The Lord’s Table: A Sacrament of Missional Reorientation

By Cailey Morgan

In just a few weeks, many of us will gather in Banff for CBWC’s Pastors, Chaplains and Spouses Conference. Every year this event is a fruitful retreat and celebration of God’s work in us together, but the Church Planting Team is especially thrilled this year to be hosting David Fitch as our keynote speaker. He will be sharing about several practices God’s people have been called to engage in as we seek to live in the way of Jesus.

Between now and then, we will post some of our comments regarding Fitch’s reasoning and approach to these practices in order to prime our minds and hearts for what David will bring to Banff in November.

In his book Faithful Presence, Fitch uses the framework of three circles to explain how our identity as God’s people is to be lived not only within the core church community (close circle), but in our homes and neighbourhoods (dotted circles) and in the public sphere, especially among the marginalized (half circle). Today, I’m going to share a few Faithful Presence quotes and thoughts about communion in those circles.

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The Lord’s Table has become rote in some of our congregations, and forgotten in others. However, this sacrament is central to Fitch’s idea of what shared Christian life should look like–and for good reason. As Paul reminds us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

A Kingdom Act

The close circle represents the first space of the Lord’s Table…there is the closest of fellowship and unity with one another. No one can miss this closeness around the table on the night when Jesus was betrayed. Here, at the celebration of the Passover, Jesus is seated as the host.

Communion is a Kingdom of God act–it tells us the Kingdom of God is near. It reorients us to God’s ways as we have all been twisted up and spun around to focus on things that don’t really matter.

When we sit around this table and tend to his presence…each of us must come to grips again with the reality that Christ is present at the table in a real, sacramental way. We must tend to his special presence because his presence always brings the reordering of our lives together into his kingdom.

Communion reminds us that we are God’s subjects and His kids–our identity is secure in His right-side-right Kingdom. Therefore, as we begin to live out our calling on this earth as ministers of reconciliation, we can do so with submission to each other and humility to all, following the example of our King who humbled Himself by coming to earth and becoming submissive to even death on a cross (Philippians 2).

There is no kingdom without subjects….our submission to Jesus spreads out into mutual submission to one another, and a new social order is birthed out of this, which is nothing less than his kingdom.

We don’t need to stand up for our rights, or fret over our reputations. We are His and can submit to His ways knowing they are good. What an intimate and empowering reminder we are invited into at the Lord’s Table!

A Table of Welcome

This invitation to become children and co-workers with Christ doesn’t end with us around the table of the faithful.

The Lord’s Table happens every time we share a meal together with people and tend to the presence of Christ among us. Granted the formal Lord’s Table only happens at the close table. But that table extends from there…

If we can recognize his presence at work around the table, we will be able to recognize his work in the rest of our lives as well. If we can be trained into its logic of forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal on Sunday, we can recognize that same logic of his presence in the world…Like Jesus, we go, not as hosts inviting people to our table, but as guests, submitting ourselves to the hospitality of others…we give up control, risking humiliation and even scandal…The question is not whether Jesus will be present, but will he be recognized?

I have to admit that most of the time I don’t recognize Christ’s presence around me, but I long for the day where His Kingdom logic is so ingrained that I can recognize His presence at work and maybe even be an arrow drawing others’ attention towards His goodness and grace. And I believe fostering a robust understanding and practice of the Lord’s Table is the next step in this growth process for me.

Some questions to ponder:

  • How does your congregation practice the Lord’s Table? How could practicalities like frequency and atmosphere deepen your understanding of this invitation into Christ’s presence and mission?
  • Do you see yourself as a host of Christ’s presence? How? What fruit has that reality borne in the life of your faith community or neighbourhood?
  • Are you willing to undergo regular reorientation of your identity and purpose?
  • Where are some tables in your community where Jesus is present but not yet recognized? How could humility and submission on your part bring light and hope around those tables?

I look forward to hearing your responses at #CBWCbanff2017!

All quotes from David E. Fitch, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission (InterVarsity Press): Kindle Edition.

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Summer Video Series 6: God’s Mission and the Places We Live, Work and Play

by Cailey Morgan

Shannon, Joell and I are thankful for so many resources that are available for us as we seek to evoke and resources CBWC churches and members towards our shared mission of making disciples who make disciples.

Today’s video is another from Forge America. Brad Brisco: God’s Mission and the Places We Live, Work and Play is the longest of the resources we’ve made available here, because it actually includes a story of a group of people who’ve been contextually living out the stuff we’ve been talking about here on the blog.

God's Mission & The Places We Live, Work, & Play – Brad Brisco from Forge America on Vimeo.

We saw one example of how to live and work missionally. But what are some other ways we can be a light in the places we live, work, play, in our Canadian context?

Summer Video Series 5: Incarnational Evangelism

by Cailey Morgan

Shannon, Joell and I are thankful for so many resources that are available for us as we seek to evoke and resources CBWC churches and members towards our shared mission of making disciples who make disciples.

Forge America’s resources include several videos available online, one of which is Hugh Halter in our video for today, Incarnational Evangelism.

Incarnational Evangelism – Hugh Halter from Forge America on Vimeo.

Have you ever been in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation but knew that it was the place God wanted you to be to share His good news? Share your thoughts here or by emailing me: cmorgan@cbwc.ca

Summer Video Series 4: What is a Missional Church?

by Cailey Morgan

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

In today’s video, Alan Hirsch: What is a Missional Church?, we consider the Sending God and His call for us as a Missionary People. What could missional look like in your context?

Summer Video Series 3: Living as Ekklesia

by Cailey Morgan

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

In today’s video, our very on Shannon Youell shares Living as Ekklesia, a call to consider the history of our language around the church and the ways in which we have exchanged Kingdom values for earthly values without even noticing.

Living as Ekklesia – Being the Church from Online Discipleship on Vimeo.

What do you have to add to the discussion on Ekklesia? In what ways do we as the church today need to change our perceptions and language?

Summer Video Series 2: Living With Intentionality

by Cailey Morgan

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

Today’s video, Jayne Vanderstelt: Living With Intentionality, speaks to the reality that mission is not something that we add on to what we are already doing in our compartmentalized lives. Rather, mission happens when we respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit, intentionally loving and serving those whom God puts in our path as we live lives that are visible and consistent.

Do you think the lifestyle Jayne presents is feasible? Why or why not?

Summer Video Series 1: The Church for Whom?

by Cailey Morgan

Shannon, Joell and I are thankful for so many resources that are available online for us as we seek to evoke and resources CBWC churches and members towards our shared mission of making disciples who make disciples.

At CBWC’s 2017 Gathering in Calgary, we were able to share several short videos we thought were particularly helpful for our context. Over the summer, we will be sharing those videos here on the blog in hopes of continuing the conversation, and hearing from you about these important topics.

Today’s video, Michael Frost: “The Church For Whom,” helps us consider who it is our churches are actually trying to reach. What sticks out to you? What do you need to do differently? What bugs you about Mike’s assessment of the church?

The Route to Fruit

By Cailey Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Put in the Current

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

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

Not Alone in the River

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

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

My command is this: Love each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BPC Registration is now open, so sign up today!

Organic Structure

by Cailey Morgan

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

Miracle Beans

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

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My beans.

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

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

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

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

Suffocation and Skeletons

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

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

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

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

Well, no. Because that actually is impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need Us—Including You

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

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

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

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

—–

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

ii. Ibid.

Prototyping Churches

By Cailey Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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