Book Review: The Church and Its Vocation

By Pastor Michelle Porco.

This review of The Church and Its Vocation: Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology by Michael W. Goheen originally appeared as part of CBWC’s Theology for the Ordinary initiative. Learn more here.

book cover

Over the past couple of years, I have repeatedly heard Christians wrestle with the question, Why does church matter? This question has become prominent in pandemic living where restrictions prohibited Christians from gathering for public worship together. We were pushed to our homes to worship, tuning in online or on zoom. For many, it seemed that no worship services meant no church. So for my final sermon series before maternity leave, the elders and I decided it was time to address this question both theologically and practically. This book was recommended to me by a colleague to explore more deeply the purpose and vocation of the church, to understand who we are and how we engage in God’s world. 

Michael Goheen is a teacher and writer who has devoted himself to the study of Lesslie Newbigin’s work and character. Newbigin was one of the most influential and important missiological thinkers of the 20th century. In this book, Goheen succinctly summarizes Newbigin’s thinking, not dialoguing with other authors but instead focusing on Newbigin. Although one of the book’s strengths is its focus on Newbigin’s theology, the book does not express any kind of critique of Newbigin’s thought and legacy. What areas are undeveloped in Newbigin’s thought? Additionally, while there are some practical examples from Newbigin’s life and work in the book, the writer does not evaluate Newbigin’s impact on communities, churches, and denominations. I wonder, for example, how churches and denominations in which Newbigin served have continued to embody and live Newbigin’s teaching.

The book deals with both the mission of Christ and the purpose of the church. In an advertising culture that emphasizes developing witty mission statements for businesses and organizations, Goheen carefully reminds us that the church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, the mission of Jesus has a church. In turn, the church realises her identity and purpose in light of God’s mission.

The book addresses first God’s purpose or mission. The Western evangelical church has often described this in very individualistic terms and Goheen is purposeful to explain that God’s purpose and mission is both individual and corporate, both personal and cosmic. It includes the restoration of all that has become broken so we may experience true shalom and wholeness. Our relationships with God, with each other, with the non-human created world, and with ourselves are broken and God’s mission is to redeem and restore. Recapturing this holistic Biblical vision and theology of God’s salvation is critical for understanding our identity and purpose as God’s people. It is also critical when responding to the question of why the church matters.

Next, Goheen sets out to explore and explain what a missionary church looks like in relationship to the world, in relationship to itself (examining church structures and life together), in relationship with the surrounding culture, and specifically in relationship to western culture. There is a valuable balance of theology and practice in these chapters. These sections invite us to reflect on our own practices and thinking, our own structures and assumptions. We would do well to dwell and absorb these chapters if we are to live and embody being a missionary people. Though these sections are quite repetitive at times, they may help cement some of his points.

I strongly recommend this book for pastors, church leaders, and all Christians who want to wrestle with being the church in the West. This book is especially relevant post-COVID and in an environment hostile to Christian thinking and practice.

Learning Cohort Opportunities

How can I encourage and disciple my church to engage in joining God in His mission? What does evangelism look like in a post-covid, post-modern, divided, and polarized world – both in and outside the church? Can we actually get to know our neighbourhood and our neighbours? People haven’t come back to church – why? Where do we even begin to engage, understand, respond and be the salt and light in the world Jesus calls us to be?

There is so much uncertainty in our world today, yet so much opportunity. Churches and ministry teams are thinking hard about how-now do we engage both the people in our churches, and the Nones*, Dones*, and Ummmms*, in our very changed world. If you are uncertain or discouraged, or feeling like the giants in the land are too big to tackle and you know not what to do, then let us encourage you to take a look at these great Learning Cohort Opportunities to Re-orient around the Mission of God from Forge Canada, The Missional Network and The Centre for Missional Leadership. Both Cam from Forge Canada and Tim from the Centre for Missional Leadership were presenters at our CBWC initiative last year: Re-orient: The Church after Covid.

The Neighbourhood Project

“There is no more business-as-usual for our churches. The Spirit of God is calling us to join Jesus in our neighbourhoods.”

The Neighbourhood Project is the place for you as a leader to be equipped in
forming a community of faith that is discerning God’s presence and joining
Jesus in the neighbourhood.

Three of our CBWC churches participated in The Neighbourhood Project last year along with churches from several traditions.

