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?

Jim Putnam’s Discipleship Scorecard

By Shannon Youell

Our church has visitors every week. They come, they go, they shop and some even stay.

I, and others in our community, are always watching to greet these visitors, which is what I did a few weeks ago when one caught my eye. I welcomed him and introduced myself, then asked him what brought him here this morning. He told me that he has spent his adult life living in close relationship with God; that he found Jesus through the Salvation Army Church, attending and serving there many years. He said he prayed, worshiped, read and meditated on Scripture every day, though he had not attended a corporate service in seven years since the Citadel removed the pastor he loved.

By measurement of his spiritual life, we may conclude this man was discipled well. He tried in every way to live a good Christian life and was devoted to God. On the other hand you may disagree that he was discipled well since he doesn’t “attend” worship services. Yet, in reality, he was discipled into exactly what many of us consider a disciple of Christ to be: one devoted to God and living a life of integrity and character and attends church services. He and many, many of us are discipled into individual relationship with God and service within the church programs as being the outcome.

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Indeed, this is central to us having relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. But does this describe fully what Jesus discipled his followers to?

Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington, in their book Discipleshift, draw our attention to how we “keep score”—how we evaluate success in our churches and in disciplemaking. I quoted Putnam a few months ago on his definition of a disciple:

If that definition does not end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it.  The bottom line is that a mature disciple of Jesus is defined by relationship. We are known for our love for God and one another.”

Often, I hear pastors and leaders lamenting that their good and faithful folk don’t do relationship well. They are kind and generous, but keep to themselves in everyday life. How then are we “known for our love for God and one another?” And how do we reflect being “committed to the mission of Jesus”?

In Discipleshift, the authors walk us through how we need to change our scorecard, the way we evaluate “from attracting and gathering to developing and releasing.”

“Deploying (releasing) means that people in your church are equipped and motivated to demonstrate God’s love and share their faith with the lost wherever they work or live or go to school—any place they interact with other people. They are also able to do life with other believers in relationship connection. They understand that they are ministers who serve wherever they go in the world. They are becoming people who make disciples at home, love a lost and hurting world, and win people to the Lord as they serve as missionaries in the communities where they live. That is the new scorecard for success.” (pg. 214).

They emphasize that our goal in being the church, or starting new churches, isn’t to gather a crowd and give them information, but rather to “raise up biblical disciples and deploy them into the world so they can raise up other disciples. These disciples are to grow into accurate copies of Jesus who rightly deliver his message in his ways.”

I know in my own church, there are many different ideas of what a disciple of Jesus is. Which creates part of the problem we have with being credible witnesses to those who do not yet know Christ or have decided they are good with their own personal life of worship and devotion.

Could our challenge be to relook at this and teach into what the Bible says about discipleship in the gospels? Here are several questions the book challenges us to look at with open minds and hearts:

  • How does the Bible define discipleship?
  • What does the Bible say a disciple look like?
  • What is the discipleship process as we see it happening in scripture?
  • What are the specific phases of discipleship, as seen in the scriptural models?
  • How will everyone in our church come to know this process?
  • What characteristics (values) must be present for real-life discipleship to occur in our church? (values include love, acceptance and accountability.)
  • How will our church (at every level) emphasize the discipleship process?
  • How will our church practice keep the focus on discipleship by making church “simple” and “clear”?
  • How will our church raise up, reproduce, and release disciple-making leaders?
  • How will our church serve as an attractional light on a hill?
  • How will our church send people out to serve incarnationally in the community?

I am going to start with the first three questions. I will do my best to put aside my already conceived ideas of this and honestly look at this. If I can’t do this, then what am I testifying about what Jesus mandated the Church to do? Who would like to travel this journey with us? Could we begin some dialogue about it? Then we can ask ourselves, our leadership teams the next questions and prayerfully begin to redevelop some of our methodology that has perhaps grown stale and ineffective to mentor and apprentice all those who choose to gather with us for services to participate more comfortably in God’s mission out to the world He loves.

