Covid Opportunities

January 26th 2021 CBWC Supported Webinar

By: Shannon Youell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Details and Registration HERE 

Anchored Hope

By: Shannon Youell

As I write this article, it is snowing outside my window.  Big huge, wet flakes are plummeting to earth.  In only a few minutes everything begins to look a lot less green and a lot more white.  Of course, living in Victoria BC guarantees that this snow, especially in December, will be short lived.   

The snow causes me to pause and think about the elements that we consider necessary or even just enhancing for us to ‘feel Christmas’.  Bing Crosby’s classic lyric “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” floats through my thoughts.  Perhaps for you it is the “stockings all hung by the chimney with care” or, “… in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”  There are all sorts of perspectives on what makes Christmas meaningful, on what ‘the true meaning of Christmas is’ and what each of us needs or wishes for to have a happy or merry one. 

 For us as Christ followers, we also look through the Advent lens of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  This year as I’ve been reflecting upon that lens and as I’ve spoken with many people struggling with the concepts of joy, peace and sadly even a sense of love, I realized how hard it is to hold on to them when we don’t have the anchor of hope holding us steady.  So often we try to manufacture peace, joy and love through all those things we ‘do’ and ‘create’ to make Christmas special, but in the end find ourselves celebrating the mediocrity of it all.   

Perhaps this was the sense of Zechariah as he carried out his priestly duties just as he’d spent his life doing, yet not seeing his own hopes of either a child of his own or the anticipated Hope of Israel.  Or of the shepherds, a social class of their own, huddling through yet another cold night watching dirty, stupid animals for little reward or hope of a better life.  I wonder whether, in the same-old-same-old cycle of hope deferred, they had lost any sense of peace or joy or love.  Without hope, can one even know or recognize the presence of the others?   

Yet.   

Yet when those same shepherds, chilled to the bone, resigned to their lot in life, saw those angels and hurried off to gaze upon the babe in a trough whose birth they announced, returned to their flocks, their whole countenance had changed.  They returned to the same mediocre life.  The same dirty sheep.  The same endless days and nights of poverty, marginalization, invisibility, disappointment that they’d always known, yet something had changed within them.  Luke tells us they returned ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.  Hope had been enlivened within them.  Joy sprang forth from their hearts and lips and God’s love in his promises blanketed them with warmth, comfort and a sense of knowing all will be put right in the world again.   

Zechariah, too, gazing upon his own promised newborn, explodes in joy with prophesy and praise.  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”  He uses the language of salvation, rescue, tender mercy, forgiveness of sins and light shining on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, of peace.   

For each of these, the meaning of Christmas is found not in the weather, the feast, the gifts, the celebrations or even in the religious rituals thick with their own meaning.  It is found in a promise fulfilled.  A gift already given.  A future already in motion.  For each, this single moment, this single gift, this single event embedded such hope within them they could not contain it.  They carried it with them wherever it went.  It lasted.  It didn’t melt away in short order like Victoria snow.  It sustained them as they returned to the mediocrity and reality of life in a broken world where once they knew only the absence and fleetingness of peace, joy and love.  Now, with this anchor of hope, it welled over into the lives of those they found themselves among. 

Today may be heralded as the longest night of the year – yet – it is only a night.  The dawn comes each day.  It is in the night, in the dimly lit places where we often most need to embrace hope, take hold of it to bring us encouragement, rest in our souls, peace in our spirits and love in our hearts.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 6, this hope is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure.  It tethers us to God and changes our expectations.  It focuses us to fix our eyes on the Christ and the promises of God that have been enacted through him and the celebration God’s ongoing action within the world he so loves.  

Whatever your Christmas is this year, let it be rich and thick with meaning that comes from the fullness of what God has accomplished, is still accomplishing and will be accomplishing through Christ our Lord.  May our hope be so anchored in him that we are enlivened with his peace, his joy, his love in whatever places, spaces and circumstances we find ourselves in.  In him we find the true meaning, hope, that springs praise upon our lips and gives witness to the goodness of God in the land.  Merry Christmas. 

Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.  Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.  Isaiah 8:18-22 

Just before Isaiah wrote the famous Advent words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;”, he scribed the passage above.  He sets the context for what the world is like, where hope has waned, if not disappeared, where both the present and the future are painted as a bleak, gloomy fearfulness, where people curse and blame both their government and their god.  It all sounds so dismal, disturbed and pointless.  If one were to never go on to chapter 9, one would consider the calamities of the day as fatalistic and humanity as on the precipice of expiration. 

But, then, one has missed the beauty of what Isaiah is saying.  He first acknowledges that as far as it is up to him, he will wait for the Lord, he will put his trust in him (8:17) and then he echoes his words from chapter six, “Here I am.”  But he is not alone.  The people whom God has given him, the people of God with whom he journeys, are there with him.  And together they are “signs and symbols” from the Lord who dwells among them in the land. (8:18) 

Signs and symbols of hope when hope seems to have fled the hearts of people.  Signs and symbols of a light that pierces the fiercest darkness, saturating hearts with an unexplainable expectancy rising up in joy.   

The writings are a poetic reminder that we, the God believers, the disciples of Christ, are called to shine our light and not hide it under a bowl.  In that way we embody hope to the world.  

In one of the Advent Readers I am following this season, the writer wrote these words, “Hope holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos.”1 

This is powerful imagery in the reality of this particular Advent in 2020.  In a time when many are embodying fear, anxiety, despondency, cynicism, hopelessness and anger, Isaiah and the Gospel of God’s kingdom invites us to cling to peace in the midst of it all.  To be seekers of peace, joy and love.  To be the embodiment of the kind of hope that fosters hope to and towards the world.  God’s hope.  

It is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).  This reality isn’t true only in ‘good’ times; in fact, it is dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle. 

Hope, God’s hope, disrupts the utter darkness we find ourselves plunged in.  It displaces it with “a great light” revealing the shadows we live in are only that, shadows.  They are dangerous, frightening, agonizing shadows that in the absence of God’s hope are bereft of any peace to cling to.  But with God, with Messiah, with this great light that has already dawned, when we embody the presence of God calm comes with us.   

In the midst of the chaos where suffering, grief and loss are so real, we, the people who call Jesus Lord and Savior, are to be signs and symbols of our God-With-Us.  His hope is with us when we can’t leave our homes and are lonely.  His hope is with us as we struggle with all the things that have been disrupted and displaced by this virus.  And the Gospel invites us to embody that hope for others, to be signs and symbols clinging to peace, and our very demeanor, language and gestures embodies a hope that is disruptive to shadows we find both ourselves and others living shrouded in as our world feels thrust into darkness. 

May each of us be signs and symbols of Disruptive Hope. Let us shine the light of dawn among our neighbours, our church families and our nation in humility and strength, love and grace, in this very different and modified Christmas Season. 

Hold steady. Cling to peace. Together we are signs and symbols of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Shalom.

Re-Missioning: Tradition Innovation

BY: Shannon Youell

There is a Maori proverb that beautifully encapsulates their traditional world view: 

“We walk backwards into the future, our eyes fixed on the past” 

It gives us the picture that we approach the future everyday not knowing what it will look like as we can’t see into it, but that “(looking) to the past informs the way we move into future” 

The Maori people understand the past and present as “a single, comprehensible ‘space’ because it is what they have seen and known.  We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.”  It’s akin to going on a road trip – you may not sure where it will take you but you know from where you came – you look both forward and also in the rear-view mirror.

As I read church history and stories of God’s faithful people moving missionally throughout time and space, I am often surprised how innovative and creative people are in their love for God and His mission.  How they adapted to the culture, context and time that they found themselves in for the benefit of those who did not yet know the God of all creation and the saving work he accomplished through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Often they stepped outside what was considered ‘traditional’ to innovate and map out a new pathway of being disciples so others could see their way to following.   

There is a difference between tradition and traditional.  Tradition is really about our why.  Why  we believe what we do.  We look upon the ancient scriptures of the people of God and the new scriptures that tell of Jesus and his ushering in of God’s kingdom; we rely both on the early translators and interpreters and our contemporary translators and interpreters; we live into and share values and ethics that have been passed along for centuries.  Traditional, however, is usually the way we do things.  You’ll hear families around Christmas traditions complain when something changes with a loud “But that’s traditional!”  In church life we often say “well that’s the way we’ve always done it!” 

