vocation
At first glance, there’s nothing epic about your workspace or office lunchroom. Forty hours a week standing behind your customer service counter or at the front of your classroom may not seem like the exhilarating adventure of a missionary. But it can be. God has put us where we are for a reason: to be His hands bringing kindness and mercy and His voice proclaiming justice and love.

“Theologically speaking, our vocation is not about economic exchange. It is not about making more money, or achieving the American dream. It is about contributing to and participating in God’s mission” (Tom Nelson, Work Matters).

As with anytime we want to join God in His good work, prayer is the ultimate tool for us to grow as missionaries in our workplaces. Here are a 3 simple practices to try:

  • The List: Write down 10 people you regularly interact with in the course of your workday (including those you may not like that much). Each day for a month, pray for a different person on this list. Ask God to give you His heart for that person, and ask Him what your role is in that person’s journey this month. Write down these conversations with God, and make sure to follow through on what He asks of you.
  • Constant Awareness: Choose a short phrase to repeat to God throughout the day as you engage various people and situations. It could be a question: “where are You at work here?” a declaration of intent: “I will speak the truth in love,” a statement about God: “the Lord is gracious and compassionate to all He has made!”  or a request: “Holy Spirit, please help me listen well to You and to others.”
  • Share It: Personally, I find that praying with others makes me more consistent and focused in my conversations with the Father. Ask a mentor, someone in your small group, or your spouse, to pray with you regularly for those in your workplace. There’s nothing better than the joy of sharing an answered prayer with a friend!

Third Place: Informal public spaces
In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg explains that informal public places where interpersonal ministry can flourish (also known as third spaces) have been minimized in our culture because urban sprawl, automobile culture, and home entertainment changed who we are and how we get our needs met. However, the trendy nature of coffeeshop culture and the emphasis on exercise for health in our society has provided some renewed opportunities to simply hang out and meet people!

Here are some of the benefits of third places, that should make us want to be intentional about spending our time there:

  • Third spaces are neutral ground—there’s not usually a single host.
  • They often act as a social leveler where all kinds of people can be found in the same place.
  • Conversation is often the main activity.

Think about your life. Do you have third places, like a coffee shop, park, gym or even grocery store that you frequent? If not, your first step is to consider why not, and one way you could alter your life routine to include regular times at a location like this.

If you do have regular third places in your life, have you considered the implications of your time there? What is your purpose? Can you add the goal of living incarnationally as Jesus did into these spaces? What hope can you bring? Where is there darkness that you can bring light? Who in those places needs to be listened to? Needs to hear your God-story?

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If we really are called to be salt—bringing preservation and drawing out the good aromas around us—and light—casting out the darkness and pointing to the hope of Jesus—then we need to get serious about seeing our every movement and moment in our lives’ routines as opportunities to live for the sake of others.

I pray that as we listen to God and to those around us, that He will guide each of you into His crucial and beautiful mission in the places you live, work, learn and play.

This is the final article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Second and Third Spaces

Sabbath Book Reviews

In my article about how our life pace impacts our witness, I mentioned the importance of Sabbath in the rhythm of the local missionary. The Sabbath conversation is huge, and something that I’m still working through in my life in bivocational ministry (i.e., what does the Sabbath look like for pastors? Can we ask our people to take Sunday off when really, we as ministers have Sundays as a major work day? And is it biblical to celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in the first place, or does it even matter which day it is?).

Here are two book reviews from my dear friend and pastoral colleague Rick Eitzen. My hope is that you will not only read Rick’s reviews of Brueggemann and Heschel, but will be inspired to pick up the books themselves.  ~ Cailey

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Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann
Reviewed by Rick Eitzen

Using the Exodus as the context of the Ten Commandments, Brueggemann demonstrates that the Sabbath is a powerful practice of resistance and alternative to a society of anxiety, fear, restless productivity and slavery represented by Pharaoh. It shapes and defines Israel as Yahweh’s people who receive the gift of rest and God’s presence while protecting those vulnerable in their society. The Ten Commandments, given in the context of the Exodus and deliverance of God’s people from slavery to new life, govern how Israel relates to Yahweh and one another.

For Brueggemann, the Sabbath as the fourth commandment connects the first commandment (no idols) to the tenth (no coveting). It reaches back to the first commandment by providing a practice of trust, rest and resistance in a culture of commodification and endless acquisition (serving Master Money) and it reaches forward to the tenth commandment: no coveting, defined as the pursuit of commodity at the expense of the neighbour. “Sabbath is a big no for both; it is no to the worship of commodity; it is no to the pursuit of commodity. But it is more than no. Sabbath is the regular, disciplined, visible, concrete yes to the neighborly reality of the community beloved by God” (p 86). When we do not practice Sabbath we easily slip into covetousness, for life that consists of frantic production and consumption reduces everyone else to threat and competitor. In the Sabbath, anxious productivity is replaced with committed neighbourliness (p 27).