The Leadership Project

The Leadership Project will help you step into a different way of leading through learning new practices that connect you with what the Spirit is already doing among your people.

Centre for Missional Leadership

This opportunity is most fruitful when taken together with a team from your church.

Two CBWC churches were part of the first cohort. Here is the feedback of one of 8 participating leaders at Strathcona Baptist:

“My imagination got deeper and wider for possibilities for our own church. The diversity of EXCELLENT speakers was a huge gift to the time! How encouraging to hear from such a diverse group of people on these different topics. I was quite blown away each time at the quality and thoughtfulness of the speakers. The homework assignments and prompts to talk to my neighbours were impactful. It was so good to hear perspectives on our church from people outside the church!”

All Planters of the Gospel

By Shannon Youell

Planting the Gospel helps give us definition in ways followers of Jesus are all called to participate with God in His mission to the world. Rather than opting out because we already belong to and/or minister in an existing congregation, take time to listen to the Spirit for ways your particular community can join God at work in seeding and harvesting new places and spaces for faith to be discovered and grow. 

At CBWC Church Planting we are always engaging with creative ways your local church community can join in the Planting the Gospel from intentional, relational discipleship within your own community to engaging with the people in your neighbourhood and joining them in fulfilling the values and dreams of a healthy and flourishing greater community. 

For inspiration of a few of the ways you can start participating with us and for some of the ways We Are Better Together, by watching this entertaining video by our own Cailey, which premiered at NMO recently.   

Connect with us on how we can start you or help facilitate your journey towards developing fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the Gospel right where you live, work, play and pray.

Ash Wednesday Reflection: Becoming a Prayer Pupil

By Cailey Morgan

It’s been such a joy to participate for the past several weeks in the Orienting to God collective prayer series with CBWC churches. I believe that prayer is the most important way we can spend our time, so I am grateful to be invited into rhythms that foster both corporate and personal prayer. And now, as today is Ash Wednesday, we are given an opportunity to again engage in shared practices with congregations all around the world. 

Perhaps Lent is a good time to reflect on the tools that have been helpful in deepening our prayer lives in the past, and also look to how we will order our future in a way that prioritizes communion with God. 

Mentors in Prayer 
As a young teen, I was introduced to the practice of journaling by Linda, a youth leader who found deep connection with God through the physical method of writing to process her experiences and formulate her prayers. She showed me her journal and talked about what the process meant in her walk with God, and then even took me to London Drugs to buy my first notebook and helped me decorate it with silly photos and a fancy cover.  

A few of my journals. They’re much messier on the inside!

Looking back, I can attest that most of the profound moments in the “individual” facet of my prayer life have been grounded in putting pen to paper.  

But Linda’s not the only person who has opened wide their prayer life for me to learn from. Consider the breadth of emotion and depth of prayer that can be found in the (over 70!) Psalms of David that have been collected in Scripture: joy, desperation, awe, anxiety and depression, praise, contrition, and the list goes on.

When my own words flow, I journal them. When I’m stuck, the words of David serve to help express my feelings and serve as a reminder of our firm foundation: who God is and what He has done.  

Invitations to Pray 
I want to invite you to take these weeks of Lent as an opportunity to become a prayer pupil. How can you take the posture of a learner to hone your personal practices of prayer? Experiment with writing down your prayers each morning, or choose a Psalm to repeat throughout the day. 

And in following with the generosity of David and of Linda in offering their hearts of prayer as an encouragement to others, I offer you a prayer I wrote during Lent 2020. Reach towards Christ, whether with your own words or those of who came before, and may you see that He is reaching towards you! 

Morning Prayer  
by Cailey Morgan 

Poke through 
Turn up 
Interrupt 

Weave your compassion and grace  
Through the fabric of my day 
Remind me to pray  
Infuse what I say 
And actions I take 
With Your healing way 

So that I stay 
Planted 
Rooted 
Grounded 
Not stuck but transfixed 
Can’t move until You move 

Can’t stop until You return 
Abundant life like liquid gold 
Dripping through Your cupped hands as 
You run toward us 
Each drop falling like water 
Like fire 
Dissolving a hole between 
Heaven 
and  
Earth 

Oh to catch a glimpse 
Oh to be a glimpse 

Inspiration respirate on me 
On us 
Spirit of Power You renew 
Refresh 
Revive 
Re-enliven with Your Word 

Another sunrise another surge 
Another rebirth 
Faithful Father 
Making all things new 

Scattering Gospel Seeds

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens.  And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NLT

Planting the Gospel is an exercise in seed scattering. How that seed lands and is nurtured has become the strategies for church planting we are currently familiar with. Regardless of whether a strategy is focused on a particular set of sustainability criteria, most plants start with a small group of Christ followers who long to see the Gospel enacted in the places they find themselves. Often these small groups begin meeting in homes to pray, to discern, to disciple and train one another towards an official launch.