I’m with the Maori – we must continue to look to our past – it has formed us and gives us a foundation – we still believe God is the creator of all things, that he created humans as his co-labourers to steward the earth, that he called a people his own to be both salt and light so that other peoples could witness the glory of God lived out through them; we believe that God so loved the world he sent his Son…. 

But we always walk with these things in sight into a future for the coming generation and for the current culture.  This means taking a good look at our traditional ways of being the church, having open hands and empty tables to release things we cherish and embrace things we may not find comfortable at first yet give movement to serving God’s mission of his kingdom of shalom into all the places and spaces of our human experience. 

 “Re-missioning established churches with movemental practices and missional theology is some of the most difficult and needed work in North America.”  Josh Hayden 

As churches, this can be difficult for us to do.  We love so many of the traditional things we do!  But if we are going to be people on God’s mission, then we need to frequently evaluate the things we do and the impact they have, not only on ourselves, but into the world to which we have been sent.   

I encourage you to listen to Josh Hayden’s presentation here (the first 27 minutes with the rest Q&A), on Re-missioning the Established Church, for all things are possible if we are humble, open and lay down our lives for the sake of others as our discipleship demands.   

ReMissioning an Established Church 

Remissioning: Grandma’s Church

By Shannon Youell

One of my favorite paintings is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. One of the ways this painting speaks to me is in the imagery of the village. It is night and the glory of God fills the skies. The church with its darkened windows rests in the middle of the village. But the lights burn bright in the windows of the homes in the neighbourhood. There, people gather around meals, prayer, conversation, thankfulness with family, with friends, with neighbours. This is what I think of as I read this quote exerted from today’s guest blogger of viewing one’s one’s “own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.”

In this New Leaf Network Blog Post, author Rohadi picks up on some of the thinking of our previous blog post on Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God within neighbourhoods. Both these great posts were written pre-covid yet their relevance to the types of reflecting, processing, thinking and questioning the church is doing in the midst of our disrupted understanding of what it means to be the church is definitely worth asking yourself and your church some important questions about what God is saying to the church today, in times such as these.

This article by Rohadi was originally posted on the New Leaf Network Blog.

My grandma used to spend the odd Sunday strolling to service two blocks from her home. She lived during a time when everyone went to church, or in the very least knew the stories. Church was part of her routine, part of her neighbourhood, and a part of Canadian culture. The time when the majority of Canadians attended a church service is gone, but I think there’s something worthy to reclaim from grandma’s church from the ‘60s. Not for its assumed position of privilege, but the value of local parish ministry living out a story of “the best yet to come.” Despite current trends to centralize the church (strategizing to strengthen what you have versus planting something new), the presence of the local parish may be a critical key to revitalizing Christianity in post-Christian Canada.

I’m somewhat surprised how, despite facing profound loss as a whole, church leaders implement changes incrementally at a time when most are clamouring to find ways to reverse the exodus. Maybe it’s too little too late? The way leaders justify incrementalism is by picking the latest strategies and tactics that seem to be working for resilient churches somewhere else. If it works for them it should work for us, they’d say.

Evangelicals are beating declining national trends that are most evident in mainline denominations. Some even report very modest growth. Does a silver bullet lie within the function of evangelicalism? Depends what the goal is. If it’s to ensure a resilient church for Christians then yes. If it’s to “preach the Gospel to the lost,” then no.

Tips to Success
Want to lead a resilient and even growing church? Here’s what you need: strengthen programming to young families, ensure strong culturally relevant preaching, have exceptional music, maybe strong programs to baby boomers as well. This is a gross oversimplification, but if you can deliver programming with effectiveness, you’re going to hold your own, and attract the already churched. But in terms of conversion growth, that requires different expertise.

The Naked Emperor
As a whole, evangelical growth occurs via very specific sources. When we consult the data, over the past twenty years churches that add members do so through three primary and almost exclusive ways.

  1. New births.
  2. Christian immigrants.
  3. Christians switching churches.

The best resourced churches “grow” because they can afford robust programming for new immigrants; are the largest and by default have the most births; and have the best music and preaching that attracts the quintessential consumer Christian. Not on the list of three? Evangelicals struggle to grow by evangelism. In their book, A Culture of Faith, Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson asked congregants in evangelical churches what they thought the highest priorities in their churches were–evangelism was one of the lowest. Despite the moniker, evangelical churches don’t grow by evangelism. Even the best resourced churches struggle to connect with a post-Christendom culture where fewer hold any religious memory of the bygone church/Christian dominated Canada.