For Brueggemann, the Sabbath is primarily a social issue. He insists that the social power and relevance of the Sabbath requires it be practiced with neighbours, that we as Christians are to “sponsor a system of rest that contradicts the system of anxiety of Pharaoh, because you are no longer subject to Pharaoh’s anxiety system” (p 30). He does not outline specific ways or rules by which we might resist on the Sabbath but rather calls us to examine ways in which we participate in the anxiety of our socio-economic system and “are defined by busyness and by acquisitiveness and by pursuit of more, in either our economics or our personal relations” (p 31). He questions the value and the statement of allegiance we make in every action, from buying and selling (shopping) to sports and entertainment and kids activities. “Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us” (p 88). Jesus said that we can’t love God and money and Sabbath is a practice that actively resists the lure of money and our obsession with acquisition. The Sabbath day is a gift and calls us to recognize that “we live by gift and not by possession, that we are satisfied by relationships of attentive fidelity and not by amassing commodities” (85)

I appreciate the social implications of Brueggemann’s emphasis on practicing Sabbath. It is always a crucial part of our faith to remember the marginalized, the immigrant, the orphan and widow, thereby actively showing ourselves to be Christ’s disciples, creating an alternative community with different values and a different identity. I’m unsatisfied with his definition of Sabbath as mostly something negative, as “restraint, withdrawal, or divestment from the concrete practices of society that specialize in anxiety” (P 85), as well as his emphasis that the Sabbath is primarily social in significance.

Social justice is important and often overlooked but it is not the most important facet of our faith or identity. Yes, we love our neighbour as ourselves and Sabbath can certainly help us “come out from them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17), but to love neighbour properly we must love God first, which requires an imagination for what we are coming into, not just coming out of. And what we come into is not only a social alternative but the very holy, loving and transformative presence of Christ as a people with a new identity, new family and new calling. Otherwise we risk becoming just another good social service agency and miss the empowering and transforming presence of Christ.

Brueggemann comes closest to a positive definition in his description of Sabbath as gift – “Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized” (P 45). It is an invitation to trust, to cease striving, to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).

Sabbath As Resistance raises significant issues around social justice and the responsibility of God’s chosen people to daily choose whether they will serve Pharaoh and his system of anxiety and acquisition, or Yahweh and his way of trust, rest and new social order based on neighbourly community. It causes us to ask uncomfortable questions as to how our actions betray our worship and pursuit of commodity rather than love of God and neighbour.

Sabbath is a wonderful means of resistance, reshaping our identity and priorities and calls us out for the sake of the world, especially the vulnerable who do not thrive in a capitalistic system where striving to gain the world always comes at the expense of our souls.

The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel
Reviewed by Rick Eitzen

In 1951, Abraham Heschel, a Jewish rabbi and professor, wrote The Sabbath, a short and elegant book about its meaning for our modern age. Heschel begins and ends with a distinction between time and space.

Space
He argues that “we are all infatuated with the splendor of space…Thing is a category that lies heavy on our minds, tyrannizing all our thoughts” (Loc 172). God created the physical world and declared it good so although we are to enjoy the blessing of space/things, we are not to be obsessed or enslaved by them, for “life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern” (loc 150). And although “there is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain” (loc 158).

Time
“However, the Bible is more concerned with time than with space…it pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things…time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space…a significance and sovereignty of its own” (Loc 202). Time is the realm of the main themes of faith and meaning. Herschel is careful to avoid a sacred/secular divide in distinguishing between time and space, emphasizing rather that we are too preoccupied with space at the expense of time/soul/eternity and that Sabbath is the cure to keeping both in proper perspective.

Beginning with Creation, Heschel notes that “things created in six days God considered good, the seventh day He made holy” (p 63). He did not create a holy place but a holy day, holiness in time – the Sabbath. “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of the things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world” (Loc 248). It is a vision of a window in eternity that opens into time. In the Sabbath, “Eternity utters a day” (p 89). “The work on weekdays and the rest on the seventh day are correlated. The Sabbath is the inspirer, the other days the inspired” (p 10).

