As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview another of our churches who are on this journey: The Forge Church in Victoria, BC. Pastors Mike Oshiro and Shannon Youell (whom you know!) share their journey with us. ~ Cailey
CBWC: Why Shared Practices?
Mike Oshiro (Lead Pastor) and Shannon Youell: As a congregation we had gone through a reboot ten years ago. A significant part of that reboot was in moving from being a Sunday gathering of church members to a community who lived out covenant with God and one another by committing to faith life being one of discipling one another. This reboot required us to also change how we do church leadership together, which has resulted in a deep trust in one another. We are convinced that this trust is the platform that enabled us to move into developing shared practices.
We began moving in the direction of shared practices after we began evaluating where we are and realized that intentional discipleship for most church people is an optional “add-on” to life in Christ. As leaders, we had capitulated to the worldview of consumerism and individualism, while at the same time trying to form a covenanted community on mission with God. It just wasn’t working. Intentional discipleship in community just can’t be an add-on.
CBWC: What was The Forge Church’s experience of developing shared practices?
Mike and Shannon: Jesus called us to make disciples who join God on mission. After much prayer, we knew we needed to reimagine and rethink how to do that. We especially were drawn to the writings of Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Mike Lukens and so many others who had found themselves in the same place in their own church experience. We began to look at how to begin making a shift from individuals with personal faith journeys to a community on mission together to shape one another in Christ-like-ness so the community is a witness for Christ to our local community.
We entered into conversations with Cam Roxburgh and Cailey Morgan from Southside who gave us more insight into what it takes to move into Shared Practices as a church.
January 2018 saw us with our first full-version weekly guide of discipling one another together. At this point we still did not have anything formed around some kind of small groups. We were very intentional about not moving into this too soon. Cam wisely counselled us to take some time with our Leadership Team (LT) before we launch it with our congregation. And we needed it!
Part of our teaching focused on the idea that journey with Christ was always meant to be a corporate journey, not just a personal/individual. Shared Practices helped us to focus. Our concern was that it would become an optional Bible study with no engagement, so we wanted another small group with purpose, that would encourage our church to become a discipling community.
CBWC Church Planting: What Shared Practices do you focus on and why?
Mike and Shannon: Over the last 2 years all of our teaching seemed to come back to the Shema, as Jesus expressed it in Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Initially when we began using the Weekly Practices Guide, we didn’t have small groups (which we call Connect Groups). Our encouragement was to join with the rest of our church community to in doing the daily exercises or shared practices.
Our Shared Practices are Prayer (Heart), Study of Scripture (Mind), preparation for Sabbath (Strength), being a good neighbour (Love Your Neighbour), Personal Practice and Reflection (Love Yourself) and Gathering together on Sunday and in Wednesday Connect Groups (Love One Another).
Focusing on these practices as a whole church community gives us common conversation to begin to form deeper relationships with one another. We still encourage people to read Scripture or “have devotions” as they have found meaningful, but we also strongly encouraged the church to join this shared journey of prayer, study, reflection, eating together and creating a meaningful community life seven days a week. This was not an increase in church activities or programs, rather a new rhythm of doing the things we normally do in life with more intentionality of being a gospel people together.
CBWC: What’s been the hardest or most frustrating thing?
Mike and Shannon: Even after teaching and preaching on being Christ’s disciples both in our personal lives and corporately, when it came time to introduce the concept of Shared Practices, people pushed back. There were so many reasons people felt they couldn’t engage: “I do my own devotions” or “what if I don’t want to read that Scripture this week?” or “I have no time in my day to pray or spend time with God.”
We realized we needed to go back a step, so we practiced with our Leadership Team for about four months by meeting weekly for a shared meal, conversation, discussion and praying together for one another. Much to our surprise, the majority of push back on our LT came from those who we thought would be most supportive. Most of our leaders struggled with leading a small group (Connect Group) as they didn’t feel ready, or didn’t think they have enough biblical knowledge, or are introverts. We reiterated over and over that we were not doing question-and-answer Bible studies, but rather practicing life discipleship together.
We had said from the beginning that if our LT wasn’t fully on board for this we wouldn’t pursue it until they were. That has been one of the most fruitful pauses in moving forward that we could have done.
The other hard thing is that it does take a lot of work to create the guide books. However, we as staff have grown deeper into our own discipleship journeys and we have seen our preaching and teaching growing and connecting more and more with people in their day-to-day life.
CBWC: Where have you seen fruit of your intentionality in shared practices?
Mike and Shannon:We are now two full years in the rhythm of shared practices and we are seeing some wonderful fruit.
Our community has grown closer and more connected We are seeing an increase in new members and baptisms coming out of these groups. For us, growing in numbers has never been our goal, but we find that as we grow in depth as disciples, we are growing in numbers as well.
We are also seeing more of the pastoral care happening from within our Connect Groups. We have elders in each group that are part of our LT, and increasingly, needs and concerns are met through people who are walking discipleship out together. This has given staff the needed time to continue developing leaders and disciples who find their relationship with God, self, others and neighbours being transformed.
One icing-on-the-cake bonus is that we have a people of faith who are increasingly intentional in every area of their lives. By the time we introduced our Connect Group, people were understanding the why around Shared practices and the push-back we initially received had died off. At the launch of these very intentional groups we had over 60% of our congregation join with us.
All our new people are connected to a group as soon as they indicate they are interested in The Forge Church as their “home,” embedding them into people who know and care for them, not as strangers who sit across the aisle, but as brothers and sisters following Jesus on mission in their everyday lives.
CBWC: What advice would you give churches who are considering taking a step towards a culture of intentional shared practice and life together?
Mike and Shannon: Go slow! Take incremental steps. We didn’t create an add-on program to what we were already doing, but over the course of five years began intentionally reshaping who we are and what we do as witnesses of Christ in our lives.
Don’t be afraid to take a few steps back to help your church re-orientate. But also don’t allow the culture of consumerism and the individualism of “private faith” distract you or put fear in your hearts! We were prepared that some people wouldn’t delve deep with us and we continue to care for them as community—but the depth to which we are now delving and the growth we are seeing both in our long time folk and new folk, is well worth staying the course.
As per usual, we look forward to further conversation with you and your church as we continue watching God at work and joining Him in His work wherever we live, work, play and pray! ~Shannon and Cailey