Where do we go from here?

First off, we need to shift our theological paradigm of mission. This change is both critical yet difficult to adopt. Rather than mission being a program or support for professional missionaries somewhere ‘out there in the world’, can we re-orient mission to the forefront? Can mission become the defining filter for the entire function of the church here in Canada? The implications of shifting the paradigm of mission will alter your perceptions from a church devoted to Christians for Christians, to one that re-values a participating church in the restoration of neighbourhoods for the benefit of all (as fundamental identity and not mere outreach ministry).

Challenging old paradigms of mission (some would adopt language like ‘missional’) will require more than casual lip-service. Modelling is a necessary step to take ideas beyond planning. It will mean some discomfort as we alter the things we devote the majority of our resources to—namely the Sunday service(s) and programs—so they reflect missional orientation. For example, it is difficult to claim ‘priesthood of all believers’ or encourage congregational participation in the unfolding mission of God if our gatherings are exclusively run by the qualified clergy and staff. Upsetting the rhythm of our most cherished institution (the service) won’t be easy. On one hand it is expected that staff will do most of the work because they are paid, on the other, this expectation detracts from the development of congregations out of a consumer mentality of participation. Ultimately, consumer churches are not missional churches.

Secondly, once a paradigm of mission has been established (or unrolling) leaders will seek to implement strategic direction to increase participation. One of the ways to ‘cheat’ in this process is to look at the bright spots already unfolding within your congregation, and outside in your immediate neighbourhood. You may be surprised with what people are already doing on their own accord. On average, most people will wait to join some kind of ministry the church starts. Look for the anomalies who are already living out the character of Jesus in their space and place without permission from the church. Develop these people, partner with them, and send them resources.

Thirdly, connect people based on geography. The power of the neighbourhood, of presence and proximity, cannot be replicated because it is the very foundation of incarnation—of the Word made flesh whom moved into the neighbourhood. I’ve had conversations with mega-church pastors who legitimized commuting as an asset because driving 25 minutes to a small group demonstrated deep commitment. That might be true, but it utterly devalues the neighbourhood. Jesus literally meant, love thy literal neighbour, literally next door. Literally. Combining people based on postal code is a powerful tool to create groups that are centered in the same place and ready to live out the character of Jesus where they live with people they love. I can’t think of a better pursuit for ‘small groups’. This idea, however, requires the church to process idea #1, and indeed value its very own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.

Admittedly, the paradigm shift towards a lens of mission is not an easy one to adopt. Encouraging entrenched churches to revalue proximity over commuting may be met with stiff opposition. Suggesting the resources committed for years (decades) don’t work is a tough pill to swallow especially for those who’ve spent most of that time planted in Christian culture. (It’s tough to see the world with different eyes when you’ve been inside the church the whole time.) Disrupting status quo isn’t supposed to be easy. The caveat is, over time, you will develop and attract focused people who will call an incarnational vision their own, and will give their lives towards it. Ultimately, that’s what we hope for: a community of witnesses on jealous pursuit of an unfolding love story in their neighbourhoods and beyond.

Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God

By: Shannon Youell with Karen Wilk

One of the key questions I believe the church should be asking during this time is “What are the opportunities God is opening up to us the church when our normalized ways of gathering as communities has been disrupted and evangelism seems paralyzed because of social distancing?

Many thoughtful, prayerful and reflective followers of Jesus are asking this, and through listening and discernment, are seeking to discover and participate in what the Spirit is up to in their neighbourhoods. They’re wondering if perhaps God is inviting God’s people to again be rooted in the local places where the Spirit has placed them to live, work, play and pray.  They’re wondering if this might be the way for the church to learn both to navigate the current crisis as well as the ever- changing landscape of our world in a post-pandemic, post-modern (or some say post-post-modern), post-Christian world.

Today we share with you a post by Karen Wilk who is a National Team Member for Forge Canada Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Resonate Global Mission.  When Karen wrote this article it was pre-covid.  Recently CBWC Church Planting asked her to look at her article again against the backdrop of this shifted world we’re finding ourselves in, and share any new insights of engaging and living in a neighbourhood for the work of the Kingdom of God.  Karen’s response was there isn’t much she’d change even looking through our current lens.