Sabbath is not a break from the week but its climax. “It is a palace in time which we build…made of soul, of joy and reticence” (p 2). God did not take a break on the seventh day; he finished His work. The Sabbath, just like the other six days, was an act of creation. “And God rested” – the word used is Menuha, which means rest, tranquility, serenity, peace and repose, “much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity. It is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.” (p 10) (Note that “The Lord is my Shepherd…He leads me beside the waters of menuhot” – still, quiet, tranquil). Menuha was created on the seventh day which later became a synonym for the life in the world to come, eternal life. Much more than a day off, Sabbath is a glimpse into and opportunity to practice eternity.

Practicing the Sabbath
Even more significantly, Heschel declares that “who we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us” (p 89). So how does one practice Sabbath? Herschel gives very little practical advice, partly because he assumes a Jewish audience but mostly because his intent is to get at the significance, beauty, purpose and theology of the Sabbath. Certainly the day requires anticipation and planning, even to the point of orienting the week around the day. “Preparation for a holy day…(is) as important as the day itself” (loc 29).

What would it look like for Christians to practice Sabbath? Questions of date/time, practices of abstinence and engagement surface and certainly “there are some helpful Sabbath laws – those that require shutting off secular demands and refraining from work” (loc 114) which should be discussed and observed as communal practices (rather than private/individual) but the emphasis should always be on the spirit of the day and not the technicalities of the laws/practices (Jesus had much to say on this). Celebration of Sabbath is not routine or regulation but relationship and one should cease from work on the day just as one would cease from all other work on one’s wedding day. It should be practiced joyfully and with delight, although it “is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity…but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than dissipate time” (p 5).

How does one rest on the Sabbath and what about all of the work that still needs to be done? “’Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work’” (Ex 20:8) (note that both work and rest are commanded)…Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done” (p 19).

Heschel’s concept of Sabbath with its distinct laws and rituals is of course Jewish and at times his personification and almost deification of Sabbath is uncomfortable but his emphases on the purpose, Biblical basis and reason for practicing Sabbath should be considered very carefully. There is something about the Sabbath that is biblical, rich, beautiful, and absent in many Christian circles. Not only is it the climax of creation and one of the ten commandments, it may also be “the answer to the problem of civilization: not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space but to be in love with eternity. Things are our tools; eternity, the Sabbath, is our mate. (We) are engaged to eternity” (p 37).

Communication and Engagement

by Cailey Morgan

One of our goals for the coming year is to build our network by connecting with the following people:

  • Potential church planters and church communities working toward multiplication from within the CBWC.
  • Potential church planters from within the greater Western Canada context.
  • Potential new affiliations: church communities who do not yet belong to a family of churches.

In order to help us reach these goals, we’re participating in several local networking events. Last week,  Joell took part in the Missions Conference at Millar Seminary. Next weekend, January 27-29, Shannon and I are hosting a booth at MissionsFest Vancouver. Come find us in booth A06 if you’re in the neighbourhood!

In preparation for sharing our story and our dreams at these events, we put together some promotional cards to help explain 4 ways that individuals, small groups, and churches can engage with Church Planting. Since many of you, our readers, are part of the CBWC family and have some kind of interest in our ministry, we’d really covet your feedback on these cards, and your opinions on how these methods of engagement could work or would need to be adapted for your context.

So here are the engagement cards in their entirety for your perusal. Please read through these cards with a hopeful, prayerful and critical eye, and contact us with your thoughts and ideas of how you and your congregation could engage, and of ways to improve how we communicate. Email me at cmorgan@cbwc.ca or leave a response on WordPress.

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Belong Front Page

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Bolster Front Page

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Initiate Front Page

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Multiply Front Page

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Back Page

Thanks for your engagement!

Missional Margin

By Cailey Morgan

I’m guessing some of you chuckled when you read my previous article—as if you’d have time to sit around sipping coffee in a garden! But part of the example we see from Christ is that He always had margin: white space around the content of His day so that He could engage in relational spontaneity.

He walked in a pace of trust in the Father, that what needed to get done would get done.

Margin creates buffers. It gives us room to breathe, freedom to act and time to adapt. Only then will we be able to truly nourish our relationships. Only then will we be available and interruptible for the purposes of God (Richard Swenson).

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If we seek to follow Christ into where He is at work in our communities, we’ll need the space in our days to listen and to go. I call creating these margins “time-trust.” These three “A”s from Brad Brisco are practical ways we can grow in this area:

1. Audit
Write down and study your weekly schedule and monthly schedule. Where is there margin? Where is there a lack of margin? What are some things that might need to go or change in order to not live at a hurried pace? Take a look at your daily routine, too. Where could you incorporate a listening time? Where are you sharing space with others but not actually relating with them?

2. Alignment
Margin is not about addition of another thing, but alignment. Align your calendar with the calendars of other people. Taking eating for example. We all eat 21 meals a week. Can we share 4 or 5 of them with others?