Potential Impact Report

By Shannon Youell

Do we approach God and His calling on our lives with fisted hands, holding tightly to things we have already determined or with open hands, willing to allow God to inform and shape our futures? Do we allow God to fill our empty cups and then are we able to drink the cup he has given us?

This was the opening focus to more than twenty young adults from Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan, gathered at Gull Lake Camp April 27-30 to challenge the next generation to focus on spiritual direction, an openness to ministry potential, and general calling and leadership in their life. Facilitated by CBWC ministry leaders and pastors, the Potential Impact conference metaphor quickly formed around the charging rhinoceros, who can see only twenty feet in front of itself yet knows that to see the next twenty feet requires stepping into the unseen-ness of the future.

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Using a three-fold framework of Spiritual Direction, Deeper Personal Understanding, and Openness and Exposure to Ministry Potential, we went on a journey of self-discovery of Who Am I, Where Do I Fit, How am I Unique, What am I to do and Where have I been/where am I going. Facilitated by Chris Maclure, Tammy Klassen, Dennis Stone, Mark Archibald, Steve Roadhouse, Debi Burt and myself, these topics were engaged through sessional teachings and activities, faith stories, small group coaching, worship, prayer, reflection and–of course–by rambunctious times of basketball, floor hockey, arrow tag, ping pong tournaments, campfires, star-gazing, sharing meals, to name just a few of the things we did together.

The call to join God where He is at work no matter where life leads was dominant in both the presentations and in the small group coaching. In these peer sessions, participants could wrestle with the presented material and “engage in the topics of identity and call” with speakers and coaches who “were awesome, encouraging, helpful and practical.”

The conference organizers are keenly aware that engaging and empowering young people for ministry potential is crucial to continue in the work of the kingdom of God generationally. This is, after all, a component of making disciples who make disciples. Developing and raising/releasing leaders into whatever their sphere of influence as “ministers of reconciliation” will be, is our responsibility as the generations before them. And it will be their responsibility to the generations who come after them.

What is a Real Disciple?

By Shannon Youell

“First, we’re asking the question, “What is a real disciple?” And we’re making a distinction between a convert and a disciple…..We need to ask the question and define it together as a body. If that definition does not end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it. The bottom line is that a mature disciple of Jesus is defined by relationship. We are known for our love for God and one another.” Jim Putnam

In my last blog, I started with a statement from a quote from J.D. Payne. You will note that this blog entry also starts with a quote.

In our current series of blogs we are looking at some smart things that smart people have already said and trying to find our place in them. No need to reinvent the wheel by reframing things so we look smart! I am grateful to all the people out there who are smarter than me and have said great things for us to reflect on, consider and learn from.

All Church Planters?
In our last entry we were left with the idea that disciples of Jesus plant churches. Nothing new there…of course disciples of Jesus are the people who plant churches!

We were also left with the idea that since we are disciples of Jesus, then we are all also, ultimately, church planters. Now that’s a statement that many, if not most, of us would like to disclaim! But as Jim Putnam states, a disciple is “…one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus…”.

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I like the observations that a disciple is both following and being changed by Jesus, but we get into all sorts of tangled understandings of what is the mission we are to be committed to as disciples of Jesus. If we hold to J.D. Payne’s quote from last time, then we would define what Jesus did as making disciples who then made disciples and so on.

Living it Out
What did those disciples do? They told people about the good news of the in-breaking kingdom of God among them; of the work of the cross so that all may join God in His work; of being delivers of God’s righteous justice, mercy, grace, healing, love, and shalom; equipped and released those people to go do likewise in their own places and spaces. And they gathered and told stories of when, having believed, people were changed by the faithful presence of Jesus in their lives, of God at work, and of the faithful presence of the followers around them. And the new disciples did the same. And churches were birthed.

