By Shannon Youell
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.
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).