Can we find a ride-share for daily commutes? Can we do the dishes when the kids are in bed, in order to be available to play street hockey with the neighbours after dinner? Take a close look at the rhythms of your neighbours, coworkers and friends. How can you align your rhythm with theirs?

3. Accountability
These three processes are great to do in a small group, with a mentor, or even as a family. Work together to find creative ways to realign your schedule for the sake of mission.

One element of time-trust that I haven’t mentioned yet is Sabbath. It’s too huge of a topic for here, but I’d argue that it’s monumental for anyone looking to live a missional rhythm of life. I’ll soon post a couple of reviews on books about the Sabbath that I think are worth a read. In the meantime, here’s a helpful article on the Sabbath by Forge Canada Director Cam Roxburgh.

In my next article, I’ll share some thoughts about second and third places, and how we can put our trust in God and our time alignment to good practice away from home.

This is the fifth article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

Understanding our Present

By Shannon Youell

Old News
My husband is a history buff. Always has been. Reads encyclopedias….yes, the old-fashioned-multi-volumed-fill-three-shelves encyclopedias, purchased from (also obsolete) door-to-door salespeople. He is a wealth of historical information that I have only more recently appreciated. Myself, I just couldn’t understand what the conflicts of the Ptolemys, the hoards, the Saxons, had to do with trying to live faithfully and presently in our world. He was always telling me that by understanding the cycles of human history, we can better understand our present and how to influence our future.

chamber's encyclopedia by endolith CC BY-SA 2.0

Then I began to study church history. The conflicts, the divisions, the battles, the traditions and reformations, the councils and creeds, the politics and the interactions and reactions between all these and everyday life through the ages. All of a sudden I started to understand, as the Maori Proverb informs us – “we walk backward into our future, our eyes fixed on the past.” Our past informs and shapes our present, whether or not we are aware of it and in spite of our ignorance of it.

To not do so is detrimental for the ongoing reformation (reforming, reshaping) of our lives lived out of faithfulness to the story of God and human and of our lives leaning into the present of where God is at work around us and joining him. We need to look back to where we have come from to understand where we are going to, and doing so in humility and submission to the Spirit.

Our Own History
This past year for the CBWC Church Planting team has been one where we have found ourselves looking back through our faith history to times when evangelism and sharing Jesus in deed and word was foremost in our discipleship and in our practices. And discovering, not so much to our surprise, that in some ways, our culture and worldview has taken us away from an ethos of evangelism in our everyday lives and in our gathered times. We excel at the deed practices of mercy, justice and social reform, but are shy and fearful of the proclamation (word) practice that transforms.

To quote an unknown source in a promotional video for the upcoming Multiply Conference in Vancouver (https://multiplyconference.ca/ ), “Canada has lost the lost-ness of the lost”. And, “we don’t even recognize how lost the lost are.”

I see this statement not as a negative criticism but rather a positive indicator that the conversation around sharing Jesus with those who have yet to encounter Him is increasing across our land. Because the statement implies that we are, once again, recognizing our need to re-engage and re-imagine how we invite folk into the Kingdom of God and introduce them to the King of the Kingdom.

Our CBWC Church Planting Team spent a lot of 2016 re-engaging the conversation. In blogs, over coffee in neighborhood shops, at Assemblies, Conferences, Celebration Dinners, Forums, Retreats, Churches, prayer meetings, in hockey games (or whatever those Heartland pastors on retreat play…probably curling!) and various other avenues. And we are thrilled to report that the conversation is increasing in volume in our tribe! And it is resounding across our nation. In national meetings with Canadian Baptists, with church planting and renewal catalysts, and leaders from across denominations, the Spirit speaks to one and to another and when we are attentive to listen, we hear the cry of the Father’s heart. It is an exciting time to be the church together.

When we focus our eyes on the past of the early church, “church planting” was the “lost” (both the lost sheep of Israel and the left-out gentiles) seeing and hearing the gospel of the Kingdom of God. In this past year the CP Team has been encouraged tremendously by your stories of your churches and the yearnings to make an impact in deed and word for those whose life journey seeks identity, hope, meaning, community, healing and faith.

Inspired and Challenged
We are encouraged by those who are actively examining where they can make an impact in their regions by planting churches, engaging missionally in nearby neighbourhoods, schools, businesses, community associations and other community-minded organizations.

We are inspired by your stories of how walking alongside new immigrant families, in particular, refugee families, is stretching you, growing you, and enlarging your hearts and territories for those whose lives we can barely even imagine.

We are challenged by your faithful practices in worship, prayer, reflection, and discipleship. The body of Christ, listening to one another and learning from one another.