What they didn’t do was start a Sunday meeting and teach new forms of worshiping God. Worshiping God looked like changed lives, living out of and into God’s redemptive, reconciliatory, restorative kingdom that brings shalom and this gathered people together to praise and bring worship and remember the God who sent Jesus to usher it all in and make it all possible for you and for me and for our neighbors.

In my own journey in following Jesus, the more I followed and obeyed what Jesus did as He dwelled among us, the more I was changed in my thinking, my grace and love towards others and my understanding of God’s mission for the gathered ekklesia (the called out people who pray for and seek the welfare of the city) and scattered church, eikons (image-bearers of).

So if what we are doing in our current discipling practices isn’t moving people from self-focus (what’s best for me) to Christ-focus (what’s best for the world God so loves) which looks something like what Putnam described: “looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it. Because the ones doing the looking are the ones who Christ has placed in our area of influence where we live, work, play and pray.

 

The Bible doesn’t say “plant churches” ?!?

By Shannon Youell

“The Bible does not tell us to plant churches.”

Say What?
If you read this quote and–confused–scrolled up to indeed verify you are on the Church Planting Blog, have no fear. You are! If we look at the thing Jesus commissioned His newly minted Church, His “ekklesia” to do, it was disciplemaking, not church planting.

The above statement from J.D. Payne’s book Apostolic Church Planting, continues thus:

“Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches–after disciples are made. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Another way to consider this concept is that it is evangelism that results in new disciples, who then gather together and self-identify as the local expression of the universal body of Christ. Churches are supposed to be birthed from disciple making.” ( p.17-18).

Though I may be totally wrong, I suspect that there would be little disagreement with Payne’s statement; “biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.” And I am equally as certain that most of us would say a hearty “amen” that churches are “to be birthed from disciple making.” But what may get some pushback is in the defining of what is disciple making.

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Defining a Disciple
Often, we define a disciple as one who has decided to convert to Christianity by confessing their sins past and by professing their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives for their futures. That is certainly the crucial initial step to being a disciple and we should more accurately say that person had a conversion experience that brought them into saving knowledge of Jesus.

There seemed to be many of those folk woven into the gospel stories. People who encountered Jesus, recognized Jesus as Saviour Messiah, perhaps experienced dramatic healing and/or deliverance through that encounter and professed Him as from God, the Son of Man, the One who saves. Paul addresses several of these groups when he is consternated that they are still infants needing milk when they should have been matured to chew on meat. They are converts but not necessarily disciples.

In the gospels, we see a disciple of Jesus as someone who was taught all about Jesus and then lived it out; disciples obey everything they are taught. Jesus schooled them to be disciple-makers. And the task He gave them was to be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. And as more disciple-makers were made, communities were formed, churches were birthed.

An Upward Spiral in the Grand Story
This model is one that assembled people together to be gospeled–to hear and celebrate and remember the Grand Story together–as the telos, the goal of the Story. The commission was towards the telos of becoming disciples so that we could make disciples who tell and enliven the Grand Story to those who have not yet heard or entered into the Story. And the upward spiral continues over and over and over again.

The outflow or result of following what Jesus called the early disciples to do was that, out of necessity, new communities were required to accommodate and facilitate the new disciples who were now being trained to become disciple-makers. And once a week or more, those new local communities would gather to hear, to celebrate, to remember the richness of the Grand Story, the glory and goodness of God who so loved the world He entered into human form to capture our hearts to love the world the way He does. A circular mission of disciples making disciples who gather in local neighborhoods to make more disciples.

So to go back to Payne’s quote, we see that telling the people we encounter in our lives the Grand Story and inviting them to see themselves into the Story and showing them the entrance point, creates a need for new churches to disciple them so that they can tell their story to others.

“… church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.”

 The conclusion we can draw from that is that church planting is something disciples of Jesus do. So what does that mean for you, for us? Let’s explore that next.