In some ways, using the planting metaphor, house churches could be the starter plants you bought at the nursery, then nurtured to be grown-up plants enriching the neighbourhood. Often, house church gatherings are transplanted out of the home and into a church facility so they have room to become larger in that one place.

But what if the intent was to never leave the backyard? Matt Dabbs, who planted a backyard church in Alabama during the Covid summer of 2020, intends to remain a backyard church that scatters Gospel seeds to plant the next and the next and the next. It reminds me of a planter here in BC, Andy Lambkin, who has been doing the same thing since around 2011. We interviewed him a few years ago, and we include the link HERE for your quick find if you missed it or want to read it again. 

In the meantime check out Matt’s story about the power of scattered people planting the Gospel in his backyard:

The Power of the Scattered People of God 

By Matt Dabbs 

Over the course of biblical history, God has used scattering as his method of choice for future kingdom growth. 

He did this when Joseph went to Egypt, setting up the growth of the Hebrew people in Egypt and the eventual Exodus. God did this in the Exile, scattering many of his people to other lands, where they developed synagogues and outposts of God’s people far and wide. 

Paul and other missionaries later found starting points for kingdom conversation in other countries as the fruit of the Exile scattering. God uses scattering to plant the seeds for future kingdom expansion. 

In Acts 8:1–8 the church underwent tremendous persecution. Here is what Luke tells us, 

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. 

The most experienced among them, the apostles, stayed behind. The others scattered. The lead minister didn’t scatter. The “everyday” Christians scattered, and as they scattered, they preached the word wherever they went. God did miraculous things, and the result was a great job and kingdom growth. 

God has long history of using scattered people, and using people to grow the kingdom. 

The question is this: Is God doing this in our day? The answer to that question is multifaceted. God has been doing it in an organized way through the sending of missionaries for a very long time. But what about in an Acts 8 way—not the scattering of the formally trained but the scattering of the “everyday” Christians? 

My hope and prayer is that the post-pandemic moment will create an Acts 8 moment, where the people of God have been shaken up, scattered out, and will preach the word wherever they go. 

In all the staying-home time, many pastors realized that the people in their churches were fully capable of having church in their home and doing the work of ministry. Many reached out to neighbors. Some started house churches. The question is this: Will this continue and last or is it more of a passing moment? Many will return to their churches, and that is a good thing. And some will hear another call… that their eyes have been opened up to the possibility of the parish church, hosting house church in their own neighborhood. 

Like all the other scatterings of the past, time will tell what kind of impact this latest scattering—which was more like a staying—and growth will have on the cultural and religious landscape in the United States and beyond. My hope and prayer is that it will result in a greater diversity of approaches to how we “view and do” church as a whole. 

This is not to say that some might abandon the traditional model, but that it would be complemented with a partnership with more organic approaches. We are better together than we are apart! 

It was the pandemic that brought our worship into my backyard in 2020, and during that time, God laid it upon our hearts to continue with that mission, resigning from my full-time preaching minister position to plant a church for the very first time. We have seen growth, and we have been encouraged by the sheer number of people who are wanting to start something new! 

God is on the move and what may seem like a setback (going to Egypt, being exiled, persecution, and now the pandemic) may be catalysts for future kingdom growth and paradigm shifts that will have a lasting impact on the landscape of the Christian world for generations to come! 

Matt’s article was reposted with permission from discipleship.org  

Who invited Amos to the Christmas party??  

Each Advent Season, I am reminded about the stark contrast between the typical things we do to celebrate, and the Good News of God’s Kingdom for which Immanuel was sent to earth to usher in. Good News for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the lame, the weak and the invisible can be lost under laden tables and trees fully pregnant with mountains of gifts. Krista-Dawn Kimsey gives us a reflection to remind us that the Gospel includes the “daily needs” of the above. A longer version of this article was originally published as part of New Leaf Network’s Advent Reader Finding Advent Shalom: Waiting in Communities of Tension. ~ Shannon 

  Who invited Amos to the Christmas party??  