So often in our churches, our sermons and yearning land on the early church ethos of Acts and the time when community, discipleship, prayer, good works and sharing Jesus seemed rhythmic and easy. And looking at church history as the centuries moved forward reveal to us how the Spirit continually woos us back to that place as we form, and plan and dream.

Let’s continue into 2017 informing our present and thus influencing our future by the practices and yearnings of the past of those who sought the lost and those drowning in lost-ness to redemption, reconciliation and restoration as children of God.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and bought into the glorious freedom of the children of God…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express
(Romans 8:19-21, 26b).

Space to be Truly Present

By Cailey Morgan

Over the past several articles, I’ve been taking a look at some of the paradigm shifts that Brad Brisco suggests in Missional Essentials are crucial to us as God’s people learning to live out our purpose as His sent ones.

We discussed how our posture must change from doing ministry to, or even ministry for, to ministry with. With is a much more patient and intimate way of gospelling, that takes place wherever we happen to live our lives—our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our shopping haunts.

But practically, what does this look like for us? How do we live out ministry with in a hyper-individualized, over-scheduled culture of fear and isolation? Again, my themes arise from Brad Brisco’s work, as well as thoughts from Ray Oldenburg, Tim Keller and Richard Swenson. In the next few posts, let’s take a look at our homes, our workplaces and third spaces—and ultimately our hearts—to explore opportunities for mission in each sphere of life.

First Places: Our Homes
Our homes and neighbourhoods are a very basic building block for living as missionaries. Jesus exemplified radical hospitality, and had a lot to say about how we are to treat our neighbours, and the opportunities that our homes present us for genuine witness. Having people into our homes, and finding ways to be present in the community in hopes of being invited into others’ spaces, is an avenue for evangelism we all should be living out.

Home Sweet Home by jlhopgood CC BY-ND 2.0

However, most of us are not.

As Brisco says, “How on earth can we expect to love our neighbours if we don’t know their names?” We all have neighbours, but everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s a struggle to get to know those living near them. Some of us don’t like initiating new relationships. Some of us see our neighbours in their gardens as we drive by, but never have the time to stop and chat. Some of our neighbours operate under “stranger danger” and don’t trust us—or sometimes we’re the ones who have built walls to “protect” our families, which really end up perpetuating the lack of trust.

So how do we grow in using the first space—our homes—as part of our life of mission? I think there are three elements we can evaluate.

1. Trust. What are three ways that your willingly offer your time, talents, treasures and relationships to the Father? What are three ways that you take matters into your own hands? This evaluation can be sensitive, because we need to look at who’s really in control of our iCals, our kids, and what we turn to for identity and value.

In the book Untamed, Deb Hirsch does not mince words in her evaluation of whether we trust God with our home life:

the family has effectively become a pernicious idol…missional hospitality is seen as a threat, not an opportunity…our families and our homes should be places where people can experience a foretaste of heaven. Where the church is rightly viewed as a community of the redeemed from all walks of life.

2. Relationship. Do you know your neighbours? Shannon and I love the neighbourhood mapping exercise of drawing the street and seeing how many neighbours you can name. This exercise becomes especially helpful when you use it as a basis for prayer. Lord, how should I pray for the people in that home? What are my opportunities to be the answer to those prayers? Sometimes, the next step is to just knock and say hi.

3. Space. How about an audit of your home and how it could be used creatively to bring people together? Some of us might need to roll our barbecues onto the front porch so that we’re more visible from the street. Others could throw a neighbourhood party in the garage.

I have some friends in an apartment building who got permission from the manager to turn an unused piece of courtyard into a community garden. Not only are they spending evenings sowing and weeding with their neighbours, but they also bring their morning coffee out to the patio table in the garden and hang out with whoever joins them.

A helpful resource here is Don’t Invite Them to Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go and Be Church by Karen Wilk. This flexible guidebook will help you, your small group, or your church get started in neighborhood ministry and missional living.

Next time, we’ll work through the major roadblock to neighbouring: our time, or seeming lack thereof.

This is the fourth article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

Bah Humbug!

By Shannon Youell

A few weeks ago Oxford, the dictionary people, announced their word of the year: Post-truth. They define it as follows:

“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.’”

There we go folks…apparently it’s official! We live in an age where we are being convinced that truth has become unimportant and irrelevant. To which I again express, Humbug! (which is a real word describing ways to fool people).

Before we all nod our heads in agreement with an intensity that could cause us whiplash, we should recognize that we all fall victim to truth as subjective to our own emotions and personal beliefs. For the purposes of this blog, I refer to the way we sort how we live out life as followers of Jesus. We tend to pick and choose. Seriously…we do. We live life at the smorgasbord of Jesus and choose what we like and leave behind what we don’t, are unsure of, or just plain uncomfortable with.