Mission in Your Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

The last weekend in January found Cailey, Faye Reynolds, Sherry Bennett, Ike Agawin and myself doing something we’ve not done before:  (wo)manning a booth at Missions Fest 2017 in Vancouver.

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With our theme of “Join us on mission in your neighbourhood” and our new engagement cards in hand, we handed out copious amounts of candy, CBWC pens and lip balms (very popular by the way!) and fielded all sorts of questions and remarks. Unremarkably, most of the questions had nothing to do with what we were promoting. In fact, many who stopped at our booth couldn’t quite make the connection between “mission” and “in your neighbourhood.”  One man peering at our banner argued that “it’s not mission if it’s not in another country.”

This was surprising to me, inasmuch as Jesus called us to be on mission both where we live, in our city, in our nation and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  I wonder how it is that many see missions as only in a foreign land, far away from where we are. My cynical side says it’s because when mission is seen as far away, we can stay comfortably home and support others to go–which, of course, we should be supporting! But using it as an opt-out to be a minister right here of Christ’s work of reconciling man to God and to one another, is a travesty.

But, I think it is more likely that because we’ve grown up into a culture of Christendom, we still consider our land, our city, our neighbours as already gospeled merely by where we live. Yet the times we live in, as I said to a pastor in India while I was teaching there, reflect that North America actually needs missionaries to come here from those far-off lands that we’ve been missioning for centuries. Canada needs to be re-gospeled!

Of course, I was being facetious, as in fact, God has called and placed missionaries all around our land.  In all likelihood, if you are reading this, then you are one of them.

There were also the ones who stopped at our booth who were excited to talk about mission in our neighbourhoods.  Those were, of course, the best conversations.  The most memorable, at least for me, was a conversation Cailey had with two ten-year-olds.  They, too, stopped and were perplexed about our banner, but once Cailey explained to them what joining God on mission in neighbourhoods is, they got it!  I’ll let her convey their reaction…

After the youth rally one night, some grade 5 boys came up to my booth–pockets pull of pens, cheeks full of chocolate from other booths.

Kids: “So what is your ministry all about?”

Cailey: “In my job, we help people in Western Canada start new churches, and one of the ways we do that is by helping them love their neighbours, so that their neighbours come to Jesus. I believe that we are all missionaries where we live—in our neighbourhoods, our schools, and even our soccer teams.”

Kids: “I can be a missionary right now?”

Cailey: “Absolutely! You are a missionary. In what ways do you guys think you could be missionaries in your neighbourhoods?”

Kids: “Well, we could love our neighbours—like, be nice to them, and play with them. Or tell them Jesus loves them.”

Cailey: “See? You’re already a missionary.”

Kids: “Cool! What’s your biggest dream?”

At which point I scratched my head, wondering who had raised these boys to ask such deep questions!

Cailey: “My dream is that people in all of our churches in Western Canada would see themselves as missionaries, and as God uses them to bring their neighbours to Jesus, more and more churches will be born. Then, the new Christians would start doing the same thing: loving their neighbours and telling them about Jesus.”

Kids: “Wow. If everyone in Vancouver did that, and then Canada, and then America…we could infect the whole world!”

So of course, I pulled out a copy of Ed Stetzer’s Viral Churches for the boys to peruse…ok maybe not, but I was so thrilled to see these young men catching the vision and call of Jesus for us to be disciple-making disciples.

Mostly, what MissionsFest revealed to us is that there is still so much work to do as leaders. We must disciple others to understand the calling of Jesus to join Him at His work of delivering justice, mercy, hope, grace, salvation, and love to those whom these things have not yet been realized.  To remind us that right next door to us—whether next door means our homes, our seat on our commute, our work place or where we hang out—there are people who are lost in the lost-ness of identity without Christ. Wherever we are, we are the one to help them find God.