That says a lot to me!  At a time when so many are feeling the void of community across the spectrum of whatever community may be for us, Karen is confident that community embedded in neighbourhoods is resilient to still flourish even during the strangest of circumstances and times.

This article by Karen Wilk was originally published on Forge Canada’s blog.

Lately, I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a healthy or abundant community and the importance of community for personal and communal well-being. How do you imagine an abundant, vibrant, healthy or competent – as some experts call it – community?

mathyas-kurmann-102977-unsplash.jpg

I suspect many of us have nostalgic memories of neighbourhood.  For example, at a recent gathering numerous participants told stories about growing up on a street where, as kids, they roamed freely to the playground, to the corner store; where they ventured in and out of each other’s homes, played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘kick the can’ at night; never locking their doors and so on… One block connector told the story of how the neighbours would often say, when he got out of hand (which, from the sounds of it was quite often), ‘Remember, I know your Mom, now behave yourself!’  Now, they lamented, kids can’t even go to the playground half a block away on their own, and ‘the village’ isn’t ‘raising the child.’

We don’t even know the parents! We try to keep others out, rather than make connections with those around us.  We have somehow come to believe that our communal responsibility for the health, security, education, environment, economy, and vulnerable in our communities belongs to, or is better maintained and sustained by, social services, government agencies and/or the professionals.

What if a vibrant community is one which includes every resident and recognizes the abundance and care in its midst – the gifted people next door, the wise seniors a few houses down, the carpenter, electrician on the block one over, the gardener, the bicycle fanatic, the teen willing to shovel snow, the empty nesters willing to help the young parents on the other side of the alley…?

Sociologists and numerous studies are saying that neighbourhood community is the most effective means of addressing at least seven essentials that lead to personal and communal well-being and thus, an abundant community – an abundant community that, from the perspective of the Christian faith, reflects God’s Kingdom of Shalom, the Triune Communion of our God.

We all yearn – creation groans – for this kind of place: a place where we all belong, where all feel safe and secure, where all can grow and flourish, are cared for, work for the common good. In this kind of community, all contributions are welcomed and employed and the primary practice of inclusive hospitality pervades.

Perhaps an abundant community is exactly what God had in mind when he instructed the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace and the well-being of the city (29:4-7). Perhaps, the church – struggling to discern her role in post-modern post-Christendom – might begin to discern what God is up to by seeking to discover and join the Spirit on God’s mission in the neighbourhoods where He has sent her to remain.

Our society’s growing understanding of the significance of community seems to resonate with this text.  I think Jeremiah speaks a word not only to the people of God in Jeremiah’s day but in ours.  Both are called to nurture abundant communities!  We too are asked to seek the welfare and prosperity of the place God has sent us – to settle in, to stay, have families and gardens and do life together with our neighbours; to be faithfully present right where God has sent us and thereby declare that the Kingdom of God has come near!

“Tell me about this Jesus character!”

By Shannon Youell

A recent article in my newspaper last week was of a small local business who makes awnings for outdoor areas. They can’t keep up! Sales are breaking every yearly record they can remember.  Another article on the same day highlighted that there is huge supply demand on home appliances and shortages are beginning to be felt.   

A third story, in a Toronto newspaper, featured another small business that is also seeing unprecedented sales and interest in her products: crystals, tarot cards and other paraphernalia related to forms of seeking spirituality. The owner attributes to the increased desire of people during this time to seek answers and deeper meaning of life and living, and they are turning to spiritual things. 

This shouldn’t be any surprising news to us, the church. We have long known and incorporated deeper meaning conversations as a means to be able to speak God-life into people’s situations and circumstances. People really are asking good questions. One pastor I know said people are literally walking in their front door saying to him, “tell me about this Jesus character!” 

Yet, over the past 6 months—and indeed especially now as the days get darker and colder—we’ve had to drastically alter the way that we have been able to offer hospitality and neighbourliness so we can have these conversations. What hasn’t changed, however, is our need to be able to understand our own faith in order to articulate the reality of the Gospel if and when our neighbours begin to ask about our “questionable lives” (Michael Frost and 1 Peter 3:15). 

So in this time of waiting and watching, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on how good and how big this Good News really is in our lives. 