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Take evangelism for instance. We are great at self-exempting ourselves from this. Frankly we are quite afraid of that word, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. For many, if not most of us, we self-exempt because we see sharing Jesus as something someone else does, yet Jesus invites us to a ‘come and see’, ‘go and tell’ way of life…..as we go in our ordinary lives. You might right now be thinking, yes but there is that passage about evangelism being an appointed gift. Go ahead. I will challenge you on that passage though. Go back and read it again and see if it is actually an exemption passage.

Reimagining Evangelism
At the Banff Pastor’s Conference this year, we had a round table discussion around reimagining evangelism where we asked ourselves the questions: Is evangelism a mission impossible? Can we re-engage in it as believers and followers of Jesus?

In light of living in an age of post-truth, can we become truth-tellers? Do we dare? Or are we so paralyzed that truth telling will bring us scorn and rejection, we prefer to stay silent in the midst of humbug?

Our society can try to convince us all we want that truth is unimportant but the massive publishing dollars procured from ‘meaning of life’ books reveals the real truth about that. Humans are seekers of truth. And in agreement with the definition, we do often find truth through emotion and personal belief. So though our culture can shout ‘post-truth’, it is in how truth-telling is defined that gives us an entry point to share this Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating this month.

When I look at how Jesus went and truth-told he did so with fact (today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing; the kingdom of God is among you; I will be with you always; Go in peace and be freed from your suffering). God has fulfilled his promise to Israel, King Jesus is come to establish ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, the kingdom of God where what is wrong is made right again. These were the some of the objective facts he presented.

As well, Jesus also told the truth through people’s emotions and personal beliefs. He gospeled people where they were. To those struggling with guilt he offered forgiveness. To those marginalized, he placed them in the front of the line and in places of honor. To those sick he offered compassion and healing. To those who were deemed less valued, he publicly spoke to, recognized and preferred.  To those lost in their own personal confusion, he brought clarity. He truth-told into each one’s story at the place of entry that would speak the strongest to them.

This was the Jesus way of evangelism. He really didn’t give a four step formula to how to be saved, but rather stepped into the places of people’s story where they were at and revealed God already at work in the midst of their story. Evangelism is really just that.

Exposing Our Humbug Rhetoric
So can we expose the humbug rhetoric of our world that tries to fool us into even questioning our own truth? Can we merely take the time to be truth-tellers of this great celebration? Can we begin to discard the foolish deception that we “belong(ing) to a time in which the specified concept (of objective truth) has become unimportant or irrelevant”?

This is the beginning of re-imagining and re-engaging with the Story we objectively lean into as our personal truth and it is that we share, with all our deep convictions and emotions that Jesus is King in my life and the world as our Prince of Peace, bringing the deep shalom of God into all the places we live, work, play and pray in.

Great peace and joy to all.

 

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Looking Back / Looking Forward

By Joell Haugan

Ah. The mandatory year end reflection and looking ahead article. Yes. We all do it (some of us call them Christmas or New Years letters). It’s pretty easy to talk about what the kids and grandkids are up to which, ironically, is exactly what us Church Planting people are doing. We have infant churches out there and, often, parent churches that are eager to see them thrive.

Then we have “uncle and aunt” churches that may not have been directly involved in the birthing process but, nevertheless, are supportive and curious as to how the little one is doing. And, I suppose, we have some grumpy old relatives that think the world has enough stuff to worry about and don’t want to bring anyone new into this horrible world. I’ll leave this last group alone for now.

Overall, the Heartland is full of our congregations that are supportive of church planting, at least in principle. I often get a genuine “how is church planting going?” from both pastors and parishioners throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Some churches  have begun Venture Partnerships with our one active church plant (Shalom in Winnipeg) and are even building a relationship with Shadrack and his congregation through invitations to visit and through monthly financial support.

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Enjoying Banff Pastors Conference with friends.

Over 2016 I also think it’s fair to say that there is a genuine “opening of eyes” to see where churches need to planted. For many in smaller areas there is a realization that churches (perhaps even house churches) are needed in many of the smaller towns throughout the prairies. Managing a large building and staff isn’t often feasible in small towns. But, perhaps, a house church connected to an established church in the region (say up to an hour away) might be a great way to bring church live and vibrancy into rural areas. Oh, I guess I’ve now moved into the “looking forward” part of this…. Oops.

In the cities we have seen some church plants become established and self supporting, which is always nice when we see the kids go off on their own….but part of us misses the times when they needed us!