God is a missionary God and He sends. He sent Abraham on mission. He sent the prophets. He sent John.  He sent Jesus. He sent the disciples. He sent Paul. He sent Barnabas. He sends you and He sends me.  On mission. In our neighbourhoods.

 

Understanding our Present

By Shannon Youell

Old News
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.

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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).

Bah Humbug!

By Shannon Youell

A few weeks ago Oxford, the dictionary people, announced their word of the year: Post-truth. They define it as follows:

“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.’”

There we go folks…apparently it’s official! We live in an age where we are being convinced that truth has become unimportant and irrelevant. To which I again express, Humbug! (which is a real word describing ways to fool people).

Before we all nod our heads in agreement with an intensity that could cause us whiplash, we should recognize that we all fall victim to truth as subjective to our own emotions and personal beliefs. For the purposes of this blog, I refer to the way we sort how we live out life as followers of Jesus. We tend to pick and choose. Seriously…we do. We live life at the smorgasbord of Jesus and choose what we like and leave behind what we don’t, are unsure of, or just plain uncomfortable with.

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Take evangelism for instance. We are great at self-exempting ourselves from this. Frankly we are quite afraid of that word, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. For many, if not most of us, we self-exempt because we see sharing Jesus as something someone else does, yet Jesus invites us to a ‘come and see’, ‘go and tell’ way of life…..as we go in our ordinary lives. You might right now be thinking, yes but there is that passage about evangelism being an appointed gift. Go ahead. I will challenge you on that passage though. Go back and read it again and see if it is actually an exemption passage.

Reimagining Evangelism
At the Banff Pastor’s Conference this year, we had a round table discussion around reimagining evangelism where we asked ourselves the questions: Is evangelism a mission impossible? Can we re-engage in it as believers and followers of Jesus?

In light of living in an age of post-truth, can we become truth-tellers? Do we dare? Or are we so paralyzed that truth telling will bring us scorn and rejection, we prefer to stay silent in the midst of humbug?

Our society can try to convince us all we want that truth is unimportant but the massive publishing dollars procured from ‘meaning of life’ books reveals the real truth about that. Humans are seekers of truth. And in agreement with the definition, we do often find truth through emotion and personal belief. So though our culture can shout ‘post-truth’, it is in how truth-telling is defined that gives us an entry point to share this Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating this month.

When I look at how Jesus went and truth-told he did so with fact (today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing; the kingdom of God is among you; I will be with you always; Go in peace and be freed from your suffering). God has fulfilled his promise to Israel, King Jesus is come to establish ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, the kingdom of God where what is wrong is made right again. These were the some of the objective facts he presented.

As well, Jesus also told the truth through people’s emotions and personal beliefs. He gospeled people where they were. To those struggling with guilt he offered forgiveness. To those marginalized, he placed them in the front of the line and in places of honor. To those sick he offered compassion and healing. To those who were deemed less valued, he publicly spoke to, recognized and preferred.  To those lost in their own personal confusion, he brought clarity. He truth-told into each one’s story at the place of entry that would speak the strongest to them.

This was the Jesus way of evangelism. He really didn’t give a four step formula to how to be saved, but rather stepped into the places of people’s story where they were at and revealed God already at work in the midst of their story. Evangelism is really just that.

Exposing Our Humbug Rhetoric
So can we expose the humbug rhetoric of our world that tries to fool us into even questioning our own truth? Can we merely take the time to be truth-tellers of this great celebration? Can we begin to discard the foolish deception that we “belong(ing) to a time in which the specified concept (of objective truth) has become unimportant or irrelevant”?

This is the beginning of re-imagining and re-engaging with the Story we objectively lean into as our personal truth and it is that we share, with all our deep convictions and emotions that Jesus is King in my life and the world as our Prince of Peace, bringing the deep shalom of God into all the places we live, work, play and pray in.

Great peace and joy to all.