By Krista-Dawn Kimsey  

Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:4-12). 

“If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.” That’s been my favorite bumper sticker, and I just found it on a t-shirt for sale this Christmas. There’s a lot in this world and in myself to be outraged about this year; anger has been a great fuel to get out there, right some wrongs and feel a little more self-righteous along the way. We could easily create a seasonal Advent version of the t-shirt: “If you aren’t in tension, you aren’t paying attention.” For most of my adult life, I have experienced unbearable tensions as the details of God’s incarnation story are juxtaposed with the white North American and church cultural celebrations of Advent and Christmas. 

Eleven years ago, my family and I moved to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood on the unceded and traditional lands of the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh nations, also known as Vancouver. We made that move after I realized that my heart was quite far from God’s heart of justice for those experiencing poverty, those in crisis without a back-up plan, the refugees, the displaced, the meek, the ones who can be found in the alcoves and overhangs because there’s no room for them inside. In various roles in my non-profit work, I’ve studied the book of Amos almost yearly–yet I continue to cringe at my own complicity in Amos’ indictment of economic systems of affluence, political systems of oppression, and religious legitimization of the whole handbasket. I imagine if Amos was alive today, he might buy my Advent shirt and we could be twinsies. It’s rough being a prophet, delivering searing words that will make someone’s eyes water faster than a December wind chill in Saskatchewan. Personally, I’d think twice before inviting Amos to my Christmas party. He’d ask about the labour practices of the company that made my tablecloth.  

Amos 8 includes an oft-repeated theme of God’s clear judgment on our propensity to separate our religious practices from our practices of daily life. Verse ten (“I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping”) is connected to God’s earlier statements: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them….Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24) God really doesn’t adopt the Canadian propensity to hedge our opinions in public on matters of injustice! 

The Israelites incorrectly interpreted prosperity and luxury as God’s favor and blessing. While they offered religious thanks to God according to the law, they did not connect their practice of worship to their practices of business and life. During the religious festivals and Sabbath days, the Israelites were throwing side glances at the clock and scheming how to make a little more profit. God’s laws were meant to maintain justice for all: legal impartiality, provision for gleaning, and extension of interest-free loans, plus the tenth commandment’s warning against coveting. But the Israelites were throwing in the husks of the wheat that they sold to the poor, in order to make more profit. They were enslaving people who could not pay unjust debts.  

We can extrapolate to our own situation. What if God cares as much about who made the clothes we are wearing this Christmas, and how those workers were compensated, as he does about what we do in a worship service? While cooking our Christmas pot roast, we don’t want to be thinking about the labour practices that spread COVID among meat-packing employees.  

It is sobering to think that God might reject our passionate chorus of “Joy to the World” and our sacrificial volunteer hours at church events, because of our unjust stewardship of the land on which our food was grown, or of how those labourers–whom we’ve never seen–were treated. How can we be joyful in the midst of Amos’ indictments? Whose idea was it to include this scripture in the lectionary right when Christians are kicking it into high gear to honour the birth of the Saviour with literal harps?  

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul applauds and encourages generosity. Where could his exhortation to “freely scatter (our) gifts to the poor” be a litmus test for our motivations (2 Cor. 9:9)?  How could we go about doing justice this Advent season with a generous heart, rather than out of obligation, guilt or appeasement? What might we need to remember to enact mercy and justice from a confident assurance of God’s abundance for us all? How might grace invite more freedom for us this season?  

For me, answers to these questions change dramatically from year to year. However, each year I feel the tension between stretching to do something really, really uncomfortable, and accepting that I am a limited human being rather than a saviour of the world. Reading Amos was a catalyst for moving into the DTES all those years ago, to live alongside, listen to, and learn from those who suffer under the oppression of many forms of poverty.  

To engage further with others like Krista-Dawn, exploring how to listen and work alongside our marginalized neighbours in a non-charity posture, check out the 3-month Community Transformation Certificate program offered through Servant Partners, of which Krista-Dawn is an Executive Director. 

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.

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?

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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!