Still, that feeling needs to be filled with new births … er… plants to nurture and grow and push out of the nest (there, that’s now three different metaphors in one sentence). Many neighbourhoods have dramatically changed (especially in the inner cities) and we are finding the need to re-plant in areas that have long since seen most (not all) churches and church members move to the suburbs. The challenge that I’ve seen our inner city churches grab hold of is being re-made in the image of their communities. That’s tough stuff but that invariably leads to new church plants/expressions.

So, for 2017 I’m hoping to see some of these ideas take hold. I’d love to see small groups beginning to meet in Christ’s name in small rural areas. I’m hoping to see city churches extending themselves to be the neighbourhood’s church. I’m hoping to see more Venture Partners for Shalom and for future church plants. And, finally, I’m hoping to see church leaders rise up (both lay and pastor) and want to branch out into a new area that needs a new expression of Christ’s body nearby.

Incarnational Presence

By Cailey Morgan

In my previous article, “The Missionary Nature of God and His Church,” I mentioned that there are several paradigm shifts or renewed ways of thinking that we as the Church in Canada should consider if we want to reawaken ourselves to God’s call to mission.

One such shift in paradigm is to consider how Jesus’ words in Matthew 28: “go and make Disciples” may actually mean “stay and make disciples.” As much as international missionaries are sent to delve deeply into the culture and day-to-day life of the place they are called to, Jesus sends us out our front doors and invites us to delve deeply with the culture and day-to-day life of our neighbours, coworkers, and the other parents on the elementary school Advisory Council.

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Proximity and Presence
Most of my musings here are inspired from a workshop on Missional Essentials by Brad Brisco. He’s done his homework on these issues, and reminds us that Scripture is full of examples and exhortations for God’s “gathered and scattered” people to be sent into really ordinary, everyday places. Our primary example, of course, is Christ Himself.

In John 20:21, Jesus says, “just as the Father sent Me, I am sending you.” If we are sent just as Jesus was sent, we should look at how and to whom Jesus was sent in order to establish how we also are sent. His sending from the Father was to be among us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Read the gospels to see how the ins-and-outs of daily life were Jesus’ platform for most of His ministry and teachings. This kind of presence, this kind of among-ness, exemplifies the humility and other-mindedness we are to have as we engage our neighbours (consider Christ’s nature of humble service as described in Philippians 2:5-8). He dwelt among, and emptied Himself for, those who needed to receive the hope He offers.

Darrell Guder puts it this way:

In the incarnation of Jesus, God revealed Himself as the one who is with and for His creation. Now, as the Risen Lord sends His Spirit to empower the church, we are called to become God’s people present in the world, with and for the world.

Our posture must change from doing ministry to, or even ministry for, to ministry with. With is a much closer, much more patient, even much more intimate way of gospelling. But to be with, we must address the barriers that are keeping us apart from our culture and our neighbours.

Advocate or Adversary?
For many reasons far beyond the socio-political understanding in my tiny mind, the Christian Church is often seen as the adversary in our culture. We say “no” a lot. We sometimes come across as judgmental. We like to put boxes around behaviour. And—as all humans naturally do—we tend to hang out with people who like us and are like us.

But what Jesus exemplified for us, what the Holy Spirit does daily for us, is not adversary but advocacy. The Holy Spirit is called the Advocate because He is for us and with us to offer His strength. And we have been called to follow in this posture of advocating for others rather than being about our own agendas.

An interesting example of this incarnational advocacy can be found in Jeremiah 29:4-7. God sends (Yes, sends. There it is again!) His people into Babylonian captivity. They hate Babylon and want to go home. It’s not comfortable, and besides, how can they worship God in such a heathen place? But what does God say? Settle down and make a garden! Embed yourself in the community. You’ll be here long enough to have kids and for your kids to have kids. Seek and pray for the prosperity of the place.

This 70-year exile was a slow but deliberate way for the Israelites to fulfill their original mandate from God to Abraham: be a blessing to all nations. And God is calling us to the same life today: to open our eyes to the people around us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. To hitch our wagon to our neighbours. To seek the prosperity and peace of the places we live.

As Brad Brisco explains, “The way the Kingdom takes root in the lives of people, and ultimately changes a city, is by exiles living normal everyday lives as citizens of the King in every neighbourhood and public place that makes up a city.”

What does it practically look like in the whirlwind of 21st-century North American life to daily seek the prosperity and peace of our communities? How do we expand our imaginations and truly understand our dual citizenship as not only Canadians but children of the King? What if I don’t know my neighbours yet? These are the questions I’ll wrestle with in my next article.

If you’d rather hear from Brisco on these topics, check out Missional Essentials, a brilliant and down-to-earth 12-week curriculum to help your small groups or leadership team explore these and several other biblical directives.