 

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Opportunities in Pluralistic Canada

By Shannon Youell

We don’t need to be at the centre of society in order to be Christ’s witness for a better way of living. John Pellowe

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Pellowe, of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, reminds us that the church didn’t start out as the centre of society and nor is it there now. Many folk bemoan this fact, yet I lean towards thinking that God is pleased we are finding our rootedness back into how we can be contributing and positive voices in the things people and communities deem important for living life together as societies. Rather than being oppositional voices to the things we don’t agree with (the overall result of that is Christians are often perceived of by what they are against over and above what they are for), we should work at being voices of proposition into the issues that society is already struggling with.

Pellowe cites many of the accomplishments of John Wesley and his propositional ideas for the healing of the oppressed, for bringing justice to the marginalized, for serving the world around us rather than expecting the world around us to serve us. In our own Baptist history, Jeremy Bell often reminds us of faithful Baptist folk who brought reforms and policies for the betterment of society as a whole, not merely one polarized segment.

It reminds me of the Jewish value tikkun olam, which is the demonstrative action of shalom and means repairing or healing the world. This value carries with it the understanding that is the responsibility, the mission, of God’s people to bring the kind of justice that delivers from oppression and slavery and restores to community relationship (the Hebrew meaning of tsedaquah, or “justice”), human to human and human to God.

Here is a large section of Pellowe’s article. Let us know your thoughts on the opportunities he presents for us:

There are several benefits to being just one of many in a pluralistic culture, and they provide the church with opportunities.

Missional vitality

When Christians were the dominant group in society, there wasn’t a lot of motivation for individuals to engage in mission because it appeared the mission was largely accomplished. It’s interesting that the cure of souls, from which we get the word curate (a priest or pastor), can be traced to the fourth century when Christianity became Rome’s state religion. There was a shift then from mission aimed at outsiders towards taking care of parishioners’ souls. In modern times, missionary zeal was largely channeled toward other parts of the world, rather than to our own neighbourhoods.

But in fact, the Christian mission wasn’t nearly as fulfilled in Canada as we thought.

Pastors, remember that God gave you to the church to equip its members to do good works.5 It is your responsibility to see that every member of your flock is productively engaged in mission, remembering that the early church’s success was mostly due to the witness of individuals working on their own. People only have so much time available, so be sure that every volunteer hour you ask for within the church is essential to the church’s mission. Otherwise, keep your parishioners free to be Christ’s witnesses elsewhere.

Individually, we need to permeate society and be excellent in whatever God has given us: our work, our relationships, our community involvement, and so on. Every Christian should be the best thing that ever happened in whatever context they find themselves.

Corporately, we need the boldness, vision, and radical tolerance for risk that led John Wesley to :

  • hire a surgeon and a pharmacist to provide medical care for the poor in London
  • open the first free pharmacy in London
  • teach people to read
  • start a bank which lent money to the newly literate poor to help them start businesses

What might the church do today that is just as creative, leading edge, and impactful?

We can use our voice

In a pluralist society, Christians are as much entitled as anyone else to contribute their ideas, which should be attractive based on their non-religious merits. The theological basis or religious motivation doesn’t matter to non-Christians. All that matters is that non-Christians can see the idea’s benefits. We can share good ideas for the environment, social justice, the economy, commerce, and so on.

Those who oppose religion are already trying to shut us down and keep us out of public debate. But history and research show that a minority can cause the majority to change its mind, although their strategy must be different from the majority’s.

  • The majority usually relies on coercion to force public compliance with their programs. What people privately believe doesn’t matter as long as there is public compliance.
  • Minorities can’t coerce. All they can do is convert people through persuasion. They do this by presenting new information or new ideas which cause the majority to re-evaluate their position. The most dramatic example of this conversion happening in recent history is the gay rights movement. An example from fifty years ago would be the 40 year campaign against smoking in public, and from a century ago, the women’s suffragette movement in the UK.