Check out this webinar from Trevor Hudson and Carolyn Arends at Renovaré about “Finding Good Words to Share the Good News.” You may find some of their advice around suffering particularly timely in the midst of COVID as well—definitely an hour well spent.

What was helpful? What was hard to hear? Share your comments with us!

165 Church Plants?

By Shannon Youell 

What might it look like if some of our churches become “church plants?” I posited this question in our last blog whilst noting how our church plants are navigating the times we are in. Since posting that blog I have had two of our CBWC pastors mention they’ve been told we need 165 church plants when we come out of this. That’s an interesting perspective to follow up my question. We are a family of around 165 associated, established churches. How might we begin to consider becoming “church plants?” 

Though there can be times when a church might consider deconstructing and starting again, I would certainly try to convince you otherwise in this time. If you called me to ask how your existing church becomes a church plant, I would echo Tod Bolsinger: “This isn’t the time to become what you are not.”i

During this time of constant pivoting, changing who you are as a church community of Christ followers would be less than constructive. However, as Bolsinger further explains, “This is a time to learn how to be the very best version of your church and organization for a changing world.” 

How do we begin to even discover what our “very best version” might be?  

Last week, out of curiosity, I spent some time checking out a dozen or so of our CBWC churches websites. I was curious to read the Vision Statements of our diverse group to understand the sense of engaging in God’s Mission in our churches. Here are some of them:  

Growing deeply-rooted followers of Christ. 

“In and For the Neighbourhood.” 

“God-dependent, Jesus-Rooted, Spirit-Led. 

“We desire to be a church that changes the world for Jesus. 

Our desire is to be followers of Jesus, by putting God’s love into action. 

Deeper Higher Further. 

Our vision is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend. 

Loving God and others where we live and gather, by connecting, belonging and engaging. 

“Making disciples of Jesus from all nations. 

“We are a people of invitation on the journey from brokenness to wholeness in Jesus. 

We envision the holiness of God flowing through the city…like a flood. 

Connecting Real People to the Real Jesus in Real Ways. 

“A community of people SENT to be known by love, live by faith, and be a voice of hope to the communityand beyond.” 

“To live a life of following Jesus, to be a place of spiritual formation, and to seek and contribute to the peace and well-being of the city.” 

Wow, right?! These are fantastic. These statements reveal hearts rooted in a desire to engage all peoples in community, faith, and spiritual formation for the meaning and purpose of loving God, others, self, neighbour with everything in every way of our every day.  

During the last six months, people all over the world have been coping and navigating something we’ve not previously all experienced at the same time. Many challenges and issues—and joys and discoverieshave been realized as we had to completely shift everything in our lives. People, families, organizations, businesses, recreation, entertainment. We changed how we spend our time, our money, and our talents; how we do relationships, how we deal with stress and with apathy. 

For people of faith, the challenge initially was in finding ways to continue having a Sunday worship service so that people didn’t feel displaced, isolated and perhaps “disappear” from the church. There has been increasing concern that some might not return to church when restrictions are completely lifted. Webinars, affinity groups, books, blogs, magazines and news articles abound on how to keep “doing Sunday.” The longer this goes on, the more heightened the fear that people will drift away and whether the church will survive this long term.  

“Where religious institutions have been mistaken…is that they have fallen in love with a specific solution, rather than forever evolving to meet the need.”
The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile 

Of course, we need to find ways, creative and outside our normal box, of how we are a community of faith, on mission with God during this time. But rather than having our focus being on the fears and problems we have as we look for signs of people leaving the Sunday service and not returning, we should be looking for signs of those who are struggling with or leaving their faith or haven’t found faith yet.  

And that’s where the Vision Statements come into play.  

Over the past 35+ years of being both a follower of Jesus and a leader of followers of Jesus, I have observed that more often than we’d like to admit, the Vision Statements emblazoned across the front of our sanctuaries, on banners on our websites, in our bulletins each week and our new members classes, have become a pithy hats off to what we once aspired to as a community. I’ve been to many church services and church meetings (including the church(s) I’ve been in community with) in many different expressions of church and found that more often than not, the very people to whom the Vision is towards are surprised to discover this is their statement. They just aren’t recognizing it lived into what they do together as community. Ouch! We get into patterns and rhythms that become familiar and expected and we can lose the passion we had to live into and out of the Vision that faithful people prayed and discerned together. 