This is the third article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church

  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

Missional Pioneers

By Preston Pouteaux

Over one hundred years ago my great grandparents came out to the prairies. When they arrived on their slice of raw grassland with a shovel in hand, my great grandfather knew that beneath the wild grass on their new homestead was good soil and hope for a better life.

Yet the stories I grew up hearing made me shiver as they talked about snow drifts that nearly covered the house and months of near starvation. When we tore down the original homestead some years ago, we found that the only insulation was a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cardboard box stuffed in the wall. Life wasn’t easy.

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Leaving the comforts or challenges of home and trying to start again is one of the hardest things a person can do. Pioneers are the first on the scene; they set things in motion. They break the ground, start businesses, and build the foundation for all generations to follow. Yet in the midst of their challenges, pioneers discovered something of even greater value: each other. Stories of neighbours coming to help in times of loss, of whole communities coming together to raise a barn, and the ways that strangers because closer than family. Whether you were French, Ukrainian, Scottish, Metis, or something else, it didn’t matter. Pioneer neighbours were in it together to create something new. These are the people that built my province of Alberta, and it is this pioneering spirit that we are discovering again, today.

Friends of mine moved to Michigan and discovered that their neighbourhood was racially divided, poor, faced crime, and was struggling in many ways. People had moved away. My friends did what pioneers do best; they decided to start something new and breathe life into it. They bought an abandoned house and an empty plot of land beside it. They were determined to build more than a home, they wanted to create a safe place that was open to the community. They called it the Nest: a safe community space where neighbours knew that they were welcome.

Today the Nest hosts the Treehouse Community Garden and produces enough vegetables to feed ten families. It’s a safe place for kids and families to come together, with a library, guest rooms, a big porch, root cellar, and community kitchen. They fixed up the house with local materials and local help; they even paid off the back taxes on the old house. Everything about these pioneers aimed at taking something that was unused and making it good and beautiful again. It has taken years, and the work is only beginning, but they dream of making their neighbourhood their life’s work—a deep and abiding passion to love their little corner of the world. They inspire me.

It is easy to tip our hat to our great grandparents and thank them for building the province where we live and thrive. Their hard work paid off, we might think, and now we can carry on with living.

However, when we forget to be pioneers in our own ways and in our own neighbourhoods, we may fall into the trap of becoming hands-off observers and consumers. We buy a house, when what we really need to do is build a community. We balk at the decisions of others, when we need to get involved. Becoming a neighbourhood pioneer is not easy, but those communities built on a pioneering spirit are those that stand the test of time.

It was during early pioneering days that the church in Canada found its footing. Although there were a number of factors that we can point to for the establishment of churches across Canada, it seems to me that one commonality exists for their genesis: pioneering communities. As farms and towns sprouted up across the country, churches were a natural and fitting gathering point for families. Here neighbours connected, burdens were shared, prayer was offered, projects were launched, and culture was created. Churches birthed community, and community birthed churches. The two went hand-in-hand.

A pioneering church is a thriving church, an engaged church, and a missional church. Early church pioneers began schools, cared for those in need, started hospitals, held week-long tent revival meetings, and acted as insurance when there was no such thing.

Pioneers can create something from almost nothing, because they do it together, with grace and faith that their hard work will truly create something beautiful and lasting.

A renewed call for a pioneering posture is a call towards embodied engagement with the world around us. When we believe that our work is done, that what needed to be started has already begun, then we lose the ability to see the new work that God is doing all around us. When we see the world from the perspective of a pioneer, we develop practices that reinforce our ability to step into chaotic community dynamics. We can gather allies, build relationships, and lean into new growth. We can use limited resources and establish goodness and vitality. In Michigan, for example, many saw only the decay of an aging neighbourhood. But through the eyes of a young couple, this decay was soil for something new. They became pioneers and today inspire others to see their own neighbourhood in new ways.

Take a moment today and walk through your neighbourhood as a pioneer. Look for unbroken ground, for decay, for places and people where life may not be flourishing. These are the places where the Kingdom of God may be found, where Jesus is calling us to embody His life and love. Just below the surface, the soil is good. It takes pioneers like you and me to bend down and dream about what could be.

This article originally appeared in Forge Canada‘s newsletter Missional Voice. Preston Pouteaux, DMin. Tyndale Seminary, is a National Team member with Forge Canada, and is a pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church in Chestermere, Alberta. He studied at Briercrest College, Regent College, Tyndale Seminary, and Jerusalem University College in Israel. Preston is the author of Imago Dei to Missio Dei. He’s an avid beekeeper. @prestonpouteaux