We want to persuade people that for society to flourish there must be a concern for community welfare. We want people to support policies and behaviours that:

  • build strong families
  • help people to redeem themselves from the messes they get in
  • promote justice and equity
  • care for the marginalized and integrates them into society

Leverage our inclusivity

The church is the most multicultural society on the planet. It was an incredible experience for me when I worshipped in churches in Australia, Thailand, India, Kenya, Malawi, England, and Scotland while on my round the world sabbatical trip. I felt right at home in all of them! Whatever ethnic group I was with, I knew I shared a common faith with them. Whether I understood the language or not, the worship was meaningful and very moving. I know what it is like to be in a foreign country and find a welcoming place.

Being such a multicultural, global body as we are, and living in as cosmopolitan a country as we do, we have a special capability of welcoming immigrants to Canada. We should excel at helping newcomers acclimate to their new home. Non-ethnic churches should support ethnic churches as much as they can so that in turn they can welcome their own ethnicities to Canada.

Conclusion

We have to be very wise regarding the forces that oppose religious participation in society, but even with their opposition, there is much that the church can do to advance its mission.

 

Whatever Happened to Talking about Jesus?

By Shannon Youell

And we’re here today bringing you good news: the Message that what God promised the fathers has come true for the children—for us! (Acts 32:13-The Message)

I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to explain the “good news” part of the Good News? Is that why we are so afraid to talk to people about this Good News outside of our Christian circles (where, supposedly, we all understand it completely and don’t need it explained to us)?

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To be frank, the number of times I hear the Gospel preached, and indeed, preach it myself, to those who have already heard it, really causes me to lean into the concern that we’ve lost the ability to truly convey what amazingly, marvelously Good News the Kingdom of God present here on earth is to those who do not yet know there is such Good News.

All Called to Be Sharers
Some of us exempt ourselves from this conversation by saying that we do not have the gift of evangelism. But are not all of us convicted and called by Jesus to “go and make disciples?” To be fair, there are those folk among us who are wonderfully gifted in communicating the Good News. Often it is from a public platform, or by placing themselves strategically within communities where darkness still prevails and the Kingdom is groaning to advance. They are particularly and uniquely set apart by their giftedness to engage this way, and we need to celebrate and support these evangelists in our midst.

But that does not exempt me, or you, or us. As I stated in my previous article, I haven’t really been able to find an exemption for myself in Jesus’ teaching. Or for that matter in the Story at all. It appears that those who worship our Father in heaven, who are professed disciples of Jesus, who are empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit to do good the work of the Father, are sharers of Jesus. They communicate (evangelize) to others the great Story of God and help them find their place in the Great Story within the story of their own lives.

So why are we so darned afraid? And how did we, the ekklesia of God, get that way?

Taking Steps Forward
Friends, I think these are some of questions we need to start asking ourselves and our communities of gathered believers. I am pretty confident that were one to ask a faith community if we are to share Jesus, they would mostly agree that as an absolute. Yet we do tend to leave it to others to do so, while sighing with relief that indeed there are those who ‘like’ to share Jesus with others.

Can we engage in the evangelism conversation again? Can we imagine being a people set apart by God to herald the Grand News that God, through Jesus, has come to earth with the rule and reign of His Kingdom that brings us justice, liberty, hope, love, peace, joy and salvation from the corrupt and oppressive rulers of the kingdoms of this world? And the wonderful news that we are invited to join Him in living it and sharing it?

We’d love for this to be a dialogue as we explore and share together to attempt to answer, frame new questions and reimagine how we can create of culture of communicating the Good news of the kingdom of God for the sake of the world.

For those who will be at the Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference next week, come and join in a round table discussion around this very topic: Mission—Impossible? Can we re-engage evangelism? We will discuss three questions to frame our conversation together and begin to face the evangelism vacuum so common in our Baptist culture.

Join us there, and here on this blog as we listen and learn from one another to pray, equip and share Jesus in the spaces where we live, work, play and pray!