It may be time to revisit our Vision Statements, either to revision them to better reflect the current reality of our community and ministry, or affirm this indeed is who we aspire to be. Then, it’s time to assess every activity we do through the lens of the Statement and lovingly lay to rest those that no longer fulfill what they once may have. And, with joy we can pray and discern together how to begin living into the ones that are still burning in our hearts. 

Church Plants have Vision Statements too. They are current and still very fresh in the minds of those who have prayed and discerned. Often every decision they make, every good program that they may explore are still being weighed against that Vision. Were our churches to begin to do the same, it is possible, without throwing out all we’ve grown to become, to get back to our roots and think like church plants again.  

Rather than merely counting on  a specific solution to “get us through to the end,” or trying to preserve what we have, what if we focused more on drawing nearer to God than we may have been in a while as a gathering of individual people? And what if we went back to our first passion, as expressed in Vision statement, with an openness to hear what God is saying to the church today?  What if our primary activities included drawing one another closer to God through deeper emphasis on spiritual formation that leads to confession, repentance and transformation?  

What if our hearts become so passionate that God is our everything and Jesus is our Lord that we have a reignition of talking to others about what is happening to us, journeying with others of no faith, some faith, waning faith in ways that draw them deeper and deeper into the very nature of God’s holiness? 

That’s what church plants tend to lean into. Perhaps rather than seeing them as “new churches” that will one day look like “ours,” we might begin to see them as churches that we might need to vision ourselves to look like.  

—– 

i. Tod Bolsinger is the Vice-President for Vocation and Formation and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the community of God transforms lives, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Times, and Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience. We recommend you read all three!  
 
 

Church Plants Re-Missioning in COVID-19 Context

By Shannon Youell

Earlier this summer, during an interview with Pastor Tim Dickau for the Church Planting Blog, Tim asked me how the new church plants were managing with all the current challenges. I answered that, surprisingly, most of the plants seem to be finding, even within the same difficulties, deeper discipleship, relationships and new faith.  

Tim asked why I thought that was. I concluded that a significant part was that young churches still seem to have a sense of adventure, of excitement. Church plants can pivot faster as they are less embedded in how they do things as they are still discerning and growing in who they are as disciples and as local missionaries. They see God at work in the new believers that they are engaged with and are more fluid in the things they do. Thus, church plants may be less reactive against change because change is a normal part of their reality. 

GCF Winnipeg East continues to build deeper community among their core group of planters and new people alike, growing slowly but steadily.

GCF Winnipeg-East has found that starting a church plant in a season where we can’t eat and party together (in true Filipino style) has been challenging! The food fellowship is integral to how this group evangelizes, yet they are finding their way and are thrilled to recently be able to gather on a Sunday within the Manitoba restrictions. Despite the COVID restrictions, this group has grown to about 50 regular disciples, including 80% participation in the Life Groups, which now meet via Zoom! PRAY with them as they plan to officially launch in November of this year. As well, the building they meet in for services is undergoing renovations for the next six months, so pray for a suitable temporary location for the church. 

Hope Church of Calgary is struggling with not meeting together, some pushing to meet anyways. The people, who are Arabic, are finding the same difficulties as GCF W-E: community is paramount for how they share the gospel with one another. The group is small but committed and there is some good potential leadership to continue the church if Pastor Mouner ends up training missionaries overseas as he is feeling called towards. PRAY that the Spirit of God will encourage this church in the midst of all the challenges and changes of the present and future. 

Emmanuel Baptist Church Fellowship of Calgary is a flourishing Spanish-speaking community. Formally doing ministry under the umbrella of First Baptist Calgary, they discerned it was time to launch out on their own. One of the main reasons was the realization that almost their entire congregation and the community they were reaching out to live within a five-minute drive of one another, across town from the FBC campus! Connections were made and partnership has been established with Bonavista Baptist Church, which brings the church facility much closer to their neighbourhoods. They are currently working on affiliating as a new church with CBWC. PRAY for a speedy acceptance of their Charitable Status and that their faithful presence in their neighbourhood continues to bear much fruit that lasts. 

Emmanuel Iranian Church’s August baptism service.
EIC has baptized one hundred and thirty new believers this summer.

In the midst of COVID-19, Emmanuel Iranian Church (North Vancouver & Coquitlam) brought on board a new co-pastor, Ali Hosseinzaden, to share the immense work alongside Pastor Arash Azad in the discipleship of hundreds of new believers in Jesus Christ. EIC has been meeting in the restricted groups of 50, which means Pastor Arash is preaching 3 or 4 times each Sunday as well as his continued discipleship of several churches in Turkey. PRAY for more leaders/pastors for EIC to augment and share the teaching, discipleship and preaching with Arash and Ali. Pray for times of refreshment for them both. Pray for creative ways to engage their young people virtually.   

Makarios Evangelical Church (New Westminster) has four young adults from their college ministry, and one adult, preparing for baptism. Intentional discipleship and formation are central to the ministry and Pastor Jessica notes that during this time of challenge, more people are being brave and willing to talk about deep things in their lives. The church had several outreach ministries that were just beginning or soon to launch at the time of the shutdown. However, the church has pivoted quickly to adapt to doing outreach differently and is seeing God’s goodness shine through. PRAY for increased creativity and innovation on how to serve both the MEC congregation and the college students to whom they are building relationships with. Pray for creativity as today’s plans have to adjust to tomorrow’s new reality. 

Our plants and planters are finding both fruit and joy in their ministry as well as experiencing the same challenges our established churches have around our new reality in a pandemic world. 

I wonder whether this has something to say to all our churches in this time. Barna research has shown that more than one third of church attenders have stopped attending, now that services have been online for several months. My first thought was that those who are challenged with using computers may be part of that one third. However, the research shows that, “Among millennials, it’s even higher: Half of those who used to go to church have stopped since the pandemic started.” 

As restrictions continue or become even more stringent, how might our churches re-mission to both create community and reconnect community that is used to being community in a church building? How might they continue to minister to one another but also to those who, not in “church life,” are feeling all the same angst, anxiety and uncertainty in their own places and spaces? How might we engage Gospel in a time such as this? What might it look like to utilize house-church-type meeting that still honors the health authority restrictions? How do we continue to establish new communities of faith? What might it look like if some of our churches become “church plants?”  

These are questions worthy of wrestling with as CBWC continues to care for and support our plants and our long-established church communities. These are also good questions for all of us who are CBWC. 

September Resources

Welcome to September! Wow. As the summer slips by and we set our gaze again on the ministry ahead, here are a few equipping resources you may find of help in the coming weeks:

  • As we mentioned previously, Dr. Tim Dickau is spearheading a new Certificate in Missional Leadership for congregational teams (available hybrid – in person and online) beginning September 2020 through St. Andrews Hall. The three-year program has the overall focus of “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age” with the first year specifically exploring “Missional foundations during COVID and Beyond.”

  • Our friends at Forge Canada continue to offer helpful, timely conversations; their next online series is “Into the Neighbourhood: Practicing Hospitality, Presence and Mutuality”  and starts September 8.

  • Beth Anne Fisher and the Wellness Project at Wycliffe have been exploring satisfaction and stress in vocational ministry life. Her 5+ years of research, combined with qualitative data on 35+ interviews with multivocational ministers across Canada came together as the Canadian Bivocational Multivocational Ministry Project The entire (fascinating and telling!) research project can be downloaded at canadianmultivocationalministry.ca. You can also check out these video snippets from the New Leaf Learning Centre webinar with Beth Anne Fisher and Jared Seibert that can help frame some ponderings for us.

  • Speaking of New Leaf, they’re offering several new streams, including a COVID-aware redesign, of their Church Plant Design Shop, this fall. Here’s what they have to say about it:

    As a leader, if you’re feeling like the decisions you are currently facing are complicated, you’re not alone. In the wake of COVID, church leaders across Canada are struggling with how best to maintain their church’s identity, mission, and connection in this time of isolation and uncertainty.

    In the midst of this current crisis also lies a unique opportunity to rethink and redesign your church communities. Every church is a “church plant” as we collectively emerge from COVID. Now may be the right time to move your church from their regular routines and into a more vibrant, missional and engaged practice of their faith.

Whether or not you find the mental space to engage some of these great opportunities this fall, we pray that your September is seasoned with grace and the Spirit-led imagination that comes from seeing glimpses of God at work in you and those around you.

~Shannon and Cailey